The Star Wars films have been gaining momentum with young generations ever since Disney announced plans to revive the iconic George Lucas franchise. The studio’s plans first came to fruition last December with the premiere of Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens, which proved to be a smash success. The Force Awakens dominated the box office and went on to become the highest-grossing film in North America and the highest-grossing film released by Walt Disney Studios. Now, Disney hopes to recreate that financial success once again with the upcoming release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Despite Disney’s cautious expectations, Rogue One is prepped for a nationwide box office takeover during its premiere next week, with numbers likely to increase over the holidays. Though the standalone Star Wars prequel certainly takes risks as the first film in the franchise unconnected from its typical trilogy format, Disney hopes this new angle will introduce the series to new fans, particularly fans abroad. Today, the company made one big step forward in achieving financial success internationally.
According to THR, Rogue One has officially secured a Chinese release date: January 6, 2017. This release date mimics China’s January 9, 2016 The Force Awakens premiere – which, despite producing some impressive numbers, ended up as just the twelfth most successful Disney film released in China this year. As China is slated to become the world’s largest film market in the near future, the studio is looking to finally establish a Chinese Star Wars fanbase with Rogue One.
It seems cultural barriers were the main scapegoat for The Force Awakens‘ Chinese box office shortcomings earlier this year. Though modern U.S. films constantly make their way over to China, the cultural legacy of Star Wars simply does not hold up there — likely because Star Wars first leapt into the American zeitgeist way back in 1977, when the U.S. and China had still not even established diplomatic relations. Star Wars excitement on this side of the globe is bolstered by generations of fans, whereas the market overseas is missing that strong foundation.
Those precise conditions are exactly what could make Rogue One an international success, though. In countries like China where Star Wars is less iconic, Rogue One may be able to introduce new fans to the franchise without expecting them to immediately understand the series’s decades-long history. Though it introduced a new generation of heroes, The Force Awakens still relied heavily on fan knowledge of the original trio (Luke, Leia, and Han), thus leaving those unfamiliar somewhat in the dark. Rogue One, on the other hand, is supposed to be able to stand on its own so well that we won’t see its characters again. This could be the perfect time for Lucasfilm to introduce Chinese fans to the world of Star Wars, as it would allow for a year of cultural catch-up before the studio releases Star Wars: Episode VIII.
While it’s clear Rogue One will cause international conversation, studios are still hoping the film will break into unfamiliar markets. China could be an important step one in this process; it’s just a matter of whether or not Rogue One will be able to successfully carry the legacy of Star Wars halfway around the world.