Dictatorship beats democracyâ€”what China’s moviegoers are learning from Star Wars – Quartz
A galaxy far, far away has finally come to the Middle Kingdom.
Disneyâ€™s latest Star Wars franchise The Force Awakens debuted in China over the weekend, and took in an estimated $53 million, the â€œbiggest Saturday-Sunday box-office openingâ€ ever in China, the studio said.
The filmâ€™s China performance is nothing next to its big triumph in the US where it generated over $238 million in the opening weekend. Nor is it comparable to the China opening of action movie Furious 7, which broke single day records for any film ever released in the country with a $63.2 million gross last April.
Thatâ€™s in part because the Star Wars franchise was, until recently, a western cultural phenomena unfamiliar to many Chineseâ€”itâ€™s not uncommon for people to mix up Star Wars with Star Trek in China. When the first film of the original Star Wars trilogy was screened in the US in 1977, China was still recovering from the chaotic Cultural Revolution, and western movies were banned as â€œspiritual pollution.â€ When the second trilogy appeared in China more than a decade ago, its film market was much smaller than it is now.
So for many Chinese moviegoers, The Force Awakens is the first movie of the franchise theyâ€™ve ever watched.
Their feedback is mixed, judging from Douban (link in Chinese), a popular entertainment website that is like a combination of IMDB and Myspace.
â€œI just could not tell the exact story lineâ€¦ The first half made me dizzy. The foreign princess made me excited but the story somehow became a reunion of the middle-and-old aged?,â€ one blogger wrote, referring to Leia.
Chinaâ€™s loyal Star Wars lovers reminisced like US fans. â€œThe opening background and the familiar but aging characters really bring back my childhood memories,â€ one blogger wrote. â€ Another wrote â€œI wish I could finish watching the franchise in my lifetime.â€
â€œThe story is still about transmigration, the chosen one who saves the world, the undying starring characters and an over dramatic robot,â€ another one wrote, â€œbut I am still a big fan of [screenwriter and producer] J.J. Abrams. He successfully combined his style with the Star War traditions!â€
After it bought Lucasfilm in 2012, Disney began aggressively promoting the Star Wars franchise in China.
Four decades late, the original Star War trilogy was screened at the Shanghai International Film Festival last year. Stormtroopers will stand with Mickey Mouse in the new Shanghai Disneyland, and Disney named Chinese pop star Lu Han (often described as Chinaâ€™s answer to Justin Bieber) the official â€œStar Warsâ€ ambassador and an honorary Jedi to tap his large fan baseâ€”mostly young Chinese girls. â€œAnything about you Lu Han, I will definitely go for it,â€ one female fan wrote on Chinese microblog Weibo (link in Chinese, registration required).
After all the marketing hype, many Chinese moviegoers are also viewing the other six films of the Star Wars franchise, legally on Tencentâ€™s QQ or via pirated downloads. Some are learning that the saga is as much about politics and individuals fighting against a repressive government as light sabers and spacecraftâ€”but the lesson theyâ€™re taking away isnâ€™t what George Lucas may have intended. â€œA democratic parliament seems to be chaotic while a dictator-run empire seems to be stable. Thatâ€™s worth our thinking,â€ one blogger wrote on Douban.
â€œThe Republic cannot control the military and the parliament so itâ€™s fallen,â€ another wrote. â€œWhat can democracy do? It still depends on weapons!â€
Echo Huang Yinyin contributed reporting