ANALYSIS: How Are Chinese Moviegoers Reacting to the New 'Star Wars' Trailer?

on April 17, 2015

Chewie_and_Han_China_Teaser.jpg

Jonathan Papish

The first full trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens landed on websites in China a few hours after its premiere in Anaheim as netizens were waking up Friday morning. While there was certainly a fevered response from diehard fans -- the trailer has been viewed 13.2 million times on Tencent Video as of this writing with comments ranging from "I can't wait!" to "R2D2 is so cute!" to "China could never create science fiction like this thanks to our education system stifling creative expression." -- it's apparent that Star Wars wants to pull in younger, more affluent Chinese fans who might not have grown up with the space odyssey in the same way their American comrades did. 

China was on the verge of reform and opening up in 1977 when Star Wars: A New Hope opened in the United States. Communist leader Mao Zedong had just passed away and Deng Xiaoping began to implement policies to catch up with the rest of the world after decades of isolation. Western products started to trickle into China, but a trade agreement with the US was years away and very few American films entered the country, especially ones about a rebel group overthrowing an authoritarian government. 

Fans eventually got their hands on bootlegs in the 90s and the prequel trilogy was released theatrically in China. However, China's film industry at that time was nothing like the booming one we see now, second in the world only to Hollywood. The multiplexes in malls that span the country had yet to be built (let alone the malls), middle class disposable income had yet to be accumulated, and moviegoing habits of Chinese citizens had yet to be fully formed. Revenge of the Sith grossed $12.1 million in 2005, a decent take for an imported movie back then. (Furious 7 grossed a single day record of $62.8 million last Sunday in comparison)

It's understandable then why Star Wars is trying hard to court new fans. Tencent's video streaming website is the exclusive portal for Star Wars related videos in China and the release of today's trailer came with a personal greeting to Chinese viewers from producer Kathleen Kennedy and director JJ Abrams. "Ni hao, I'm Kathleen Kennedy..." (Chinese audiences love when foreigners attempt to speak their language) ..."Stay tuned with Tencent Video. We hope you enjoy the teaser," added Abrams before they both signed off with "May the force be with you." 

The website also live-streamed the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim yesterday complete with live Mandarin translation. Diehard fans were probably the only ones to tune in as the event took place in the wee hours Thursday night, but as of this writing, nearly one million viewers had seen a recap. Other links take netizens to summaries of previous Star Wars movies and translated trailers. The state owned movie channel CCTV6 also ran a Star Wars marathon in early 2014, showing all 6 episode over the Chinese New Year, a time when most families gather at home around the television. 

It's difficult to determine how many new fans Star Wars will recruit before the The Force Awakens opens (Disney hasn't announced a Chinese release date), but it's a safe bet that with Disney's marketing power in China, there will be a slew of promotional tie-ins and activities catered towards Chinese audiences in the coming months. And who knows, following Hollywood's current trend, maybe we'll see a Chinese Jedi master cast in Episode VIII or IX to really bring in the fans.

Tags: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, movie trailer

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