The latest film won't premiere in Chinese theaters until January 9
Cultural authorities decide what gets shown and when
Being a Star Wars fan in China is tough these days.
The latest addition to the venerable series won’t premiere in Chinese theaters until January 9 – in other words, plenty of time for that annoying friend on social media to post a spoiler and ruin the whole thing.
So why the delay in release date, especially since the movie premiered in some countries even before its U.S. debut?
It all comes down to the Chinese government.
Cultural authorities here in Beijing decide what foreign films will be shown in China. For each film they choose, they also select the release date in Chinese theaters.
The government never officially says what factors go in to deciding which movies make the cut and why certain release dates are chosen, but there’s plenty of speculation about the reasons behind its decisions.
What’s a StormTrooper?
First, the government sets a quota for the number of foreign films allowed each year.
Film-watchers have speculated officials may have already filled their quota for the year, forcing the Star Wars premiere to be pushed from 2015 to 2016.
The Chinese government is also actively trying to grow its domestic film industry. There are some months when it aims for Chinese domestic movies to dominate the box office.
By opening Star Wars in December, perhaps ticket sales would have shifted away from Chinese films, something officials could have been trying to avoid.
But if even those were the reasons behind the delayed release date, surely the government would have felt a backlash from Chinese Star Wars fans upset over having to wait weeks longer than their American counterparts?
But that’s simply not the case.
Take a walk around the streets of Beijing, and ask people what a Storm Trooper is.
There’s a good chance that person won’t have any clue what you’re talking about – let alone know anything about Princess Leia, wookies, or X-wings.
In China, Star Wars simply isn’t the cultural phenomenon it is in many other parts of the world.
The original films were released shortly after the end of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution in China, a period where any form of western cultural influences were strictly prohibited.
The same visceral connections American audiences made with Luke Skywalker didn’t exist in China. Even when Episodes 1-3 were released in China, they didn’t do very well at the box office.
Chasing studio success
Disney, the distributor of the new Star Wars film, is betting big on the Chinese market.
The company has made a distinct marketing push here, even putting 500 Storm Trooper figurines on the Great Wall of China at one event.
They also enlisted Lu Han, sometimes referred to as the Chinese Justin Bieber, to be a Star Wars ambassador, in order to drum up interest in the new film.
Movie studios increasingly rely on the Chinese market to help make sure quality profits are made.
Industry experts largely agree that China will become the world’s largest market for films within the next few years.
Simply put, if studios want films to be blockbuster successes, they need China to help them get there.
How Star Wars will do in China when it opens in January remains to be seen.
Until then, for those of us living in China, please, no spoilers!