Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker flopped in China with a $12 million opening weekend that includes previews, and local analysts believe the J.J. Abrams-directed sendoff for the nine-episode Skywalker Saga could struggle to reach $20 million in the territory, according to The Hollywood Reporter. That figure would be the second-lowest for any Star Wars movie, coming in just ahead of young Han Solo prequel Solo: A Star Wars Story, which earned only $16.4 million in China before going on to become the lowest-grossing live-action Star Wars movie worldwide when it grossed $392 million in the summer of 2018.
Disney-Lucasfilm’s Star Wars productions have been trending downwards in the Middle Kingdom since 2015, when franchise revival The Force Awakens grossed $124 million. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — the first spinoff movie set outside the episodic saga that featured Chinese stars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen in central roles — grossed $69 million, itself followed by the Rian Johnson-directed The Last Jedi, sequel to The Force Awakens, which grossed just $42.5 million.
Taking first place in China is Ip Man 4: The Finale, starring Yen, which punched its way to $47.1 million, followed by the $23.6 million earned by Sheep Without a Shepherd in its second weekend. Skywalker pulled in $8.9 million between Friday and Sunday, less than Chinese romantic drama Only Cloud Knows, which took in $9.4 million during that same period.
In January 2018, The Last Jedi was completely pulled from Chinese theaters after just two weeks because of its poor performance.
The chairman of a nationwide Chinese cinema chain reported the middle chapter of the Star Wars sequel trilogy “performed much worse than we could have expected,” and James Li, co-founder of a Chinese market research firm, told THR the franchise was “downgrading across all key measures.”
“Force Awakens was generally above average, Rogue One was about average, and Last Jedi was below average in every category — and you see this reflected at the box office,” said Li. “Because of the complex characters and themes, the prequels, and all of the multi-generational layers that are part of the culture, or cult, of Star Wars, it's been hard for young Chinese filmgoers to get into the franchise.”
The sequel trilogy is driven by nostalgia and, because the original trilogy never received a wide release in China, Skywalker is “leaving young Chinese filmgoers befuddled and unenthused,” according to this most recent report from THR.
If Skywalker earns only $20 million, it will fall short of Disney-Fox's Dark Phoenix, which opened at $31 million and went on to gross $59 million in the territory and just $252 million worldwide. It would also come in below another worldwide flop, Sony's Men in Black: International, which earned $44 million in China and $253 million globally.1comments
Gemini Man, which won only $173 million worldwide, managed to gross $33 million in China, and another of the year's notable flops — Terminator: Dark Fate — earned $50 million in the territory despite scraping up only $260 million globally.
Stateside, Skywalker ignited with $175 million, giving it the lowest opening of the sequel trilogy.