'Star Wars' in China

Launched in 1977, the franchise had not only influenced generations of Western audiences, but also been witness to 40 years of reform and opening-up in the Chinese film industry.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is the eighth installment of the “Star Wars” franchise.

The box office of the eighth installment of “Star Wars” franchise — “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” — has taken about 220 million yuan (US$33.7 million) by Wednesday afternoon since it was released in China on January 5.

Launched in 1977, the franchise had not only influenced generations of Western audiences, but also been witness to 40 years of reform and opening-up in the Chinese film industry.

During this time, China has become the world’s second-largest movie market, with its box office in 2017 topping 55.9 billion yuan. As the movie industry grew, China’s domestic science fiction industry has also developed. Meanwhile, people’s consumption diversified, and imaginations grew.

The first “Star Wars” trilogy created by American filmmaker George Lucas was released over the late 1970s and early 1980s, depicting Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and other characters having adventures “in a galaxy far, far away.” The movies were hugely successful, soon becoming a worldwide cultural phenomenon.

In January 1979, a Chinese news report said that Beijing Film Studio’s magazine Movie Creation would resume publication and would publish Lao She’s adapted screenplay of “Rickshaw Boy” in a series, as well as the cinematic novel of the American blockbuster “Star Wars.”

Coincidentally, China’s domestic science-fiction industry began to come to fruition in the early 1980s, with the emergence of literature depicting the space world in the 21st century. Young people began to enjoy reading, writing and drawing science fiction.

During the 1980s, with the Cold War as a backdrop, “Star Wars” became a political buzzword, sometimes used to refer to the arms race between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

“Star Wars” during this time had not been released to the Chinese public, and had only been showed on a small scale as a cultural exchange activity.


“The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson poses for a selfie with local fans during the film’s China premiere in Shanghai.

“Star Wars” fan Song Xuewen, born in the 1970s, remembers the story of Luke and Leia being used as English-learning material in his boyhood. He even gave himself the English name Luke to make him sound like a space hero.

In 1993, China’s film industry began to explore ways to reform, and in 1994 China imported its first Hollywood movie “The Fugitive,” and China’s film industry strived to find ways to reform and open-up.

Lucasfilm’s “Star Wars” franchise, after several quiet years, released the first film in its second trilogy in 1999.

The 1999 “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace” became the first “Star Wars” movie officially shown on the big screens of Chinese mainland.

It is also the time when China’s sci-fi writer Liu Cixin began to consider writing his science fiction trilogy, “The Three-Body Problem.” Liu took nearly 10 years to complete the books after having the first idea.

When the English version of “The Three-Body Problem” won the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the highest honor for sci-fi works, it was compared to the “Star Wars” saga.

Today, George Lucas’ epic sci-fi franchise ranks as the world’s second highest-grossing film franchise in history, behind the Marvel Universe. It has generated billions of US dollars from a host of merchandise and spin-offs, including novels, cartoons, toys, games and theme parks.

When Disney purchased Lucusfilm in 2012, many projections from the earliest Star Wars movies had become a reality. For example, the holographic imaging technique used in space communication has become today’s technologies of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality.

At the premiere ceremony for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” on the Chinese market in Shanghai at the end of 2017, fans cheered when they saw the classic “Star Wars” characters including Luke and Leia through holographic images.

Jiang Xiaoyuan, a science history and professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, believes the “Star Wars” franchise is undoubtedly a milestone in the world’s sci-fi movie history. Meanwhile, China’s sci-fi novels and movies still have a long way to catch up.

“We have to accept the gap, but we should be confident,” Jiang says. “Someday, China will have its own milestone sci-fi movies.”

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