Stars Wars is one of the highest grossing movie franchises in history. Considering both the old and new generations of Star Wars, audiences and critics alike have found the movies to match or exceed expectations across America. In fact, in the United States Star Wars movies are the some of the most anticipated year after year. However, the same success for the franchise is not being felt in China and we now know why.
In China, the franchise as a whole does not have a large following, aside from a small number of truly dedicated, diehard fans. Donnie Yen, who plays Chirrut Imwe in Rogue One, sat down at a recent interview to explain his thoughts as to why the franchise has not taken as strong a hold in China. In his mind, one of the major contributing factors is that Chinese audiences did not grow up with the Star Wars franchise like those of us in the United States did. In his words, “Chinese audiences didn’t grow up with Star Wars culture so unfortunately it didn’t work. Marvel is a lot easier to understand. Star Wars, there’s a whole universe out there. Marvel, from the costumes, to the music, to the idols, to the stars, it’s much easier to close the gap between the film itself and the audience. “
Yen also cites a second reason for the unpopularity of Star Wars in China; he feels that American films and filmmakers have not successfully marketed themselves towards the Asian markets. For years, Chinese filmmakers have been working to understand Western filmmaking, studying particularly how to make a film and what makes a successful, quality film. While they are still learning, they have developed a general understanding of the American film market. On the other side of the spectrum, American filmmakers have not spent significant time studying the Asian film market. As a result, American filmmakers do not understand the Asian markets and are not crafting their films in a way that will work in countries like China.
It seems as a whole, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has a big advantage to the Star Wars franchise in that all of their movies have come out in the last ten years. While there are certainly many fictional characteristics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, its blend of martial arts and modern special effects are much more realistic than the world of interplanetary travel depicted in the Star Wars franchise.
It appears that franchises like Star Wars and others produced in the United States, or North America as a whole, need to take a page from the Asian filmmaker playbook. American filmmakers should begin to analyze the Asian market and study Chinese cinema if they really hope to capture the Chinese audience and Asian market.