Star Wars: Will the Force awaken in China?

By Heather Chen
BBC News

image copyrightAP
image captionThe Force awakens, in China - where thousands of fans are gearing up to finally watch the latest movie in the Star Wars franchise

In 2015 almost every single country on earth celebrated the release of the new Star Wars film, but China had to wait until this weekend. How will the unique world of new orders, rebel forces and evil empires go down there?

Coming (not so) soon to a galaxy far, far away

When the original Star Wars films were at the peak of their popularity in the rest of the world it was the late 1970s and China was just emerging from the Cultural Revolution.

Even this new film will be released in Chinese theatres on 9 January, a month later than the rest of the world. This is mostly due to the fact that foreign studios had already used up China's annual quota of 34 foreign films.

China places strict quotas on Hollywood blockbusters to prevent competition with domestic releases, although one industry official, said the date could work to the film's advantage as it is closer to Chinese New Year.

image copyrightAFP
image captionHardcore Chinese fans refuse to be kept in the dark, and some have resorted to pirating the new movie

'I've been waiting for you': How Chinese fans are preparing

"Good things come to those who wait," said another fan. "The one month wait will be totally worth it," said one fan on Chinese microblogging site, Weibo.

One even saw a potential positive to Chinese internet censorship.

"No spoilers please, fans like me can't see the film until next year so this is the one time I am grateful for Chinese internet censorship!" commented Vicky Zhu, a Beijing fan.

image copyrightAP
image captionHundreds of stormtroopers 'invaded' China's Great Wall last October

The force is strong with them, or at least trying to be

Disney has pulled out all stops to drum up interest in China, the world's second largest film market.

"We are thrilled to bring Star Wars: The Force Awakens to China," said John Hsu, Disney's general manager in China at a promotional event.

The studio staged several publicity stunts ahead of the film's release, even placing 500 miniature stormtroopers at Beijing's iconic Great Wall.

image copyrightAP
image captionDirector JJ Abrams, along with the cast, attended the Shanghai premiere of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in December
image copyrightAP
image captionBB-8 showed up too, much to the delight of Chinese fans

Disney also reached out to Chinese-Korean K-pop group EXO, to release a dance song, a strategic and savv move.

Called "Lightsaber", the music video is set in a Jedi club and sees members carrying lightsabers.

But the studio did not stop there. It enlisted Chinese heartthrob Lu Han - often referred to as the country's answer to Canadian singer Justin Bieber - to sing the movie's official theme song in both English and Chinese.

Director JJ Abrams and lead cast members, including new fan favourite droid BB-8 walked and rolled up the red carpet in a December premiere in Shanghai.

A brand new official verified Weibo account was also set up and an active discussion thread soon appeared on the site, drawing in commentary and engaging thousands of fans.

"The message that Star Wars delivers is one of moral guidance within spirituality. Good always triumphs evil, I think all Chinese can identify with that," remarked one Chinese fan.

But what does China have against Wookies?

image copyrightWeibo
image caption(left to right): China's re-versioned Star Wars poster and the original

But amid all the excitement and Star Wars buzz building up, Disney hit controversy. It unveiled a re-versioned movie poster for the Chinese market - with a few tweaks.

New lead character Finn, played by black British actor John Boyega was shrunken in size, compared to the original poster.

"Star Wars' Finn (who happens to be black) and Chewbacca (happens to be Wookiee) get shafted in China," pointed out US Twitter user Ray Kwong.

"We all know John Boyega has a major role in the new film so who are Chinese authorities to try and dictate his part?" said one angry fan.

image copyrightAFP
image captionBritish actor John Boyega plays lead character Finn in the new Star Wars movie

Major fan favourite, Chewbacca was also cut out of the Chinese version of the poster.

"Where's Chewbacca? We all know authorities love to discriminate but why is China targeting Wookiees now," said another fan.

Authorities are yet to respond to the social media outcry this sparked.

And when can we expect the first Chinese Jedi?

Star Wars fans in China have also long been vocal in declaring their hope for a Chinese Jedi.

And they want it to be Hong Kong martial arts legend Donnie Yen - famed for his role as a Wing Chun master in the popular 'Ip Man series'.

"If George Lucas is smart, he will know that casting Donnie Yen will be the way to break into the Chinese market," said a Beijing fan on Weibo.

"If John Boyega can be cast as a major character then please consider Donnie Yen as a Jedi," said another fan.

image copyrightReuters
image captionThe appearance of Hong Kong actor Donnie Yen sparked excitement among many Chinese fans

The excitement spiralled further after Shanghai fans caught a glimpse of the Hong Kong action star who showed up at the Chinese premiere.

The sighting soon began trending on Chinese social media and dozens of memes were created.

"Donnie Yen could take on 20 stormtroopers at one go. He would make an awesome Jedi," said a Weibo user.

Another fan summed it up: "Ip Man at the Star Wars premiere! Could this be a sign?"

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