After facing a rocky box office in the hard-to-predict Chinese market, The Last Jedi was the first in the new wave of Star Wars films to start being removed from Chinese theaters so early. Now, after only two full weeks playing in the country, reports say that the film has been pulled completely.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film has already had a rough showing in China, falling 92 percent in its second weekend for a haul of just $2.4 million. Jimmy Wu, chairman of nationwide Chinese cinema chain Lumiere Pavilions, told THR that "The Last Jedi has already been completely pulled from cinemas here.”
The film, while not opening particularly well in its own right, also had the misfortune to open alongside The Ex-File 3: The Return of the Exes, which is a Chinese rom-com that’s quickly becoming a hit. That left The Last Jedi at the bottom of the barrel. "It's performed much worse than we could have expected," said Wu.
The most recent Star Wars films have had decent play in the country, but out of curiosity and co-star kinship (Rogue One starred Chinese talent Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen). Now that those have dissipated, the lack of cultural invest in the series is apparent. China never got the original films in wide release and never found itself swept up in the franchise’s fandom.
Whereas other films err on the side of simplicity to reach an international audience, Star Wars is an intertextual and reference-heavy franchise built on character history and the thematic aging of both character and audience. Without those factors, audiences have many more reasons to be confused with Star Wars than to embrace it, especially if the films they’d need to get caught up weren’t particularly available.
The Last Jedi is predicted to finish with about $50 million at the Chinese box office - less even than Rogue One’s $69 million and far below than Force Awakens’ $124 million. How Disney will address this unfamiliarity and increasing disinterest in its star franchise will be a financial concern for the studio in the future, but with international successes like Fast and the Furious and Jurassic World, they certainly have blueprints.