Could the situation in China for the Star Wars franchise be more alarming than previously reported?
With Star Wars: The Last Jedi ending up a rather massive disappointment in the world's second biggest market for motion pictures — the movie was completely pulled from Chinese theaters just two weeks after release — speculation has ramped up that the next movie from Lucasfilm, the Han Solo prequel whose official title is Solo: A Star Wars Story, may be changing its name in that country.
In an image posted on Twitter by media analyst Gavin Feng, who has been monitoring local entertainment reports in China, a snapshot containing a graphic of the film's logo is accompanied by text that says the film's "working translation" is "Ranger Solo," and it seems to be dropping the "Star Wars" reference from its title entirely:
The rest of the text provides a quick, if obvious, synopsis of the film's plot, noting how fans will follow Han Solo's adventures with the Millennium Falcon as he crosses paths with criminals and meets Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian.
The tweet has quickly kicked up chatter on Chinese online forums as to whether the film will be going with a different title.
SYFY WIRE has reached out to Lucasfilm parent company Disney for comment.
Whether a rumored title change will help with selling the film to Chinese audiences remains a hazy proposition, since the movie is about one of the most beloved characters in the canon and will feature other familiar faces like Chewie and Lando. But there's no question that Star Wars is not the box office or cultural juggernaut in China (nor South Korea, for that matter, another Asian nation where it has underperformed) that it is on this side of the world.
The Last Jedi earned just $41 million in China, a minuscule percentage of the film's nearly $1.3 billion worldwide gross so far. Its direct predecessor, The Force Awakens, fared somewhat better but still ended up at only No. 13 on China's year-end box office tally for 2016 with $124 million, while the franchise's first stand-alone prequel, Rogue One, brought in just $69 million.
In other words, things are going in the wrong direction for Star Wars with each successive release in China, so dropping the Star Wars brand from the title may be one way to combat that.
Why has Star Wars fared so poorly there? One of the main theories suggests that the Chinese public has no real investment in the new films since the originals were not released in China when they first came out. Without the franchise being part of the local pop culture there for decades — as it is here — there's no reason for Chinese moviegoers to get excited about the new films.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S., fans are still awaiting a first trailer for Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is just under four months out from its release date. Disney reportedly has purchased a couple of TV spots during the Super Bowl this coming weekend, but it remains to be seen whether one of those will belong to Solo.
Directed by Ron Howard, who reshot most of the film after taking over from previous directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Solo: A Star Wars Story stars Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Emilia Clarke, Thandie Newton, Paul Bettany, and Woody Harrelson. It arrives in the U.S. on May 25.