Marginal Revolution quotes a website called Sixth Tone on why the Chinese are pretty meh about all the Star Wars hype. The Last Jedi came in second in its opening weekend with $29 million in China. That would have been a huge number a decade ago in China, but Pixar’s Coco did $73 million in its opening weekend in China. The Chinese love Coco.
Other factors, according to Chen, include Chinese audiences’ preference for physically attractive protagonists and stories rooted in reality. He points out that, for example, superhero films from Marvel — a Disney cash cow that has enjoyed great success in China — feature recognizable settings, such as New York and even China, and are filled with larger-than-life leads who meet the public’s aesthetic standards. The Star Wars characters, meanwhile, look ordinary by comparison.
“These actors aren’t very beautiful, which may deter a lot of Chinese from seeing the recent films,” said Chen. “We fans often joke that if Finn were played by Will Smith, Chinese people might be more inclined to watch it — because he’s very handsome.”
In contrast, the last two Marvel movies, Thor: Ragnarok ($53 million in its opening weekend in China) and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 ($49 million in its opening weekend in China), star blond, muscular, handsome, and funny movie stars named Chris.
Plus Marvel movies have lots of old-time time-tested movie stars like Sir Anthony Hopkins, Sylvester Stallone, Jeff Goldblum, Kurt Russell, and Mark Ruffalo.
Marvel movies may not have their fair share of girls in them, but the ones they do have tend to look like Scarlett Johansson:
But the current Star Wars franchise at least does have one actor with some old-fashioned movie star power: Oscar Isaac.
He’s basically in there to be Han Solo if in 1977 George Lucas had cast Al Pacino instead of Harrison Ford. And Isaac even gets Intersectionality Pokemon Points as a Latino and Middle Easterner because he’s some kind of Conquistador-American / Crusader-American. (His father is a Miami surgeon.)
Note: I may be mistaken about Isaac being a Crusader-American like Carlos Slim. I assumed “Isaac” is a Lebanese Christian surname like “Abraham” often is, but the actor attributes it to a Jewish ancestor.
And he is a classy actor often cast as royalty (e.g., King John in 2010′s Ridley Scott Robin Hood). Granted, he’s never quite broken through yet to stardom despite getting cast as the lead in much-anticipated movies by the Coen Brothers and J.C. Chandor that didn’t quite live up to expectations, but at least you notice him every time he’s on screen.
So why won’t they let these latest sequels be more about the one potential movie star they have on the premises?
Another factor in Chinese apathy is that a lot of Star Wars’ popularity relates to Western nostalgia for how awesome the original two movies seemed in 1977-1980. Since then, lots of movies have attempted to imitate the innovations of the 1977 Star Wars. The Chinese, in contrast, were mostly down on post-Cultural Revolution pig farms in 1977 so they don’t remember how spectacular it was at the time. It’s just one of a lot of American movies they caught up with many years later.