The Force is strong with China this week. For the first time ever, the Star Wars films A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi are being screened in mainland China. The films are being shown as part of the Shanghai International Film Festival.
“This will be the first-ever theatrical screening of the original trilogy in China. The huge buzz and excitement generated is going to be great for the Star Wars franchise and the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Kerwin Lo, vice president and general manager of Walt Disney Studios China, told Agence France-Presse.
The original Star Wars (aka A New Hope) premiered in the United States in May 1977, followed by an international release — but the sci-fi blockbuster never made it China. The nation had just emerged from the Cultural Revolution under Communist leader Mao Tse-Tung, who had banned the import of foreign culture. Not until 1986 — three years after Return of the Jedi — did major Hollywood studios strike a deal to distribute new films in China. As a result, many Chinese movie fans are more familiar with the ‘90s Star Wars prequels, which did premiere theatrically, than with the original films.
Even so, the original trilogy managed to find a Chinese audience over the years, thanks to illegal downloads and bootleg copies. And according to AFP, the Tuesday screening of A New Hope was nearly sold out, thanks to an enthusiastic crowd of young fans.
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Unfortunately, Disney has no plans to give the original trilogy a nationwide theatrical release — so the rest of China won’t get to see Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader battle it out on the big screen. Not that everyone in China is a diehard Star Wars fan. Reviewing the film on the Chinese website Douban, one user writes, “Although the character design is weak, the leading actress not beautiful, the leading actor not handsome and the action parts like children fighting, placed in 1977, the visual effects are amazing.”
Of course, now that China is the world’s second biggest film market, the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens is poised to make a big splash. The seventh Star Wars movie opens in the United States on Dec. 18.