Apart from Solo: A Star Wars Story's underwhelming performance at the box office, the recent entries in the Star Wars universe have all gone on to gross over $1 billion globally, with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens taking the top spot at just over $2 billion.
However, when looking at the box office numbers of the four films within the Star Wars universe that have been released since 2015, an interesting trend appears. More or less half of the global box office gross for these entries has come from their respective domestic runs. Even more interesting is how poorly the films have performed in the Chinese market, with only The Force Awakens crossing $100 million.
According to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story star Donnie Yen, the reason Star Wars films have significantly under-performed in China is that Chinese audiences didn't grow up with the Star Wars franchise.
"Yeah, and that’s unfortunate," said Yen in an interview with JoBlo while promoting his upcoming film Big Brother. "Star Wars -- Chinese audiences didn’t grow up with Star Wars culture, so unfortunately it didn’t work. Marvel is a lot easier to understand. Star Wars, there’s a whole universe out there. Marvel, from the costumes, to the music, to the idols, to the stars, it's much easier to close the gap between the film itself and the audience."
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has far outperformed recent Star Wars films at the Chinese box office, with seven MCU films having higher opening weekends than The Force Awakens. Both Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Age of Ultron are inside the top five highest-opening weekends in China, with the former taking the top spot at $191 million, while The Force Awakens is ranked 53rd with an opening weekend of just over $53 million.
According to Yen, another reason some Western films simply don't work in China is that American filmmakers haven't taken the time to analyze the Asian markets, unlike Chinese filmmakers.
"I mean, when you’re talking about American films you’re essentially talking about Western filmmaking," said Yen. "How to make a film and what is good about a film. The structure, the finance, the distribution, the marketing. That’s the gold standard, that’s the Bible and I’m still learning. Chinese filmmakers are still learning, but at the same time we have an edge. We’ve been watching and studying these films. But -- vice versa -- I don’t think enough western filmmakers have spent the time to really analyze the Asian market -- that’s why you’ll notice a lot of American films don’t work over here…"