Forget The Rise of Skywalker – Star Wars is Starting to Succeed in China

With the opening of The Rise of Skywalker in China some have called Kathleen Kennedy the “Worst” business executive in history of any CEO, no matter which industry they belong to.

By Ryan Carroll, Managing Editor

January, 2020.


These fans pointed to the abysmal, but very much anticipated results, of The Rise of Skywalker opening weekend at the China Box-Office of $12MMUSD, and began clamoring for Kathleen Kennedy to fired for driving, not just Star Wars, but Lucasfilm into the ground.

But, this is not an article about the community effected by “Male Fanboy Syndrome,” which is the loudest by any means and most disruptive by all regards. A group that is obviously in the minority of the general audience here in North America. Let alone their small effect on the growing importance that is the worldwide movie-going audience.

A box-office that brings in 60-70% of ticket sales for nearly all tentpole blockbuster films (Hollywood studios tend to only see 50% of those sales – we will not go into post theatrical in this post).

This year alone the worldwide box-office is looking to total above $41BnUSD for the first time ever. $11Bn here in North America (“technically” a decrease from 2018 – go cry me a river all you analyst who keep saying streaming is destroying cinemas. They said that about LaserDiscs! I mean VHS…..) and $30Bn internationally.

UPDATE: The numbers are in and it’s $42.5BnUSD Worldwide!

Despite all the huffing and puffing we get from a few die-hard white males, of a certain age, that their childhoods have been ruined, and the Star Wars franchise has collapsed under the guidance of Kathleen Kennedy. The Last Jedi made $1.3BnUSD worldwide and $88MMUSD in Home Video sales in North America.

Even Solo: A Star Wars Story the box-office “bomb” made $393MM worldwide and $55MM in Home Video. If you include worldwide exclusive sales to Netflix for streaming rights, toys, along with all the merchandising and licensing, and any other ancillary product Solo had. Adding this all together, if the movie is not already profitable, it is at least broken even by this date and on its way to profitability.

That’s how a Brand like Star Wars works, and what this article is truly about.

This is the story of Bob Iger, with the help of Kathleen Kennedy, and their strategy for Star Wars in China by Disney Shanghai over the long-term.

Where it is not the China Box-Office they are focused on, but licensing and merchandising for Star Wars. With the films acting as Old-Fashioned “Saturday Morning Cartoons” aka glorified $250MM dollar commercials to sell other products, with “Star Wars” plastered across them.

Le Creuset cooking wear (China exclusive) with Darth Vader etched on lid.

This strategy is coming into fruition as reported in English on New Years Eve by Sky Canaves at China Film Insider:

The final installment of the “Star Wars” saga has fizzled in China, but brand collaborations with the franchise’s valuable IP may fare somewhat better. 

Pepsi released limited-edition “Star Wars” character cans for its diet soda with an augmented-reality feature that allowed consumers to turn the cans into light sabers on their mobile phones. Pepsi also worked with Tmall to launch levitating can gift box set, which sold out within 30 minutes. The brand also developed a social media campaign with influencers, celebrities and fans all creating content around the collaboration. 

Tmall launched an online “Star Wars” pop-up shop to sell other limited-edition products from brands such as Adidas, Bose and Le Creuset. 

Offline experiences in China included the appearance of the BB-8 droid at the League of Legends All-Star Weekend and a themed exhibition at Hangzhou’s Grand Canal Place shopping center featuring immersive experiences.”

Sky Canaves – China Film Insider, Dec. 31st, 2019.

Obviously, this strategy has worked well for Star Wars over the years as it is the 5th highest-grossing media franchise of all time and the highest-grossing film merchandising franchise of all time, with over $65BnUSD.

As per The Hollywood Reporter The Rise of Skywalker holds a 7.8 / 10 on Maoyan, a 8 / 10 on Tiaopiaopiao and 6.6 / 10 on Douban, and Maoyan even recently has adjusted their lifetime take for TROS at the China Box-Office from just $17MMUSD to (just) $19MMUSD.

Though it may not look it, these decent review numbers from Maoyan and Tiaopiaopiao, Douban users have shown to be more critical in the past. The success of the licensing partnerships Disney Shanghai had made with Pepsi, Adidas and others in China for the release of TROS in China. We may be seeing a post-Gen Z generation in a decade who will grow up watching Star Wars properties that are not made for theatrical release but that for streaming services. A strategy that is more conducive for younger Chinese consumer taste.

Either way, Bob Iger’s strategy for merchandising, licensing, and of course Disney Shanghai themed attraction growth, of Star Wars products is the true Endgame for this franchise behemoth. One that we will see come to life this year in the first official Star Wars eNovel ever in a deal that Disney Shanghai made with Tencent’s China Literature.

A deal that this author nearly two years to this day (January 13th, 2018 to be exact) called – almost:

“I would not be surprised to see to see Tencent Literature begin doing more licensing deals with comic book companies in China, such as motion comics for Stars Wars, in order to grow their own audience traction in the burgeoning 2D Culture & Pan Entertainment sectors.


My fault is I said motion-comics, which were more popular back then than, eNovels but at least I got the company right!

Stay Tuned China Watchers!

If you would like to see a good Video Essay breakdown on why the New Trilogy did not work (or vehemently disagree with me and need something else) check out Georg Rockall-Schmidt‘s Star Wars: The Franchise That Choked YouTube video essay.

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About the Author

Born and raised in the Missouri-Ozarks Ryan studied Film Production, and East Asian Culture, at the University of Kansas where he was a UGRA recipient that led him on a seven-year long, Journey From the West, to China. Where he worked with Warner Brothers, the China Film Group Corp. and the National Bureau of Statistics of China. Before returning to the States, where he specializes in Chinese Anime & Comics, China’s Box-Office, and Chinese entertainment-tech industries. He has a dog in China, Abigail, and a dog in the Arkansas-Ozarks, King Blue, who help ease his anxiety of suffering from the “Two-Dimensional Complex” that is trying to understand the Culture Industry landscapes of the Middle Kingdom.