It seems cultural barriers were the main scapegoat for The Force Awakens‘ Chinese box office shortcomings earlier this year. Though modern U.S. films constantly make their way over to China, the cultural legacy of Star Wars simply does not hold up there — likely because Star Wars first leapt into the American zeitgeist way back in 1977, when the U.S. and China had still not even established diplomatic relations. Star Wars excitement on this side of the globe is bolstered by generations of fans, whereas the market overseas is missing that strong foundation.
Those precise conditions are exactly what could make Rogue One an international success, though. In countries like China where Star Wars is less iconic, Rogue One may be able to introduce new fans to the franchise without expecting them to immediately understand the series’s decades-long history. Though it introduced a new generation of heroes, The Force Awakens still relied heavily on fan knowledge of the original trio (Luke, Leia, and Han), thus leaving those unfamiliar somewhat in the dark. Rogue One, on the other hand, is supposed to be able to stand on its own so well that we won’t see its characters again. This could be the perfect time for Lucasfilm to introduce Chinese fans to the world of Star Wars, as it would allow for a year of cultural catch-up before the studio releases Star Wars: Episode VIII.
While it’s clear Rogue One will cause international conversation, studios are still hoping the film will break into unfamiliar markets. China could be an important step one in this process; it’s just a matter of whether or not Rogue One will be able to successfully carry the legacy of Star Wars halfway around the world.