Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker sputtered back to earth moments after making liftoff in the massive China market over the weekend, opening to a dismal $12 million including previews.
The Disney/Lucasfilm mega-tentpole, directed by J.J. Abrams, was knocked out cold by Donnie Yen‘s martial arts epic Ip Man 4: The Finale, which brought in a healthy $47.1 million. It also was beaten by a holdover Chinese thriller, Sheep Without A Shepherd, which debuted back on Dec. 13 but added $23.6 million in its second weekend.
Not including its lavish preview screenings on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, Rise of Skywalker earned just $8.9 million from Friday to Sunday, which was less than yet another Chinese release. Feng Xiaogang‘s romantic drama Only Cloud Knows grossed $9.4 million from Friday to Sunday, or $10.7 million including Thursday previews. Including its more aggressive preview rollout, Skywalker scores third for the weekend, but discounting sneaks it slips to fourth.
Ip Man 4 is the final installment in director Raymond Yip‘s film series detailing the real and imagined exploits of the eponymous kung fu master who famously mentored Bruce Lee. Ip Man‘s franchise finale has been showered with all of the pent-up love and nostalgia for myth and character that the Chinese audience decidedly does not feel for the Star Wars saga. Ip Man 4 generated high social scores across platforms, such as 9.5 out of 10 on Maoyan, 9.3 on Taopiaopiao and 7.3 on Douban. Rise of Skywalker tepid reception clocked in at 7.8, 8 and 6.6, respectively.
Skywalker‘s woeful opening continues a downward spiral for Star Wars earnings in the Middle Kingdom. Abrams’ own The Force Awakens (2015) totaled $124 million, which already was considered somewhat disappointing in light of the Chinese market’s size and the film’s earnings elsewhere. Franchise spinoff Rogue One (2017) then slipped to $69 million despite the well received supporting performances of two Chinese stars, Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen himself, aka Ip Man. Rian Johnson‘s The Last Jedi (2017) eroded further to $42.5 million and Solo: A Star Wars Story brought in just $16.4 million.
Many local analysts believe Rise of Skywalker will struggle to crack $20 million. Either way, its performance is unlikely to make it into China’s top 50 releases of 2019, and it will trail many much smaller imported releases, including, ironically, titles like Rian Johnson‘s mid-budget murder mystery Knives Out and 20th Century Fox‘s bungled franchise closer, X-Men: Dark Phoenix.
A large part of the Star Wars franchise’s struggles in China stem from the fact that the original three films never received a wide release in the country. The reference and nostalgia-heavy story beats of the updated Disney films, meanwhile, haven’t helped matters, often leaving young Chinese filmgoers befuddled and unenthused. Disney has worked hard and spent heavily to bring the Chinese market up to speed on the ways of the Force, but mostly to no avail.