'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Has Already Been Pulled From Chinese Theaters

Star Wars: The Last Jedi wasn't the movie that Chinese audiences were looking for. The science-fiction sequel tanked in China, following up a disappointing $28.7 million debut with one of the worst second-weekend declines the Chinese box office had ever seen. To kick the movie while it was down, it came in second that weekend to the third film in a sexist domestic romantic-comedy series, The Ex-File 3: The Return of the Exes.

After a 92% drop in its second weekend, Star Wars: The Last Jedi has already been pulled from Chinese theaters, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Jimmy Wu, chairman of nationwide Chinese cinema chain Lumiere Pavilions, told THR:

"The Last Jedi has already been completely pulled from cinemas here. It's performed much worse than we could have expected."

While Rian Johnson's film has shot to the top of the box office in North America, becoming the highest-grossing movie of 2017, Disney and Lucasfilm have failed to crack the ever-perplexing Chinese market, which controls a huge portion of the worldwide box office grosses thanks to its standing as the second-largest film market in the world. According to Forbes, Last Jedi is the worst-performing big budget movie in China since 2013's The Lone Ranger. At this rate, Last Jedi will finish in China with only $50 million, performing worse than box office disappointments like Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets ($62 million) and Geostorm ($65.6 million).

So what's the cause of this surprising drop? Chinese market research experts tell THR that it's because Chinese audiences are largely unfamiliar with the franchise, which has no cultural "legacy" in the country. The original trilogy never received a wide release in China, and young audiences mostly flocked to The Force Awakens out of curiosity, and Rogue One out of excitement for its Chinese stars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen. But the box office performances of Star Wars movies have been degrading across the board, market researcher James Li said, with Force Awakens raking in $124 million in 2016 and Rogue One earning $69 million in 2017 — both well below Disney's forecasts.

Aside from familiarity with the franchise, it may also be the melting pot of Western and Eastern mythology that Star Wars draws on — Arthurian legends wrapped up in Akira Kurosawa cinematic inspirations. THR notes that the emotional climax of the film revolves around Luke Skywalker's (Mark Hamill) reveal at the end, which only left Chinese audiences thinking "So who is this old guy, suddenly, and why are we supposed to care?" Li added:

"Because of the complex characters and themes, the prequels, and all of the multi-generational layers that are part of the culture, or cult, of Star Wars, it's been hard for young Chinese filmgoers to get into the franchise."

The Chinese box office has been a tough nut to crack for Hollywood lately, with domestic films far out-grossing Western blockbusters predicted to be surefire hits. That's the only explanation for the runaway performance of the weekend's box office winnerThe Ex-File 3: Return of the Exes, an archaic rom-com about playboy bachelors freed from the confines of relationships. Yes, this is the movie that beat out Last Jedi.