For decades, bedrooms and playrooms across the western hemisphere have been filled with Star Wars duvets, figurines, themed lego and other paraphernalia. Dress-up parties spanning all occasions have been embraced by people wearing Darth Vader and storm trooper masks, and more than 500,000 people have officially identified their religion as Jedi Knights. Since the first movie in 1977, the Star Wars franchise has amassed an estimated $65 billion in sales – more than any other media franchise that isn’t a cartoon.
Yet the galaxy far, far away seems even further in China. Despite attempts to lure Chinese fans using live orchestra concerts, themed runs and selfie opportunities with storm troopers on the Great Wall, Star Wars has failed to captivate Chinese audiences in the way it has elsewhere. Ronnie Den, who starred in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story believes the franchise hasn’t made money in China because Chinese haven’t grown up with Star Wars and don’t understand its unique rules and quirks.
Disney is hoping to change that. The company is adopting a less-common approach to build grass-roots enthusiasm for the franchise. Through its partnership with Tencent’s China Literature, it will make 40 “Star Wars” novels available in Chinese for the first time on the digital reading platform, at no cost for a week.
In the fast-paced, instant-gratification, short video-obsessed world of modern China, a lot of people still read books. China boasts a mouth-watering 454 million readers of online literature, with 217 million monthly active users and nearly 8 million authors on China Literature’s various platforms.
As part of the initiative, Disney has commissioned popular Internet novelist His Majesty the King to write a new “authentic Star Wars story with Chinese characteristics.” We will be watching with interest: the new edition promises to “bring in Chinese elements and unique Chinese storytelling methods.” Given the underlying theme of Star Wars is a rebel alliance battling the empire, localising for China could be interesting. Will the bad guys’ lightsabers still be red? Censors are likely to be paying closer attention than ever given the sensitivities around the Hong Kong protests, particularly when protestors are hanging banners and referencing a catch phrase from the similarly-themed movie The Hunger Games.
If any foreign company can make Darth Vader masks the go-to costume for Halloween in China, it is Disney. Between its Marvel, Pixar and other movie franchises, resort, merchandise and other assets, the company has a strong infrastructure and experience in market to help push the cause. We applaud them for trying the old-fashioned but less-traditional approach of books to grow Star Wars fans.
In other news, China Skinny is honoured to again be working with Austcham Shanghai to deliver the third Westpac Australian Business Sentiment Survey. The 2017 and 2018 survey gave rich insights and trends into the health, opportunities and challenges in the Australia-China economic relationship, provided a valuable benchmarking tool for all organisations working with China and strengthened the Chamber’s advocacy efforts to advance Australia-China business relations. If you’re an Australian or working for an Australian business who engages with China, we’re hoping you can share your Yoda-wisdom and generously spend around 15 minutes to do the online survey – we’ll all be better for it! Take the survey here.
We hope you enjoy this week’s Skinny. May the Force be with you. Go to Page 2 to see this week’s China news and highlights.