Star Wars The Force Awakens Rey
Courtesy of Disney

Star Wars: The Force Awakens” racked up a record-breaking $53 million after debuting in China on Saturday, according to studio estimates.

The People’s Republic is the last major market to host the latest “Star Wars” adventure. Its opening ranks as the best Saturday or Sunday bow ever in China.

Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis noted that for many Chinese moviegoers, “The Force Awakens” will serve as “the first ‘Star Wars’ film they’ve ever seen.”

Disney has invested heavily in “Star Wars,” plunking down more than $4 billion in 2012 for rights to Lucasfilm, the company behind the franchise. It has plans to not only create a new trilogy of films, but also to launch a series of standalone spinoffs. Given that China is the second-biggest source of ticket sales in the world and is expected to bypass the U.S. as the world’s top film market, success in the country is critical.

“With this kind of start and the response we are receiving from those who’ve seen it, we’re very encouraged by the beginning of what should be a very long run and what it represents for the long-term future of the franchise in one of the most important markets in the world,” said Hollis.

The film played particularly well in Imax, earning $8.1 million. That’s more than 15% of “The Force Awaken’s” gross. It’s a strong result for the wide-screen company given that it typically pulls in between 10% and 11% of the revenue for a blockbuster film.

Internationally, “The Force Awakens” picked up another $104.3 million this weekend, bringing its worldwide haul to a massive $1.73 billion. It is now the third highest-grossing movie in history, shooting past “Jurassic World’s” $1.67 billion global gross.

Anticipation for “The Force Awakens” was always fevered. More than a decade separated director J.J. Abrams’ update on the saga of Jedi knights and shadowy adherents of the Dark Side and the George Lucas prequels that proceeded them. However, China had no strong ties to the “Star Wars” franchise — a gap in their pop culture knowledge that Disney had to fill.

To that end, the studio’s campaign emphasized the film’s outer space setting and action-heavy plot. It also fanned some Middle Kingdom excitement by partnering with local pop star and social media icon Lu Han as a brand ambassador. Lu crafted an “Inner Force” music video earlier this month that served as an introduction to the space opera mythology.

“It shows that no one is better at building a brand than Disney,” said Greg Foster, CEO of Imax Entertainment.

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