“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is getting a massive global launch this week, rolling out in nearly every international market.
Although it’s expected to open to between $130 million and $150 million in the U.S. and $150 million overseas, the debut will likely trail that of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the worldwide box office smash that kicked off roughly a year ago, racking up a record global total of more than $528.9 million in its first weekend. Even if it can’t hit that lofty mark, the new film is still poised to make as much as $300 million globally in its first few days of release.
“Rogue One,” the story of a group of plucky rebel fighters who plot to steal plans for a deadly battleship, has a “Dirty Dozen”-in-space vibe that should appeal to fanboys the world over, but there are a number of reasons to doubt that it can match the popularity of “The Force Awakens.” For one, the film is the first of a series of planned spinoffs, existing outside the main saga of the Skywalker clan and residing chronologically between the original “Star Wars” trilogy and George Lucas’ prequels. In other words, it’s something of an untested commodity, despite being nestled squarely in the world of Jedi knights and Sith lords.
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There’s another reason grosses may be dampened: Some of the novelty has worn off. When “The Force Awakens” debuted in 2015, it had been more than a decade since a “Star Wars” movie had been in theaters. Moreover, that film featured original cast members such as Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford who hadn’t stopped by a galaxy far, far away since 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” For moviegoers who grew up with Luke, Leia, and Han, it was a chance to tap into fond childhood memories while sharing the cinematic adventure with their children.
Still there are reasons to think that “Rogue One” may get nearly as warm a reception overseas. Europe — especially the U.K., France, Germany, and Scandinavia — has great affection for the brand, which also has a long history of performing well in Australia and Japan.
“This is a different kind of movie,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore. “We have to look at this as being similar to what ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ or ‘Doctor Strange’ are in the Marvel universe: They’re not the best-known characters, but they’re part of a brand that’s incredibly well-known.”
What’s particularly exciting for Disney, which shelled out $4 billion to buy Lucasfilm in 2012, is that the “Star Wars” franchise has room to grow. There are opportunities for improvement especially in China, the world’s second-largest film market, where “The Force Awakens” had a tepid performance of $124.2 million — far less than Hollywood hits “Transformers: Age of Extinction” ($320 million) and “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” ($240.1 million). “Rogue One” opens there Jan. 6.“China could do a lot more,” says Eric Handler, an analyst with MKM Partners. “My guess is we’ll see China revenue increase over the next several installments. ‘Star Wars’ really had zero presence in the country. All six prior movies came out before China’s movie boom.”
Another lift for “Rogue One” could come from its diverse cast, which includes Chinese stars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, Mexican actor Diego Luna, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, and Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn. Like “The Force Awakens,” the film also has a meaty lead role for a woman; in this case, Felicity Jones, the Oscar-nominated star of “The Theory of Everything.”
“People inevitably connect to the story more meaningfully when they see themselves onscreen,” notes Dave Hollis, head of worldwide distribution at Disney.
Disney, however, is playing down expectations for “Rogue One.” Chief Bob Iger told investors earlier this fall not to expect business on the level of “The Force Awakens.” Indeed, for “Rogue One,” “The Force Awakens” is both a blessing and a curse. As Hollis explains, “There are some territories where we hope better awareness because of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ will translate to greater affinity and more must-see, but certainly ‘The Force Awakens’ is going to be hard to top in most places.”