In an attempt to cultivate grass-roots enthusiasm for a franchise that has not yet managed to find a strong foothold in the world’s second-largest film market, Disney will make the 40 “Star Wars” novels available in Chinese for the first time on Tencent’s digital reading platform, at no cost for the first week.
The two companies also tapped a popular Chinese internet novelist who goes by the pen name of “His Majesty the King” to write a new “authentic Star Wars story with Chinese characteristics.” It will “bring in Chinese elements and unique Chinese storytelling methods,” according to a statement posted on the official “Star Wars” Weibo social media page. One of the author’s previous books was adapted by Tencent into a 2016 anime series.
“We hope we can help more Chinese readers engage with ‘Star Wars’ stories and help the force of ‘Star Wars’ shine brighter in China,” China Literature CEO Wu Wenhui told reporters in Shanghai. A representative from Disney said the company looked forward to “putting the vast world of the ‘Star Wars’ universe at the fingertips of Chinese consumers.”
The franchise has largely failed to connect with Chinese audiences, who didn’t grow up with the films and have no nostalgic pull towards them. In the 1970s, when George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” came out, the country was just beginning its recovery from the Cultural Revolution, and Western cultural imports were few and far between.
“The Force Awakens” earned a decent $124 million in China in 2016, but box office figures have gone downhill since. Last year, China was hit with three Star Wars films that all under-performed. Spinoff “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” made just $69.5 million, “The Last Jedi” brought in $42.6 million, and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” earned $16.5 million in China.
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” is due for release in December, and will clearly be looking to do big business in the territory. Lucasfilm has tried various tactics to pull new fans into the franchise, organizing everything from live orchestra concerts to themed runs to a photo op of 500 storm troopers placed on the Great Wall.
The new partnership could potentially tap into a huge swath of consumers, given that China boasts a staggering 454 million readers of online literature. Hong Kong-listed China Literature says it has 217 million monthly active users and nearly 8 million authors on its various platforms.