'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker' Secures China Release Date

Walt Disney Studios
'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'

Box office analysts will be watching closely to see if the J.J. Abrams franchise closer can reverse a trend of shrinking earnings for 'Star Wars' films in China.

J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has locked down its release date in the world's most populous nation.

The Disney and Lucasfilm tentpole will open in China on Dec. 20, day and date with its launch in North America.

The ninth Stars Wars feature and the final film in the Disney-produced sequel franchise, Rise of Skywalker stars Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Adam Driver, Richard E. Grant and Keri Russell. Original Star Wars actors including Mark Hamill (as Luke Skywalker), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian) also return, as does the late Carrie Fisher (Leia) via previously unused footage that Abrams shot for 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

China, the world's second largest box office territory, tends to play a big role in the global earnings of globally geared Hollywood tentpoles (Disney/Marvel's Avengers: Endgame earned $614 million there earlier this year, for example). But the Star Wars franchise, although wildly bankable in the U.S. and most major markets, has been a curious underperformer in the Middle Kingdom.

The Force Awakens piqued curiosity in China in 2016, earning a respectable if not stellar $124 million (said to be well below Disney's original expectations). But franchise spinoff Rogue One (2017) and Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi (2018) saw a further tapering off of local interest, earning just $69 million and $42.5 million, respectively.

The original films in the Star Wars franchise never received a wide release in the 1970s and 80s. China's young filmgoers have been known to gripe that the saga's backstory is too complex at this stage, and that the recent sequels' reliance on nostalgia makes the new installments inaccessible to them.

Disney has been working to turn the tide and seduce the Chinese audience in the ways of the force via a series of inventive marketing exercises. In October, the studio went back to the basics by inking a first-of-its-kind distribution deal with Tencent's China Literature, the Middle Kingdom's largest e-books and online reading platform, to license and distribute 40 translated Star Wars novels for Chinese readers.

In North America, of course, there are no such issues. Shortly after The Rise of Skywalker tickets went on sale in October it began smashing presales records.