China screens ‘Star Wars’ in cine­mas for first time


China has be­come one with the Force by show­ing the orig­i­nal “Star Wars” film at cine­mas for the first time, nearly four decades af­ter it be­came a global hit and corner­stone of Western pop­u­lar cul­ture.

The Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val is show­ing all six “Star Wars” films this week, in­clud­ing the first screen­ings in main­land Chi­nese the­atres of the orig­i­nal tril­ogy, fes­ti­val or­ga­niz­ers said. There are no plans for na­tion­wide re­lease.

In 1977 as for­eign au­di­ences fol­lowed the ad­ven­tures of Luke Sky­walker, Han Solo and Princess Leia “a long time ago in a gal­axy far, far away,” China had just emerged from the chaotic Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion and had yet to launch eco­nomic re­forms which would trans­form the Com­mu­nist-ruled coun­try.

Tues­day was the first show­ing through the film fes­ti­val of “A New Hope” — made first but ul­ti­mately the fourth film in the se­ries — though hard- core fans were treated to a spe­cially ar­ranged screen­ing of the orig­i­nal tril­ogy shown back- to- back on Sun­day.

At a cen­tral cin­ema, the Tues­day show was nearly sold out. The Star Wars theme song played in the lobby as the young crowd en­tered, one man wear­ing a C-3PO T-shirt and a woman sport­ing white storm troop­ers on her black shirt.

Sales as­sis­tant Joy Han took a day off to see the film, even though she has seen all six through illegal down­loads and pi­rated copies. The six-DVD box set sells for around US$12 in the Chi­nese com­mer­cial city.

“It looks bet­ter on the big screen,” she told AFP. “This is the first time for China.”

Some au­di­ence mem­bers said they were more fa­mil­iar with the newer, pre­quel films: “The Phan­tom Men­ace,” “At­tack of the Clones” and “Re­venge of the Sith” than with the orig­i­nal three films — “Star Wars,” “The Em­pire Strikes Back” and “Re­turn of the Jedi.”

U.S. stu­dio Walt Dis­ney hopes the screen­ings will pre­pare the Chi­nese au­di­ence for the sev­enth episode in the se­ries, due for re­lease later this year.

“This will be the first-ever the­atri­cal screen­ing of the orig­i­nal tril­ogy in China,” Ker­win Lo, vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager of Walt Dis­ney Stu­dios China, told AFP be­fore the films showed.

“The huge buzz and ex­cite­ment gen­er­ated is go­ing to be great for the Star Wars fran­chise and the up­com­ing ‘Star Wars: The Force Awak­ens,’” he said.

On the Chi­nese web­site Douban, the orig­i­nal 1977 Star Wars film re­ceived a rat­ing of 8.3 out of 10 and drew more than 35,000 com­ments.

“We should view it with a com­par­a­tive per­spec­tive,” said a post­ing un­der the name T-maxdo.

“In 1977, the United States al­ready had such stun­ning imag­i­na­tive cre­ativ­ity and movie spe­cial ef­fects, while China had just ended the Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion pe­riod and its peo­ple had just emerged from a dark era.”

But some Chi­nese view­ers crit­i­cized the film for weak char­ac­ters.

“Although the char­ac­ter de­sign is weak, the lead­ing ac­tress not beau­ti­ful, the lead­ing ac­tor not hand­some and the ac­tion parts like chil­dren fight­ing, placed in 1977, the vis­ual ef­fects are amaz­ing,” said Xiaosi Bux­i­ang on the web­site.

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