Expectations are high for new ‘Star Wars’ in China

SHANGHAI – The latest Star Wars movie broke the $1 billion mark before fans in China could see it, but producers anticipate “The Force Awakens’’ will play “very very well’’ in the world’s second-biggest film market.

The film opens in China on Jan. 9.

Director J.J. Abrams watched the Chinese premiere in Shanghai with a Chinese audience Sunday night.

He told a news conference on Monday that he was thrilled to see people “laughing and cheering in exactly the same places that we’ve seen other audiences.’’

“It’s a testament to the power of cinema, that it does not matter where you’re from, you can get caught up in a story,’’ Abrams said.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens’’ took 12 days to earn $1 billion worldwide, becoming the fastest movie to achieve such a feat. The previous movie to reach $1 billion the fastest was “Jurassic World,’’ which did it in 13 days in June – and which had the benefit of record grosses in China.

“Star Wars’’ producer Kathleen Kennedy said the movie’s success to date was “a huge surprise.’’

“We certainly hoped for enormous success but I think the fact that we crossed the billion-dollars … it’s almost so overwhelming it’s difficult to really process just what the response has been to the movie so far, and it hasn’t even opened here yet,’’ she said.

“Certainly we’re hoping and anticipating that it will play very very well here.’’

The Chinese market has become increasingly important for Hollywood as revenues from movie theaters stagnate at home. Some movies have incorporated Chinese characters or stories to try to appeal to the Chinese movie-going audience.

Asked whether “Star Wars’’ movies would do the same in the future, Kennedy said they had just finished shooting “Rogue One,’’ the first stand-alone “Star Wars’’ story.

Hong Kong martial arts actor Donnie Yen and Chinese actor and director Jiang Wen have roles in it.

“They play wonderful characters and certainly there are many mythologies inside Chinese literature that I know we can explore in the future and find ways in which we can integrate some of those stories into the Star Wars universe,’’ Kennedy said. AP