China finally got to see “Star Wars” on the big screen, 40 years after its release

May the force be with you.
May the force be with you.
Image: Reuters/William Hong
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A Western cultural phenomenon appeared on Chinese theater screens this week for the first time, when the Shanghai International Film Festival started screening the original Star Wars trilogy.

Executives from Disney, the owner of the movie franchise, described “huge buzz and excitement” surrounding Sunday’s back-to-back screening of the original three movies for a small group of fans. On Tuesday, the original Star Wars: A New Hope played in Shanghai to nearly sold-out crowds.

But for all the attempts to make the release a significant cultural moment in China—and drum up hype for the new Star Wars releases due out in the next few years—Chinese film buffs seem to be less than blown away.

Of course none of this is to say that Star Wars is entirely new to Chinese film fans. Through bootlegs, imports, or downloads, foreign films not shown in theaters have long been available to those in search of them. Still, the screenings sparked a reassessment of the movies from fans and those seeing them for the first time. On Douban, an entertainment website that’s a bit like a cross between IMDB and Myspace, Chinese viewers had mixed reviews:

Chidao de Qi’e, said on the site: “I can’t give any compliments for the 40-year-old special effects … [but] it was fantastic to watch it, and the characters were well-rounded.”

Wang Jinwei, another user of the site, explained that after already having sat through a rather stuffy film, the first half an hour of Star Wars: A New Hope almost sent him to sleep: “The second half’s special effects woke me up. The movie has special effects, action, and impromptu humor; this is truly an accomplished blockbuster. I prefer the 1977 version to the later sequels.”

Koukou Shuijing said: “C-3PO must be the source of inspiration for [The Big Bang Theory’s] Sheldon … For that era, it was a breakthrough sci-fi movie, but still I can’t help but laugh at the lasers they use in the gun battles.”

Wo Ai Guanjianzi wrote: “After several decades, it is still a true classic.”

Chai said: “My boyfriend is a Star Wars fan and this was the first time I’ve seen a two-story theater so full of people, who even clapped at the end. A lot of audience members were dressed up in costume like it was a film buff’s outing, but for someone like myself, who knew nothing of the film, I can’t say I have much feeling towards it. The special effects from 1977 were as you’d expect, and the music was really classical too … I don’t think it’s any better than today’s sci-fi movies. But I did see Wall-E!”

To many Star Wars evangelicals that may all sound rather underwhelming, but they can rest assured that one cultural meme made it to China’s movie fans. On Weibo, China’s most popular micro-blogging platform, user Ruantidongwu posted: “The plot’s biggest controversy surrounds Han Solo’s fight with Greedo in the Cantina bar, and it centers on who shot who first.”

Thankfully for the Chinese internet, this user says he has unearthed the film’s original script, dated 1976: “Han Solo shoots first.”