Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in China this week, and Lucasfilm is doing something… different to mark the regional release.
Unlike the west, where a mere barrage of marketing, merchandising and shameless pandering to nostalgia sufficed to pack cinemas, launching the film in China requires playing to that market’s standards. That means only one thing — a mostly unrelated pop song performed by a former boy band member.
The song, called The Inner Force, is performed by 25-year old Luhan, a former member of the Chinese/South Korean group EXO. Disney will be strongly promoting the accompanying music video, which will be “aired on national TV programs, streamed on online video platforms, and screened as a pre-movie ad at cinemas across China”.
The track is… not great. Even accounting for cultural tastes, it’s a weird mix of Mandopop (Mandarin language pop music) and dubstep-inspired drops, with pidgin English peppered throughout. The English-subtitled video makes the links to Star Wars even harder to spot, barring a couple of very oblique references. It’s more of a typical modern pop track, where its singer espouses on how they’re going to “rock this place”.
While it’s easy to dismiss The Inner Force from a position of western privilege, it’s also worth acknowledging just how phenomenally popular Luhan is in the region. Since splitting from EXO in 2014, he’s become one of China’s biggest performers, and has won actual popularity contests in the country. He has more than 12 million followers on Weibo (China’s answer to Twitter and Tumblr, all in one), even earning a Guiness World Record for most comments received on a single post — 13,163,859, on a comment about Manchester United. We can only presume the thread went at least slightly off-topic.
There’s also no real entrenched audience for Star Wars in China. The original trilogy wasn’t officially released there until June 2015, so there’s no nostalgia factor to play off. If Lucasfilm wants to introduce the saga to an audience not necessarily familiar with the Force, droids, Empires or Rebellions, they could do worse than a highly publicised video intercutting scenes from The Force Awakens with shots of Luhan randomly dressed as a Jedi.
So that’s exactly what they’ve done, but only for part of the video. Other times, to maintain his image as a marketable pretty boy singer, Luhan is just in a warehouse, dropping sick lines such as “I’m the leading man ’cause I’m feeling the Force” while gyrating. It’s a bit like that time Princess Leia sang about the Wookiee Life Day on Kashyyyk in the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. Only, y’know, not.
The Force Awakens opens in China on 9 January, where it’s expected to further boost the film’s already impressive global box office.