Original Star Wars trilogy finally makes China debut

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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 pop 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 organisers 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 - which was made first but ultimately became 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 was seen wearing a C-3PO T-shirt and a woman was seen 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 (S$16) in the Chinese commercial city.

"It looks better on the big screen," she said. "This is the first time for China."

Some in the audience 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.

Walt Disney Studios 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," Mr Kerwin Lo, vice-president and general manager of Walt Disney Studios China, said 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 had just emerged from a dark era."

But some Chinese viewers criticised the film for weak characters.

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

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