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China is on the verge of becoming the biggest box office in the world. This means that no movie can ignore the nation when it comes to their productions. One franchise that needs to do better is Star Wars. The saga has never been as big a deal in the nation. Part of the strategy to improve performance has been to cast two major Chinese actors, Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, as part of the rebel band in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. However, It doesn't appear that decision has had quite the benefit that Disney was expecting. Some are afraid that the casting was simply tokenism, and that the characters aren't actually that important to the story.
While Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a huge global phenomenon, one place it didn't strike gold was China. The studio likely has higher hopes for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, however, Alexander Leung, from Hong King based social media company Lamplight Analytics told The Hollywood Reporter that not everybody in China is on board yet.
There are mixed sentiments regarding the two Chinese stars. Some are saying [saying] they don't believe the characters are pivotal to the plot at all; others are praising Disney for increasing diversity in the Star Wars franchise.
While the Star Wars franchise may be the biggest name in movies in the western world, in China it doesn't mean much. The original trilogy came out in a period when most western pop culture was still banned. Only, the most recent film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has been released during this period of increased Chinese box office dominance. While it saw a nice opening weekend, the film crashed pretty hard after that, only bringing in $124 million. Warcraft brought in nearly $100 million more.
It's clear that China isn't going to simply be impressed by the inclusion of Chinese actors. If studios are going to do that, they need to actually give these men and women something worthwhile to do on screen. Several other films, like Iron Man 3 and the recent Independence Day: Resurgence have been criticized because their inclusion of Chinese actors has either been in very small parts, or in roles that were viewed as dispensable. While it's too early to tell what sort of roles Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen have, it's clear that some are afraid they're seeing the same process play out once again.
From what little we know, we would expect that the two roles are not tiny. As a member of the Rogue One team, we would guess the parts are on par with all of the other members of the squad. How important they are, compared to everybody else, would be the real question, and that's one we really can't answer yet.