There's a great deal riding on the box office performance of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While a certain level of success if confidently expected, hopes are much higher than that. However, the film just took a major step toward realizing those dreams. You simply can't put up serious global box office numbers without opening in China, and while it looked for a minute like Rogue One might not be getting a Chinese release date, the film has now secured one in early January, just as Star Wars: The Force Awakens had done.
China is the second largest box office market in the world, poised to become the largest over the next few years. If Star Wars is going to be a truly global franchise they need to get the Chinese audience behind it. To that end, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney has now secured a January 6, 2017 release date in the nation for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. When Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released in China it hit screens on January 9.
However, when The Force Awakens was released in China, it didn't do nearly as well as people had hoped. The movie grossed about $125 million, which is a respectable number, but it was nothing compared to what other Hollywood films have done in recent years. Terminator: Genisys did $113 million, just to give you an example of the sorts of movies that fall in that range.
It's been clear from the beginning that Lucasfilm wanted to do more to help Rogue One: A Star Wars Story appeal to the Chinese audience. First and foremost, they cast two huge Chinese actors, Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, in major supporting roles. Unfortunately, at this point, it's hard to say exactly how big those roles really are. Not everybody in China is convinced that they'll be integral to the plot and some think the actors may have been cast simply as tokens.
The major issue is simply that China doesn't have the history with Star Wars that the rest of the worlds does. The original trilogy was released when western entertainment was still banned in China, it's only been available to view in the country for the last few years. While the name Star Wars alone is enough to bring in millions of dollars here, that's simply not the case there.
Beyond any of that, the success of Rogue One still not entirely assured here. As the first film in the franchise to be a standalone story, it's level of success is not a guarantee. If the word "Episode" was attached to it we could guess how well the movie would do, but without that, this movie is still an experiment. Whether we'll see more movies like it is in large part dependent on how this one does.
Finally, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the last movie being released by Disney this year. The studio has already set a record for the biggest domestic box office ever, but they're about a half-billion dollars short of breaking the global record that Universal set last year. In order to do that Rogue One doesn't simply need to make a significant amount of money, but it needs to do it quickly.