Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is here. Did it meet your expectations? There was a massive weight on Episode 9, especially considering that it seeks to close out not only the Sequel Trilogy, but every Skywalker Saga story before it. The movie has certainly been divisive among fans and Rise of Skywalker's opening weekend was not exactly up to par with its record-breaking predecessors. However, there's a substantial reason why and it's all about timing.
Rise of Skywalker had the closest release date to Christmas than any other recent title before it. December 20 falls on the last major weekend before the big holiday – which is famously the most popular time for gift-givers to get their final shopping underway. Rise of Skywalker’s opening weekend was concurrent with the busiest days for in-store foot traffic in 2019, per Forbes. So, when we compare its numbers to other Star Wars titles, it’s just not a fair comparison.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened on December 18, 2015 – an entire week prior to Christmas Day. Since many shoppers had the weekend plus five weekdays to prepare themselves, it certainly helped the movie’s $247.9 million debut weekend, later becoming the highest domestic grossing movie of all time (yes, even today)! And, The Last Jedi opened on December 15, 2017, offering up 10 days space between its opening and Xmas.
The Last Jedi performed well over Rise of Skywalker with a $220 million first weekend, $45 million more than the new release’s $175 million debut. Skywalker was released, inconveniently, with only five days left before Christmas. It also doesn’t help that the big holiday fell on a Wednesday this year, where, in years prior, there was an additional weekend before the holiday for shoppers to keep busy.
Even so, Rise of Skywalker still had the third best opening weekend ever for a December film. When the film premiered domestically on Thursday night, it became the fifth-highest preview night – just behind another high-profile saga closer, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. It crushed the weekend by a long shot, throwing its competition to the dust. Jumanji: The Next Level was far behind at $26 million in its second weekend and fellow newcomer Cats completely flopped.
Yet, you cannot talk about Rise of Skywalker’s performance without mentioning the audience response either. Critics gave the lowest RT score for a Star Wars film in recent memory with a 55% Rotten score and audiences were agreeably mixed since it received a B+ Cinemascore. Both Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were both met with A grades by moviegoers. So, negative buzz could have knocked it a bit, too.
Heading into its second weekend, Deadline reports Rise of Skywalker will outpace The Last Jedi by 3% after its 10-day run with an expected $380.9 million domestic gross. This just goes to show that the opening earnings certainly don’t define the success of a blockbuster, even when timing isn’t on its side!