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New 'Star Wars' film opens strong in China

The latest installment in the "Star Wars" franchise has opened to sold-out theaters in China, setting new records. "The Force Awakens" aims to dethrone "Avatar" as the highest-grossing film of all time.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" made an estimated $33 million (30.2 million euros) in ticket sales on its first day of showing in China, Disney representatives said on Saturday, marking a new high for a Disney film premiere in the world's second-largest movie market.

Despite the strong start, the movie might face an uphill battle in the country which was isolated from the

"Star Wars" phenomenon

during its peak popularity in 1970s and the 1980s.

"We didn't grow up watching the movies like many Westerners have," said 26-year-old graphic designer Andi Cheung ahead of a midnight showing, speaking with the dpa news agency.

"I think young people in China are curious to discover what 'Star Wars' is about, but I'm not sure the older generation would be so keen," he added.

The original "Star Wars" trilogy was shown in theaters last summer for the first time.

In a bid to boost the "Star Wars" fan base, Disney staged a massive campaign for "The Force Awakens" in China, placing 500 Stormtroopers on the Great Wall and hiring local pop stars to appear in promotional videos ahead of the premiere.

People stand in line in the rain outside of the Disney Studio Store and Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop, next to the El Capitan Theatre in LA

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" has enjoyed huge commercial success around the world

Chasing 'Avatar'

China is expected to surpass North America as the world's largest movie market as soon as next year.

With a strong performance in Asia in the coming weeks, the sci-fi epic could surpass James Cameron's 2009 film "Avatar" to become the top-grossing film of all time.

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" has enjoyed huge commercial success in many parts of the world, already

beating the $760.5 million record set by "Avatar"

in the US and Canada earlier this week.

But the latest installment, directed by "Lost" co-creator J.J. Abrams, is still far behind Cameron's 2009 blockbuster when it comes to worldwide ticket sales. "The Force Awakens" had grossed $1.6 billion globally as of this Thursday, compared to the $2.78 billion made by "Avatar" over multiple releases.

dj/cmk (dpa, Reuters, AP)

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