‘Star Wars’ makers have high hopes for China success

This photo provided by Disney shows Daisey Ridley as Rey, left, and John Boyega as Finn, in a scene from the new film, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," directed by J.J. Abrams. The movie releases in the U.S. on Dec. 18, 2015. (Film Frame/Disney/Copyright Lucasfilm 2015 via AP)

SHANGHAI (AP) — The latest Star Wars movie has already broken the $1 billion mark. And it hasn’t even been released in China yet.

“The Force Awakens” opens in the world’s second-biggest movie market on Jan. 9 and producers say they anticipate it will play “very very well” in China.

Director J.J. Abrams watched the Chinese premiere in Shanghai with a Chinese audience Sunday night. He said Monday that he was thrilled to see people “laughing and cheering” as audiences elsewhere have done.

The Chinese market has become increasingly important for Hollywood as revenues from movie theaters stagnate at home. Some movies have incorporated Chinese characters or stories to try to appeal to the Chinese movie-going audience.

“Star Wars” producer Kathleen Kennedy said the movie’s success to date was “a huge surprise.”

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