'Last Jedi' has second-biggest North American box-office opening ever

A lot of force is with this one. This weekend, Star Wars: The Last Jedi enjoyed the second-biggest opening weekend in North American box-office history, according to studio estimates on Sunday. And that has to mean the folks at Disney are feeling fine.

Jedi swept up more than $220 million, placing it a shade behind its predecessor in the third Star Wars trilogy, The Force Awakens, which earned $248.8 million in its opening weekend in 2015. Only four movies have ever earned $200 million or more in their first weekend out. The other two are 2012’s The Avengers ($207.4 million) and 2015’s Jurassic World ($208.8 million). Avengers is about on a par with Last Jedi, accounting for inflation.

Featuring a cast combining newcomers and veterans of previous Star Wars episodes (including Carrie Fisher, who died during filming), Last Jedi has attracted generally favorable reviews. Its big opening weekend confirms the enduring popularity of the Star Wars franchise, which began with three films (1977 to 1983) widely regarded as classics, then sagged badly with the next threesome (1999 to 2005), a “prequel trilogy” dismissed by many as bewildering or boring. Now the third trilogy has two of the biggest-starting movies in North American history.

If Last Jedi continues strong, the Walt Disney Co. can smile wide indeed. On Thursday, the company announced its deal to purchase 21st Century Fox for the galactic sum of $52.4 billion. As part of the deal, it would take control of 20th Century Fox, one of Hollywood’s six major studios. Disney purchased Lucasfilm Ltd., the studio that created the first six Star Wars films, in 2012 for $4.06 billion.

Alluding to that purchase, Disney distribution chief Dave Hollis said, “The weekend that we’re in is a byproduct of the foresight and vision from our CEO Bob Iger to bring Lucasfilm into the fold.” He added that “as we think about the possibility of other things being added, you can’t help but be excited about the possibilities.”

Fox, as it happens, was the only studio to open another new wide-release film against The Last Jedi. That unlucky feature was a family film, Ferdinand, which at $13.3 million was essentially stampeded by Jedi.

The strength of Jedi is the more remarkable because, while The Force Awakens capitalized on a decade’s hiatus from Star Wars, Jedi follows closely on not only The Force Awakens (which ultimately grossed $2.1 billion) but also last year’s spinoff, Rogue One (first weekend, $155.1 million; total gross a little more than $1 billion globally).

Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed, aimed to distinguish Jedi by introducing some new tones to George Lucas’ space opera. Johnson’s film is more irreverent than previous chapters. And it has drawn plaudits for its diverse cast, including Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and newcomer Kelly Marie Tran.

“The results speak to the power of representation,” said Hollis. “The film really reflects our world and beyond. It becomes something people can see themselves in, whether they see themselves in Rey or Finn or Poe or Rose or Capt. Phasma. They can relate to all those characters.”

Critics gave Johnson’s film a 93 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Audiences endorsed it, too, with an A CinemaScore, though not all fans are on board: As of Sunday, Jedi has scored a dismal 56 percent rating from some 95,000 Rotten Tomatoes users.

Yet the haul for Jedi dwarfed most all releases in the two years since The Force Awakens. By comparison, it has in three days already bested the five-week gross of Warner Bros.’ Justice League ($219.5 million).

“Seeing a movie like this in the movie theater, getting the collective goose bumps and having the OMG-moments, that’s something you cannot replicate at home on the small screen,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore. “Rian Johnson has made a movie that showcases the movie theater experience in a truly brilliant way.”