APPRENTICE: Daisy Ridley stars as Rey in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
JOHANNESBURG - Star Wars: The Last Jedi burst into cinemas with $450 million (R5.88 billion) in global ticket sales in its opening weekend, confirming that the celebrated space adventure franchise remained a powerful force at the box office.

The eighth movie in the Star Wars saga created by George Lucas in 1977 collected $220m in the US and Canada, according to box office estimates released by comScore on Sunday. The total ranked second only to the $248m for Star Wars: The Force Awakens two years ago.

The debut marks another major success for Walt Disney, which bought Star Wars producer Lucasfilm in 2012 and reinvigorated the story set in a galaxy far, far away.

“There are very few brands that can sustain this kind of enthusiasm and relevance,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for comScore.

“This supercharges the potential for all the other Star Wars properties down the line.”

At least five more Star Wars movies are in the works at Disney, including one about a young Han Solo due for release in May, followed by Episode IX in December 2019.

Final performance

Last Jedi features actress Carrie Fisher’s final performance as Leia, the beloved princess who became a general leading resistance force against the evil First Order. Fisher died of a heart attack in December 2016.

The film also gives a prominent role to original Star Wars hero Luke Skywalker, portrayed by Mark Hamill.

International sales for Last Jedi were the third biggest for films that did not include the Chinese market during their debut weekends, Disney said. Last Jedi opens on January 5 in China, the second largest movie market.

Positive fan reaction suggested strong ticket sales over the coming holidays, said Dave Hollis, Disney president of worldwide theatrical distribution. Audiences awarded the film an “A” grade in polling by CinemaScore.

Box office analysts did not expect Last Jedi to repeat the opening weekend numbers of Force Awakens. The 2015 movie had been subject to unprecedented interest because it was the first new Star Wars film in a decade. It eventually took in more than $2bn worldwide.

Disney will take over distribution rights to all past Star Wars films as part of its $52bn deal last week to buy film and some television businesses from Twenty-First Century Fox.

Fox had released the first six Star Wars movies made by Lucas. 

- Reuters