EXCLUSIVE: Three years. At the bare minimum, that’s the shortest amount of time moviegoers have had to wait for a new Star Wars movie, and that’s during a trilogy cycle.

Then, after 1983’s Return Of The Jedi, fans sat on their hands for 16 years waiting for George Lucas to awaken the franchise again with The Phantom Menace, which kicked off the early trio of early-aught episodes. Finally, a decade after 2005’s Revenge Of The Sith, moviegoers finally got to see the continuing saga of the Skywalker-Solo family in The Force Awakens last December.

'Rogue One' - Darth Vader

Thanks to Disney’s $4 billion purchase of Lucasfilm, and its devotion to the legendary sci-fi franchise, Christmas is coming early to Star Wars fans: They only had to wait one year for a brand new Star Wars movie as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens overseas Wednesday and begins its stateside run Thursday night.

Yeah, yeah, we already know Rogue One‘s opening isn’t going to be as high as Force Awakens a year ago, which pulled in an all-time global debut of $528.97M. Episode VII was propped by pent-up demand, and the latest film is a spinoff. Still, Rogue One with a frosh dramatis personae will kick off pretty damn high with a worldwide start over five days between $280M-$350M. Only 19 movies have opened to north of $300M worldwide to date. This year, Batman V Superman ($422.5M) and Captain America: Civil War ($379.5) were two of them.

ewok-movie

Rogue One is another brilliant stroke of ambition by Disney to extend this cinematic franchise for generations to come. For those who live out in the woods, Rogue One takes places moments before 1977’s Star Wars and focuses on a band of rebels who steal the Death Star plans that Princess Leia in turn uploads to R2-D2. The movie is arguably the first big-screen Star Wars feature to take place outside the regular Episodes timeline; we’re not counting the 1984 and 1985 Star Wars TV movies Caravan Of Courage: An Ewok Adventure and Ewoks: The Battle For Endor. Disney has a second stand-alone planned with its Han Solo move on May 25, 2018, with Episode VIII debuting next year at this time, and Episode IX to follow (a release date still has to be announced).

Is Rogue One a “risk” or a “gamble” for Disney?

Star Wars TFA Carrie Fisher Harrison Ford
Disney

No, duh. Those words shouldn’t even come into play as the studio proved last year that they can aptly take the reins of this beloved series, make a quality product that appeals to a five-quad crowd and hook everyone from 5 years old to 80. It doesn’t matter where moviegoers’ opinions stand on Force Awakens: They made Episode VII the highest-grossing movie of all-time at the domestic B.O. with $936.6M, and the third-highest worldwide with $2.07B. Worst case scenario, even if reviews are bad for Rogue One, it’s not going to stop the masses from buying tickets. It’s important note that even though fans and critics lambasted Warner Bros’ DC jewels Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad earlier this year, it didn’t stop moviegoers from shelling out three-digit money over three daysDisney has been careful with its marketing, positioning Rogue One as a prequel so that non-fans aren’t confused about how the spinoff ties into Force Awakens. It’s part of the reason why Disney waited in dropping a Rogue One trailer approximately three months after Force Awakens. Arguably, judging from these projections, it doesn’t look like crowds are confused at all in regards to where Rogue One falls in the series’ universe timeline.

How Rogue One‘s global opening breaks down:

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In the U.S./Canada, industry projections currently lie between $140M-$150M in 4,100-plus sites, with a heavier interest among men than women. Still the notion among distribution chiefs is that the latter sex will come along for the want-to-see in the days following the pic’s release. By comparison, Force Awakens opened in 4,134 locations. 400 Imax theaters will have the Gareth Edwards-directed Rogue One for four weeks around the globe. Of its theater count,  Rogue One is comprised of 500 Premium Large Format screens (the largest PLF footprint ever for any release), 3,500+ 3D screens and nearly 200 D-Box locations. Even if Rogue One comes in lower, just over $100M, it would still rank as the second-best opening this winter month has ever seen since Force Awakens’ $247.96M all-time three-day. That beat the month’s previous record holder, 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ($84.6M), by close to twofold. Granted, there wasn’t a snow storm standing in moviegoers’ way, but Force Awakens showed that the mid-month business could indeed blow the barn doors off to enormous levels prior to the Christmas holiday; the historical notion being that the post-holiday frame is when moviegoers truly make their way to the theater because they’re free of distractions.

Force Awakens posted the highest preview night ever with $57M. Anything in the $20M range would be considered a great start for Rogue One on Night 1.

If there’s any question what Disney’s commitment and belief is in this movie, look no farther than the pic’s world premiere Saturday in Los Angeles at the Pantages Theater. The event is so huge, road closures will extend to next Tuesday as they dismantle it. Disney has already landed a full-size X-Wing on Hollywood Blvd. This rivals the three-block stretch the studio took over last year for Force Awakens, where premiere attendees watched the movie at the Dolby, El Captain and Chinese Theater.

Foreign opening projections for Rogue One are looking north of $140M, but there is consensus among non-Disney analysts it could be as high as $200M, which on average is a 25% difference from Force Awakens‘ $281M start.

In a mirror pattern to that of last year’s The Force Awakens, Rogue One will hit France on Wednesday followed by such majors as the UK, Australia, Germany, Russia, Mexico, Brazil and Italy on Thursday. On Friday, the key majors outside domestic are Japan and Spain. The only territories not releasing next weekend are Korea (which goes December 28 to stay away from local competition — Korea, with Vietnam, was the only market on Force Awakens last year which did not open No. 1), and China, which goes on January 6. In the first weekend, Rogue One will own 710 Imax screens abroad, with 17 more when Korea opens, and more than 370 in China. In its opening weekend, Rogue One will have 70% of the overseas footprint. In the markets opening for Rogue One, it should be noted that Captain America: Civil War debuted to $196M, which along with Batman V Superman ($256.5M) is one of the year’s biggest overseas debuts.

For Force Awakens, Korea was worth $7.8M at open, so that needs to be factored as well. The top plays on Force Awakens at launch were the UK ($50.6M), Germany ($27.5M), France ($22.5M), Australia ($19.6M) and Japan ($13.4M).

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Lucasfilm

When it comes to Rogue One, the industry is lining up spinoff comps like The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyFantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (which itself comped to Hobbit), and Revenge Of The Sith.

An Unexpected Journey ($718M intl cume) opened to $138M abroad ($222.6M global) in a similar December frame in 2012 (though in a different bucket of markets). Beasts, as we recently saw, blasted past projections to cast a $145.5M opening spell at offshore turnstiles in 63 markets (sans China and Japan) and $219.9M worldwide. It’s currently legged out to more than $600M worldwide and is expected to top $700M. As for Sith, it’s the most recent of the previous Star Wars prequels and that bowed to $145M-plus in the first weekend in 2005, $303.9M worldwide, and is considered by many as the best of the prequels. Japan, which went later than the rest of the world, was the lead market there.

There are other factors to bear in mind for Rogue One‘s overseas prospects. Some watchers expect the movie to be front-loaded — although winter blockbusters tend to have lower drops than summer movies. That will ultimately depend on how overseas reviews and reactions pan out. There are also those pesky currency fluctuations to consider;.the UK particularly has taken a haircut in 2016, after the Brexit vote sent the pound plummeting in June. That was the top market outside North America on Force Awakens with $163.6M total. China at $124M was No. 2, followed by Germany ($111M), Japan ($98M) and France ($86M).

Felicity Jones - Rogue One.jpeg
Jonathan Olley

In terms of competition next week, there really won’t be much. China has its own local movies through the rest of December which will have played out in that fast-burn market by the time Rogue One debuts January 6. In India, Rogue One is going day-and-date, with one week to play before Bollywood titan Aamir Khan returns to the Christmas sweet spot with timely wrestling drama Dangal. Elsewhere, fall hits like Doctor Strange and Fantastic Beasts are playing out. Illumination and Universal’s Sing and Disney’s own Moana will be looking for the kiddie (and crossover) biz during the holidays.

Donnie Yen. Donnie Yen Hand And Footprint Ceremony held at TCL Chinese Theater.
China.org

Another word about China: While the Star Wars franchise does not have a deep history in the Middle Kingdom, The Force Awakens number was quite respectable. Rogue One boasts the local star power of Jiang Wen and Hong Kong’s Donnie Yen, who were highlighted in the Chinese trailer — Yen recently planted his prints in a well-mediatized ceremony at the Chinese Theater in LA. The rest of the international cast alongside Brit Felicity Jones includes Mexico’s Diego Luna, Dane Mads Mikkelsen, Aussie Ben Mendelsohn and Americans Forest Whitaker and Alan Tudyk.