Fans complained on Twitter earlier this week that British actor John Boyega, who plays Finn in the movie, had been shrunk on the Chinese poster. Other characters played by non-white characters, including Oscar Isaac's Poe Dameron and Lupita Nyong'o's Maz Kanata were missing entirely, as was Chewbacca the Wookiee.
"Finn (who happens to be black) and Chewbacca (happens to be Wookiee) get shafted in China," tweeted Ray Kwong, a Hong Kong-based columnist and political commentator.
A representative for Disney would not comment on the matter.
Others compared the posters to the controversy
over an Italian-promotional campaign for "Twelve Years a Slave," which sidelined star Chiwetel Ejiofor in favor of Brad Pitt, who only had a brief role in the movie. Studio Lionsgate later pulled the posters, saying they had not been authorized.
Not everyone was on board with the Star Wars criticisms, Chinese state-run newspaper the Global Times quoted
several local analysts who claim "the change has nothing to do with racism."
"Since the poster is merely a promotion method and an individual case, it would be unfair to criticize Chinese audiences for discriminating against the black actor," the paper quoted Chen Qiuping of the Beijing Film Association as saying.
The Global Times itself has faced accusations
of racism in the past. Earlier this year it published a cartoon ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's trip to Kenya showing the Hawaiian wearing tribal garb gazing at the savana with the caption "homecoming."
This week, the People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, published a cartoon on President Xi Jinping's visit to Zimbabwe in which Africans are depicted in a stereotypical fashion some people online said was offensive.
While a large number of Africans live in China, particularly in southern Guangdong province, many have complained of facing discrimination and prejudice
from locals due in part to a widespread stigma against dark skin.
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" will be the first of the franchise to get a widespread release in mainland China, and Disney has gone all out to promote it to an audience less familiar with the characters than in other countries, including an invasion of the Great Wall by Stormtroopers
China was the world's fastest growing movie market in 2014
, expected to overtake the U.S. by 2020, according to Deloitte.