How Did Dune Shape Star Wars?

Star Wars would not exist without Dune. Unmistakably, Frank Herbert’s science fiction masterpiece is the tome upon which the “galaxy far, far away” resides. Much like the omnipresent spice Melange in the Dune universe, the story of Paul Atreides has drastically influenced fiction for over fifty-five years. 

With the recent release of director Denis Villeneuve’s sprawling adaptation, many have begun to wonder just how influential Dune could possibly be. The movie, if you haven’t seen it yet, is stunning, but on first watch it might be easy to follow up with, “Well there’s nothing that special about it. I’ve seen stuff like this before.”

Even if you haven’t heard of Dune until now, you’ve likely seen it before⏤you just didn’t know it yet. If you’re looking for more proof, watch Nerdist’s fantastic video below detailing Dune’s countless references throughout pop culture. 

It’s safe to say that there’s no escaping Arrakis (Dune). Even Villeneuve, writing a guest column for Empire Magazine, discusses the daunting task of filming a story that has been considered for years to be un-filmable⏤and how sci-fi has been irreversibly influenced by the juggernaut that is Star Wars.

“It was a very long process to find this identity in a world with the giant elephant of Star Wars in the room. George Lucas was inspired by Dune when he created Star Wars. Then as we were making a movie about Dune, we had to negotiate the influence of Star Wars. It’s full circle.”

Whether it’s the larger philosophical similarities, or character concepts, there’s no question that the two stories are related, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. At the end of the day, they’re both wonderful stories that we can all connect with, and that’s what matters. 

So sit back and relax, put on Hans Zimmer’s beautiful score, and let the spice flow. This is how Dune shaped Star Wars.

Desert Planet: Tatooine / Arrakis

Of all the similarities, this one may be the most glaring. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope very quickly entrenches itself on a barren desert planet filled with native tribes and giant creatures. Ring any bells? If anything else, having a sand-covered landscape as the stage for a massive galactic battle between good and evil is proof enough that Dune and Star Wars share a similar heritage. 

The Chosen One: Anakin and Luke / Paul

dune

The Skywalker saga is a story known the world over, featuring a powerful hero that will bring balance while dealing with massive internal struggle, someone who runs from the past and the future to remain in the present. Much like Anakin and Luke, Paul deals with the larger concepts of destiny throughout Dune. He is a young man who doesn’t want to exist as just a tool, but stumbles through prophecy all the same. Fate plays a key role in both of these intergalactic stories. 

Evil Empire: Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader / Emperor Shaddam IV, Baron Vladamir Harkonnen

Evil is as evil does. Every great story has an even greater bad guy. In the case of Dune and Star Wars, they both have two. Manipulating from the shadows, Emperor Shaddam sees house Atreides as a looming threat to his overwhelming empire, but he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. Instead he enlists the help of the Harkonnens under the table, which is a win-win. In the end, though, his decision to destroy the Atreides leads to the rise of Paul as a Messianic figure that inevitably dethrones him. Star Wars mirrors this narrative. Darth Vader does the Emperor’s bidding, but in the end it was Palpatine’s decision to destroy the Jedi that takes him down.

Mythical Figures: The Jedi / The Bene Gesserit

The Bene Gesserit⏤an ancient religious order who manipulate historical events⏤are endowed with special skills that control minds and change history. They use an ability known as “The Voice” to command people of weaker intellects and are some of the best fighters in the universe.

The Jedi⏤an ancient religious order of powerful figures who alter history and rely on a primordial energy known as “The Force”⏤can move objects with their minds and employ what’s known as a “Jedi Mind Trick” to order people around. They also fight with laser swords and are basically unbeatable. George Lucas didn’t even try to hide this one. And speaking of The Force…

Special Powers: The Force / The Spice

It’s all around them. It alters their minds and makes them stronger. The Spice is cemented throughout Dune at every turn, and without the characters’ connection to it, the story would be a lot less interesting. Then there’s The Force. “Life creates it, makes it grow.” It’s within all living and non-living things. The Force allows people to see and feel the future as well as the past, much like Spice. Star Wars adopted Dune’s prescient philosophy and never looked back. 

There’s seemingly no end to the connective tissue that binds Dune and Star Wars together, from princesses and Sand Crawlers to smugglers and Spice. If you squint, you might not see two distinct stories at all, but rather one massive narrative told in vastly different ways. Sand Worms, Krayt Dragons, Stormtroopers, and Sardaukar⏤it all starts to bleed together eventually. But there’s beauty in that. 

Dune is, in many ways, like an older sibling to Star Wars, showing it how to behave at every turn. Both are individuals but would have nothing without the other. It’s easy to appreciate the pair as much for their similarities as their differences, and we should be thankful that they even exist in the first place.

With confirmation that Dune Part Two is happening, all that’s left to do is sit and wait for “wormsign.”   

This is only the beginning.

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