Dune’s Influence on Star Wars

On numerous occasions, we've discussed how George Lucas soaked up a thousand different inspirations from books and movies that he wove into the grand tapestry and saga of Star Wars. We've looked at war films, country and westerns,  Akira Kurosawa, and even the novels of Edgar Rice Burrows. We have, however, mostly shied away somewhat from Frank Herbert's Dune.

Let's fix that.

Forget that Dune was made into a movie in 1984 by David Lynch, it's the novel that had the influence on Lucas and his development of the original Star Wars script – or “Journal of the Whills” as it was once titled.

While there should be no doubt about the influence that it had on Lucas, we cannot find a single article or quote by the man wherein he refers to Dune. But make no mistake, the comparison of some of the ideas in both movies is unmistakable.

Indeed Herbert himself has been said to have jokingly formed the “We're Too Big to Sue George Lucas Society” when he recognized elements from his own works and many other writers in the movie.
And let's be clear, Star Wars does not have the same story as Dune. It took elements and themes and paralleled them but not the direct plot – and, of course, Dune itself took inspiration from The Sabre of Paradise.

If you wanted to be fairly uncharitable you could argue that A New Hope is basically Akiro Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress set on Dune.

Spice Up Your Life

In the first draft of Star Wars, the drug “spice” was very much a central theme of the script.

Lucas' first version of Princess Leia was not fleeing from the Empire with the stolen plans for the Death Star, but rather holding a cargo of a drug with that name (which would have been very similar to “melange” from Dune). The later script noted Han Solo smuggled some of it.

And let's not forget that young Luke Skywalker once had the belief that his “father didn't fight in the Clone Wars, he was a navigator on a spice freighter.”

Here's a Comparison of Some Direct Lifts and Inspirations

princess irulan dune madsen
Image Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Dune's Influence on a New Hope

  • Princess Leia's name is arguably inspired by Princess Alia.
  • Star Wars features a dry desert planet called Tatooine. Do you remember what kind of planet Arrakis was in Dune? I don't like sand…
  • The Jawa Sandcrawler was possibly inspired by the mining vehicles Arrakins used. We're iffy on this connection.
  • The Skywalker family were moisture farmers in a similar manner to the “dew collectors.”
  • The “Jedi Mind Trick” is very similar to how the sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit can use “The Voice” to influence the actions of others.
  • In A New Hope, Luke Skywalker practices his lightsaber training against an automated training remote. This seems a direct lift from the part where Princess Alia works on her sword skills against an automated training dummy.
  • Luke's father was “a navigator” on a spice freighter.
space slug empire dune
Image Courtesy of Lucasfilm

The Empire Strikes Back Was Influenced by Frank Herbert

  • In The Empire Strikes Back, the Millennium Falcon just managed to escape from the jaws of a giant space slug that was living in a space asteroid. In Dune, there were giant sandworms – one of which causes a bit of similar havoc when one attacks the Duke's vessel.
  • In The Empire Strikes Back, the villain turns out to be the hero's father. In Dune, the villain turns out to be the hero's grandfather
  • Alia can connect her mind to her brother Paul Atreides physically. That's kind of like what happens when Luke calls out to Leia after he's fought against Darth Vader.
jabba inspired by dune emperor
Image Courtesy of Lucasfilm

 How Return of the Jedi Was Inspired by Dune

  • Return of the Jedi's Jabba the Hutt looks like a giant slug with a fat face and arms. This character may have been inspired by The God Emperor of Dune's Leto Atreides the Second who, funnily enough, was a 15-foot-long slug. That novel was published in 1981, two years before the release of Return of the Jedi. We do appreciate that Jabba was originally conceived in A New Hope as a human.
  • Indeed, a lot of the Jabba the Hutt palace scenes appear to have been inspired by the Children of Dune sequel.
  • The sand desert where the Sarlaac Pit resides is called the Dune Sea.
Mortal Engines author Philip Reeve shared his views on Dune influencing Star Wars when he was discussing the definition of “space opera”:
“Star Wars was, of course, a love letter to the genre, full of motifs which come straight out of pulp fiction and the rocketships and ray guns serials of 1930s cinema. It also borrows heavily from Frank Herbert's novel Dune, which I read when I was about twelve, mad about Star Wars and looking for something similar. I was far too young to get Herbert's mix of Orientalist fantasy, desert ecology, and flaky 1960s mysticism but, as with Star Wars, that combination of swords and starships appealed to me.”

Let's Not Forget Lawrence of Arabia Having an Influence on Star Wars

Both Dune and George Lucas were inspired by the story of Lawrence of Arabia which was a spiritual journey of sorts that took place in a desert. Lucas was most definitely inspired by the David Lean movie and used shots from it for both the original and prequel movies.

We say this to show that, although the book came before the film, they both share common inspirations. Indeed, 19 other movies went into the creation of Star Wars.

Speaking of the Great Bard…

We should acknowledge that a lot of Shakespeare's plays influenced Frank Herbert as he developed Dune – so while many of the family dynamics in Dune and the “saga” of it all can be compared and contrasted with Star Wars, one could perhaps argue the driving force of Shakespeare ripples underneath the surface quite strongly in Star Wars, regardless of Dune's influence.

Indeed, to dismiss Shakespeare's work as an influence on George Lucas would be a mistake. Though Lucas may not have been directly taking paragraphs out of Shakespeare (unlike what he did for Tolkien!), his admiration of The Forbidden Planet exposed him to what was basically The Tempest set in space. Given Lucas's love of films by Akiro Kurosawa, he most likely saw Ran, which was a remake of King Lear.

Shakespeare actually has a lot to answer for – it was his line from Othello that inspired the name of the Mortal Engines novel.

The Mandalorian Chapter: The Jedi May Also Have a Wee Dune Nod

Calodan may be a reference to Caladan, which as you probably know, is the planet that serves as the ancestral home of House Atreides.

Corvus could also be a nod to Alpha Corvus, another planet mentioned in the later Dune work by Herbert's son. We suspect this is a bit of a stretch, however.

Extra for Experts

One: We mentioned above that David Lynch directed the movie version of Dune. We think it's a pretty good science fiction movie, though a patient watch is needed. Do you know how things come full circle? George Lucas actually met with Lynch to discuss the possibility of Lynch taking the director's chair for Return of the Jedi. Lynch turned him down, which led to Richard Marquand having a crack.

Two: There's a large feeling out there that Lucas was perhaps inspired by the script of a Dune movie that never got made by director Alejandro Jodorowsky. That this version of Dune got so close to being made is the stuff of legend and can be seen in the documentary Jodorowsky's Dune.

Three: In The Battle for Endor, the Nightsister known as “Charal” was played by Sian Phillips. She played the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam in the 1984 movie version of Dune.

Four: Sicario director Denis Villeneuve wrote and directed the remake of Dune. He was well placed to do so following the success of his Blade Runner sequel and the fantastic Arrival.

Here's an image from the Dune remake, with Timothee Chalamet who played Prince Paul Atreides. Looks a lot like the Star Wars sequels, doesn't it?

Timothee Chalamet dune remake as Paul Atreides
Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.