‘Star Wars’ Borrowed More From ‘Dune’ Than You Realize

Search your bookcase, you know it to be true

In 1977, Star Wars hit the big screen. George Lucas’ space opera brought scope to science fiction. A sweeping tale of good over evil. Much has been made of Lucas’ incorporation of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Lucas, himself, admits that a variety of sources influenced his saga. Apart from various myths and legends, he cited Flash Gordon, Akira Kurosawa’s films, and westerns; but surprisingly, he doesn’t mention the huge impact Frank Herbert’s Dune series had on Star Wars.

Dune, Herbert’s seminal 1965 novel, and the first in his series about Paul from House Atreides, and their battle for control of spice from competing houses, is an epic space saga with intricate descriptions of fictional cultures, characters, and creatures. And a lot of his ideas form the basis of Star Wars–in fact, most of Lucas’ key ideas can be traced back to Herbert’s work.

While we’ll focus on the similarities between the Dune series and the final Star Wars films, early drafts by Lucas demonstrate even more clearly Dune’s significant influence on a galaxy far far away. In one early draft, Princess Leia guards a shipment of “aura spice” instead of the Death Star plans. 

Lucas, fresh off the success of American Graffiti, was well aware of various scripts circulating in Hollywood in the 70s. One was Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune screenplay, which translated many of the key ingredients from Herbert’s first novel. Unfortunately, Jodorowsky never got to make it because Hollywood didn’t want to bankroll it. Lucas had a clear path to use some of Dune’s ideas for his own film. Here are some surprising similarities between the Star Wars series and Herbert’s Dune.

Jedi-Bindu vs. Prana-Bindu

Jedi-bindu appears in an early draft of Star Wars: A New Hope. It refers to a Jedi training technique that gives them excellent internal control and supernatural prowess in combat. In Dune, prana-bindu is the cornerstone training of the Bene Gesserit. It gives all adepts the power to control their nerves and muscles. In both stories, Luke and Paul, who are initially outsiders to both the Jedi and Bene Gesserit respectively, ultimately training in their ways.

Jedi Mind Trick vs. The Voice

Obi-Wan Kenobi demonstrates this fine Jedi ability to influence the weak-minded. The old Jedi uses his voice to get stormtroopers to do his bidding and let him and Luke pass through a checkpoint. But Dune did it first, with The Voice, a Bene Gesserit ability to control the actions of others.

Tatooine vs. Arrakis

Disney

The first planet that features in Star Wars, is the desert planet, Tatooine. The nearly inhabitable location features throughout the series. It’s the home of Luke Skywalker, the Jawas, the Sand People, and gangster, Jabba the Hutt. But Tatooine is very similar to Arrakis, which features in Dune. Unlike Star Wars, Arrakis is not the home planet of the principal character, Paul Atreides. Rather, Paul and his family move to the inhospitable planet which lies on the edge of the known universe. Both Tatooine and Arrakis are central to the plot of their stories and are the locations where both Luke and Paul receive their Call to Adventure, the first step in Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

Luke vs. Paul

I’ve mentioned how both Luke Skywalker and Paul Atreides receive the Call to Adventure on a desert planet. But Lucas may also have directly referenced Paul Atreides as the influence for the young Skywalker in the name, Luke. Apart from using the biblical setting of a desert as a starting point, both Paul and Luke were traveling companions in the New Testament. Some may dismiss the biblical link, but as you’ll see the connections between Paul Atreides and Luke Skywalker become too similar to ignore.

The Villain Reveal: Father vs. Grandfather

Baron Harkonnen

The most shocking reveal in The Empire Strikes Back is when Darth Vader reveals himself as Luke’s father. Disappointingly, Lucas borrowed this idea from Dune too. Paul Atreides, like Luke Skywalker, has to face a relative: his maternal grandfather Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. At least, Vader’s cool get-up isn’t pilfered from Dune. The Baron is obese, and a predatory homosexual, given to pederasty and incest, which were characteristics often ascribed to villains in the fiction of the time (think Ian Fleming’s James Bond villains).

Leia vs. Alia

20th Century Fox

One similarity is how both Luke and Paul have a sister with similar names. The name, Alia, is too close to Leia to be considered a mere coincidence.

Twins vs. Twins

Ghanima and Leto: The Atreides twins from Children of Dune.

Luke and Leia are twins, which to be fair, is a common trope in mythology. We know Lucas’ love for Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, but Dune had twins too. The family saga continued in Dune Messiah with Paul’s twin boy and girl children, Leto and Ghanima. Paul’s wife, Chani, also died during childbirth, like Padme Amidala did when she gave birth to Luke and Leia at the end of Star Wars: The Revenge of the Sith. It seems fair to assume Paul Atreides is a prototype of Luke Skywalker.

Jabba the Hutt vs. The God Emperor of Dune

Disney

Other characters in Dune and Star Wars share a likeness. Does a worm, slug-like creature about fifteen feet long with human-like facial features, arms, and hands who sits on a dais, sound familiar? It’s obviously Jabba the Hutt, right? But two years before this character appeared in Return of the Jedi, Frank Herbert, debuted a character with the exact same description in God Emperor of Dune. Lucas pretty much ripped the character straight out of Herbert’s book and put him in his movie.

Sarlacc vs. Sand Worms

Disney

While we’re talking about Return of the Jedi, and giant repulsive creatures, it seems certain that Lucas also borrowed the Sand Worm from Herbert’s Dune series, and used it as the basis for his Sarlacc pit. At least Lucas made the Sarlacc stationery, while the giant Sand Worms hurtle underneath the landscape of Dune erupting onto the surface at the most inopportune moments to devour unsuspecting Bene Gesserit.

The Trade Federation vs. The Spacing Guild

Image: Disney

Trade is a familiar subject in sci-fi, but these two organizations are almost carbon copies. The Trade Federation, first introduced in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, has a monopoly on shipping in space, exactly like The Spacing Guild in the Dune series.

Sand Crawlers vs. Spice Harvesters

Lucas also borrowed a lot from Dune’s technology. In Dune, spice harvesters traverse Arrakis to mine and store spice melange. In A New Hope, sand crawlers are from a forgotten mining era, that Jawas converted to traverse Tatooine and pick up old droids and equipment.

Suspensors vs. Repulsors

Both Dune and Stars Wars use hovercraft-like tech to nullify the effects of gravity. They’re a pretty big part of the technology in Star Wars. Vehicles such as Luke’s sand speeder, speeder bikes, pod racers, and Jabba’s Barge use repulsors to hover a few feet off the ground. In Dune, suspensors have a similar function and are used to suspend Baron Harkonnen and glow-globes. At least Lucas uses the tech for a far more practical function.

Spice vs. Spice Melange

Okay, so spice plays a major role in Dune and is just referenced in Star Wars. So we can give Lucas a pass for this. In Dune, spice is the most valued commodity in the universe that all the houses are fighting for, while the spice mines of Kessel are mentioned fleetingly by    C-3PO in the first act of A New Hope. However, Kessel did later become a principal location for the Star Wars spin-off, Solo: A Star Wars Story, though spice, itself, still plays no active part in the plot.

Moisture Farms vs. Dew Collectors

When we first meet Luke, he is living and working on his aunt and uncle’s moisture farm. Deserts are barren places, so any moisture is a highly prized and necessary commodity. Similarly, in Dune, the indigenous people use dew collectors to survive in the punishing conditions.

Anakin vs. Arrakin

Now, this last one may be a bit of a stretch. But I find it interesting that Anakin sounds and is spelled in a similar way to Arrakin, the name given to an inhabitant of Arrakis. Could be a coincidence, but considering how much Lucas borrowed from Dune, should we be surprised if this was borrowed too?

 

Daniel Rennie

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