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Sep 16, 2017

The influence of Frank Herbert's Dune novel on Star Wars


A look at how the Dune book influenced George Lucas' first Star Wars film script


We have covered many times that George Lucas soaked up a thousand different inspirations from books and films that he wove into the grand tapestry of Star Wars.

We've looked at war films, country and westerns and even the novels of Edgar Rice Borrows.

We have however always 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 if the ideas in both movies are 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 film.

And let's be clear, Star Wars does not have the same story as Dune. It took elements and themes but not the direct plot.

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

Spice Up Your Life


In the first draft of Star Wars the drug ‘spice’ was very much a central theme of script. Indeed Lucas's version of Princess Leia was not fleeing from the Empire with the stolen plans for the Death Star but rather, holding a cargo of the drug 'melange' spice... later Han Solo became a smuggler of spice...

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


A New Hope

  • Princess Leia’s name is arguably inspired by the Princes Alia
  • Star Wars features a desert planet called Tatootine. Remind me what kind of planet Arrakis was in Dune?
  • The Jawa sandcrawler Jawas was inspired by the mining vehicles Arakin’s used. 
  • The Skywalker family were moisture farmers in a similar vein as 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 ANH, 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.

The Empire Strikes Back

  • In Empire Strikes Back, the Millennium Falcon just manages to escape from the jaws of giant, space slug that was living in a space asteroid. In Dune, there are giant sandworms which cause a bit of similar havoc when one attacks the Duke's vessel. 
  • In ESB, the villain turns out to be hero's father. In Dune, the villain out to be hero's grandfather

Return of the Jedi

  • 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, Leto Atreides the Second who funnily enough was a 15 foot long slug.
  • Indeed a lot of the whole Jabba The Hutt Palace scenes appear to have been inspired by the Children of Dune sequel.

Let's not forget Lawrence of Arabia


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 use shots from it for both the original and prequels films.

We say this to show that though 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 acknowlege that a lot of Shakespeare's plays influenced Frank Herbet 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 which he did for Tolkien!) his admiration of The Forbidden Plant 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!

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. 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 Marquand having a crack.

Two: There's a large feeling out there that Lucas was perhaps inspired by the film script of a Dune film 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 called 'Jodorowsky's Dune'.

Three: Denis Villeneuve looks set to direct a remake of Dune. He's well placed to do so following the success of his Blade-runner sequel and the fantastic Arrival. 


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