Dune Is Star Wars for People Who like Their Coffee Black
Info and Tidbits about Frank Herbert's DuneWritten by Jack Sutherland
Now that I've stirred the pot a little with the title of this article, lets set the record straight... Dune did not copy Star Wars. Quite the opposite actually! The book the upcoming movie is based on, is a novel by Frank Herbert from 1965. Star Wars came out 12 years after it, in 1977, and
based, I mean borrowed, I mean STOLE many concepts from Dune.
Dune's author even complained about this, saying Star Wars's creator George Lucas, stole from him. Upon Star War's release, Herbert told an Oregon newspaper "I’m going to try very hard not to sue" [Lucas]. Herbert was also on record saying that he really wanted Dune to be made into a movie, but at that time it hadn't been, so perhaps there were some sour grapes on Herbert's part. But when you compare the 2 the similarities are hard to ignore:
- The Force in Star Wars is eerily similar to The Voice in Dune.
- Paul Atreides the main character in Dune holds many similarities with Luke Skywalker, as well as Anakin Skywalker.
- Lucas clearly borrowed the Sand Worm from Dune.
- And both stories have a secret villain Father-figure reveal. But for the sake of potential movie spoilers, I'm not going to elaborate on that.
But as a Star Wars fan I don't really care much about that. Movies borrowing from each other is actually far more common than you may think. What really intrigues me however, when comparing the 2, is just how much harder Dune hits!
And this is not to slight Star Wars. We all know and love it. But there's a deep and complex quality to the story of Dune, that despite so much of it being fantasy, makes it feel familiar, thought-provoking, even curiously relevant to today. But before we dig much deeper, let's take a step back and review what this book is actually about.
What Exactly Is Dune?
Let's start with the trailer for the upcoming movie. Set to be released in the US on October 22, it was produced by Warner Bros. Pictures, directed by Denis Villeneuve, has a rock star cast with names like Zendaya and Jason Momoa, and a healthy budget of $165 million!
Set in the very distant future (the year 10,191 to be exact), the story of Dune follows a young man named Paul Atreides, the rightful heir to an inhospitable and desert ridden planet named Arrakis. A place nobody would ever dare set foot on, if it wasn't for the spice Melange, a natural resource harvested from the deserts of Arrakis, that when consumed increases human vitality and lifespan.
This spice happens to be the most valuable resource in the universe, and is found nowhere else. Making this barren landscape the setting for an epic story of dueling empires, space faring alien species, gigantic sand-worms, psychic beings, artificial intelligence and messianic prophesies. Dune is a place anyone and everyone of power wants to control, but nobody actually wants to be.
The Greatest Sci-Fi Novel of All Time
I've heard this claim multiple times from novelist writers and readers that are far more qualified to judge than myself. And yet it's hard to make such an exclusive claim when you consider so many great works like: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Hyperion, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Ender's Game, Stephen King's The Stand, Stephen King's The Dark Tower [insert 4, 5, 6 other Stephen King books here] and you could do the same with all the great George Orwell books, or Ray Bradbury.
When I first Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 as a kid in high school, it blew my mind! Can I honestly declare Dune a superior story? It's tough to do.
And how about friggin Frankenstein written in 1818?! One of the most classic and iconic stories of any genre?
And yet, Dune holds it own among these great titles, and in many ways stands out.
It's a Sci-Fi story that doesn’t necessarily feel like a Sci-Fi story at first. More like an odd primitive monarch rivalry, with extensive world-building and character development that is as interesting as the story itself. Character development is a must for me, and Dune excels at it. Chock full of highly compelling antagonists, protagonists, races, space-faring alien species, and artificial intelligence that definitely qualify it as Science Fiction, although I'd argue it often borders on Science Fantasy as well.
If you told me Dune was the greatest Sci-Fi story of all time, I wouldn't argue. But if you said it wasn't, I wouldn't argue either. If you said it wasn't even top 5 however, I'd tell you you're one peanut short of a Snickers bar!
Semitic Language and Cultural Connections
One of the lesser mentioned qualities of Dune that helped differentiate it for me, was the use of Hebrew and Arabic sounding terms.
Dune tells the story of a prophesied messiah, known as the "Kwisatz Haderach". This name was taken from the Hebrew term "Kefitzat_Haderech" which in Hebrew means "a miraculous travel between two distant places in a brief time". The Fremen, a native species on the planet of Arrakis, have their own name for this messiah, "Muad'Dib", which is an Arabic word that means "Great Teacher". There are over 80 Hebrew and Arabic sounding words in Dune, used as names, references and titles. There are also messianic and Jihad storylines patterned after the Abrahamic religions.
As a native English speaker growing up in a traditional American household, this helped bring the culture of the planet of Arrakis to life. The names and languages were not just made up sounds, like Klingon. They carried a familiar yet foreign relevance. I've often wondered how this would translate to a native Arabic speaker. Would these familiar sounding words loose meaning? Sound ridiculous? Or would they bring it to life in a completely different way, perhaps resonating with characters I didn't connect with? If you happen to speak one of these languages, I'd love for you to drop a comment at the bottom of this page and let me know!
David Lynch's 1984 Dune Film
Many people are unaware that a Dune movie had already been made. In 1984 David Lynch, creator of Twin Peaks and Mulholland Drive, set out to make the story of Dune into the next epic space blockbuster! From that point on kids on Halloween would not only be dressing up as Luke Skywalker and Jedi's with Lightsabers, but also as Paul Atreides and Fremen in Stillsuits.
Unfortunately, it did not go well! The big budget movie cost about 40 million to make, yet only grossed about 30 million. The film would later develop a small underground fandom, but has mostly been considered a disappointment.
More recently Lynch told a fan Q&A “I’m proud of everything I've done... Except Dune”!
Denis Villeneuve's 2021 Dune to the Rescue!
This time Warner Bro's is taking their shot at Frank Herbert's classic story. And we've every reason to believe this time will be different. Starting with a director in Denis Villeneuve who's no stranger to action blockbusters, formerly directing movies such as The Arrival, Polytechnique and Blade Runner 2049.
By the way, The Arrival was a big time underrated movie in my opinion. It alone reassures me that Dune will be great. If you want to see an alien flick that's not your typical bug-eyed little green men, that makes you wonder just how bizarre lifeforms from a completely different ecological system might be... Watch The Arrival!
But back to Dune... It also boasts a star-studded cast with huge names like Zendaya Coleman, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista and Josh Brolin. There's enough Marvel Cinematic Universe actors in Dune to cast its own MCU film. Bautista is Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, Zendaya is Mary-Jane in the Spider-Man films, Stellan Skarsgard who plays Professor Selvig in the Thor movies is also in Dune, as well as Oscar Isaac who will play Moon Knight in an upcoming Disney+ series. Oh, and of course you have to throw in Jason Momoa's Aquaman for good measure.
The movie has not been released yet as of this article, however it's already been an international success overseas, already crossing $100 million at the box office. While it has fallen behind a couple of its competitors (like Venom: Let There Be Carnage) in its third week, it should have no problem profiting off its $165 million budget once released domestically.
What should fans expect?
The movie will cover roughly the first half of the first book. This means a sequel to wrap up the main story is highly likely. Potential follow-up films if they decide to make the 2nd and 3rd books, Children of Dune and Dune Messiah could come as well. Of course that will likely depend on how well the first 2 are received. Frank Herbert wrote 6 books in total.
From what I've seen and heard, the movie will not deviate too far from the book. And even though jokes were few and far between in the book, expect the serious and often melancholy story to be broken up occasionally with puns that have become a staple of modern action films, like in the MCU and DCEU.
Review updates to come once the movies is released in the US. So make sure to subscribe and check back!
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About The Author
Blog Editor & Chief
In addition to blogging, I'm all about Music, Web Development, and Digital Marketing. I'm currently gigging with my band Exit 85. You can reach me there at exiteightyfive.com, or on my personal website: jacksutherland.com.