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Dune 2’s Tragic Romance Puts Star Wars To Shame

Dune’s doomed romance finds a fitting foil in the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Zendaya as Chani in Dune: Part Two
Warner Bros. Pictures
Dune: Part Two

Frank Herbert’s Dune is one of the most influential sci-fi properties of our time. His novels may be lesser-known now than they were in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but their influences can be felt across a number of mainstream sci-fi vehicles. George Lucas lifted heavily from Dune in creating Star Wars. There’s a clear correlation between the sandy vistas of Arrakis, the mystical nature of spice, and the corruption of protagonist Paul Atreides and his galaxy far away. Lucas adapted all that and more in his original trilogy — and when he returned to direct the prequels in the 2000s, he went even further with the introduction of Anakin Skywalker.

Anakin isn’t a beat-for-beat recreation of Paul, but their respective arcs share a lot of the same elements. Both were prophesied as saviors from an early age, and both struggled with the ramifications of their power before eventually embracing it all and going full dictator in the process. Even their love interests are subjected to similar fates. In the novels, Paul’s lover Chani dies shortly after giving birth to twins. Ditto for Padmé Amidala, Anakin’s secret wife. It’s not a trope that’s aged well, especially for Star Wars. Perhaps Lucas was a bit too faithful to Dune — but of course, that faithfulness paid huge dividends, to the point where Anakin and Padmé’s doomed romance has become the definitive sci-fi tragedy for casual moviegoers.

With Dune being adapted again, this time in a post-Star Wars era, it’s impossible not to think of Anakin and Padmé. Dune: Part Two finally sets Paul’s ascendancy in motion, but director Denis Villeneuve does a valiant job setting the film apart from its source material. As a result, Paul’s corruption feels utterly unique and all the more tragic. More than that, it drastically improves on the tragedy depicted in the Star Wars prequels.

Spoilers ahead for Dune: Part Two.

Paul Atreides is a much more realistic version of Anakin Skywalker.

Warner Bros. Pictures

The Dune films largely succeed in deconstructing the white savior myth, partially because Paul (Timothée Chalamet) spends so much time resisting the pull to power. His corruption works so well because he’s aware of all that can go wrong. In Part One, he experiences visions of a holy war, and knows that millions will die in his name if he becomes Emperor of the galaxy. It’s not until Paul gains a true grasp of his precognition in Part Two, gaining access to multiple versions of the future, that he realizes he has no choice. From that moment on, he embraces his potential as tyrant, and his final scene in the film sees him sanctioning his holy war without reservation.

But Part Two’s thesis really work because of Chani (Zendaya). She’s come a long way from her passive, faithful position in Herbert’s books. As the “original” Padmé, Chani is meant to support Paul through it all, loyal to her last breath. That’s totally subverted in Villeneuve’s adaptation: Chani is skeptical of Paul and his power throughout. This story may be told from Paul’s perspective, but Chani eventually emerges as the true hero, thanks to her acute disapproval of Paul’s actions. By the end of the film, she’s made the choice to abstain from his holy war, which feels like a nod the alternate ending conceived for Padmé in Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.

The Star Wars films couldn’t completely flesh out Anakin and Padmé, but Dune manages to avoid the mistakes of the prequels.


While the Star Wars prequels don’t completely succeed in selling Anakin’s corruption, the franchise does eventually get around to it. Supplemental material later succeeded in fleshing out his and Padmé’s arcs and motivations. Anakin’s fabled rise as the Chosen One is detailed in The Clone Wars’ Ghosts of Mortis,” and his inner conflicts and traumas take center stage in Marvel Comics’ celebrated Darth Vader series. Padmé, meanwhile gains a lot on interior life in novels like Queen’s Hope and Queen’s Shadow. The comics also explore the impact of her death in greater detail.

It took a lot of tweaking, but the Star Wars saga eventually capitalized on Anakin and Padmé’s potential. While the Dune films are very much their own thing, there’s a sense that Villeneuve might have learned from Lucas’ mistakes. So many sci-fi franchises are in conversation with the other — Star Wars already adapted so many aspects of the original Dune — so it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that Villeneuve’s Dune films are working to adapt (and even improve upon) Lucas’ ideas in kind.

Dune: Part Two is currently playing in theaters.

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