Assuming most movie theaters reopen by December 2020 (and that seems like a big assumption right about now), Denis Villeneuve's Dune is shaping up to be the biggest movie of the year. With an impressive cast and a deep allegiance to the notoriously complicated novel, Dune 2020 could be a game-changer for genre cinema. Anytime a new sci-fi blockbuster emerges, the Star Wars comparisons are inevitable. But when you consider the story of Dune, it's basically the antithesis of Star Wars on every level.
Mild spoilers for the novel ahead.
When sci-fi fans talk about George Lucas' inspiration for Star Wars, Tatooine is wildely thought to be inspired by Dune. Lucas also borrowed the term "spice" from Dune, although in Star Wars, it has an entirely different function. Even so, the idea of a desert planet and the word "spice" aren't really enough to make a case that Star Wars is a Dune rip-off. When you think about what happens in Dune, it's the reverse of the story of the original Star Wars film, A New Hope.
In Dune, Paul Atreides is destined to be the Kwisatz Haderach, which is close enough to the idea of the Chosen One in Star Wars. Whether we're talking about Rey, Luke or Anakin, they all have one thing in common. They leave a desert planet and become who they were meant to become by exploring a more cosmopolitan galaxy.
The journey of Paul Atreides is nothing like this. Paul comes from the cosmopolitan part of this galaxy, the planet Caladan. He's aware that he is a royal. He is not confused (entirely) about his lineage, but instead, embraces a people and way of life that is consciously in subtle opposition to the status quo. Paul isn't really someone destined to bring balance to anything, and the books seriously question whether an all-powerful "Chosen One" is a good thing.
Luke and Rey were more interested in returning a fallen kingdom to its former glory. Paul Atreides rejects the contemporary power structures, has no interest in the old ones, and basically tries to take over everything. He's sort of like if Anakin or Kylo Ren were right, and had a lot of popular support. In other words, Paul's rise to power is a little less idealistic than the "hero's journey" of Rey or Luke. He's just as likable as they are as characters, but the narrative of Dune is a little more realistic in terms of what happens to young heroes. (Spoiler alert: they don't stay heroes.)
In space opera novels, this kind of rumination tends to work because novels allow for more nuance and plurality in the way the reader thinks. That's less true for big-budget films aimed at a large audience. Paul Atreides isn't an anti-hero exactly, but a person who happens to become a messiah, even as the book itself is clearly suspicious of that concept. In Dune, there is no movie audience to satisfy, so there aren't the same kind of black and white heroes and villains.
But, the biggest way we can tell that Dune is the anti-Star Wars is through the literal movements between planets. Again, Star Wars characters always leave a provincial desert for the galaxy of adventure. In Dune, the desert planet is where you end up. For Paul, the larger galaxy is kind of where he's from, but not where the actual adventure happens.
The only way you could really equate Dune with Star Wars would be to imagine an alternate Star Wars, which might run something like this: In the prequels, Queen Padme Amidala leaves her home on Naboo. Along with her daughter Leia, she relocates her seat of power to a desert planet called Tatooine. From there, young Leia gets mixed-up with some local warlords, and eventually, becomes the ruler of the planet.
In other words, you have to fundamentally change Star Wars to make the Dune comparisons work. Everything else is just aesthetics. Anakin might hate sand, but Paul loves it.
Dune comes to theaters in December 2020.