Star Wars characters are always getting busted for smuggling a mysterious substance called “Spice.”
In A New Hope, Han was on the run from Jabba because he dropped a shipment of Spice. In the final season of The Clone Wars, Ahsoka helped her smuggler buddies — Trace and Rafa — in a complicated Spice heist. And, very recently in The Bad Batch, a case of stolen Spice put Hunter, Omega, and the gang in a tricky spot with the Pyke syndicate.
But what is Spice in Star Wars? And why is it illegal? Well, maybe the reason Spice is so illicit and connected to criminals in the faraway galaxy is because they ripped it off from Dune.
Here’s what the Spice is in Star Wars, why it probably comes from Dune, and how Star Wars canon can’t really decide what their version of Spice actually does. Mild spoilers ahead for The Clone Wars and The Bad Batch.
What is the Spice in Star Wars?
In the very first Star Wars film, C-3PO makes an offhanded reference to being “sent to the Spice Mines of Kessel.” Later in the same movie, Han Solo mentions that The Millennium Falcon made “the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.” Luke also mentioned to Obi-Wan he’d believed his father was “a navigator on a spice freighter.”
Taken together, these three off-handed remarks created a whole world of unanswered canonical questions, which in some ways, the larger Star Wars brand is still struggling with today. While the film Solo may have reasonably explained the Kessel Run, we’re still a bit fuzzy about what the Spice is within Star Wars.
The official Star Wars databank has an entry for Kessel, but not one for Spice. And, on Wookiepedia, the canon entry for Spice is fairly short. The basic definition of Spice in Star Wars is that it's an “illicit substance” that may describe a variety of different narcotics. That said, in The Clone Wars episode “Deal or No Deal,” it's suggested that unrefined spice can be used to manufacture medicines. Throughout this episode, Trace, Rafa, and Ahsoka debate about the ethics of smuggling spice, which results in them just dumping the shipment, Han Solo-style, into space.
In The Rise of Skywalker, when it’s revealed that Poe Dameron used to smuggle Spice, there’s zero discussion as to whether or not Spice is or isn’t a narcotic, or whether it's better or worse unrefined. Rey and Finn both react with incredulity. The message there is clear: Smuggling spice is like being a drug dealer.
This means Uncle Owen lied to Luke about his father being a Sith Lord and instead told him Anakin was a drug dealer. This also means that in The Bad Batch episode “Infestation,” the Batchers are retrieving drugs for the Pykes to avoid a huge confrontation. Even the way the Spice is packaged in this Bad Batch episode suggests it's analogous to cocaine, heroin, or crystal meth.
What does the Spice in Star Wars do?
Because the contemporary canon of Star Wars is so vague about the Spice, we don’t actually know what its addictive qualities are like. However, in the Legends canon, we certainly do. Specifically, one type of drug in the Spice family was called “Glitterstim.” This variety of Spice came from Kessel and was the byproduct of giant space spiders.
Star Wars Legends Author Kevin J. Anderson once said that he’d been instructed by Lucasfilm to tone down the drug addict aspect of the Spice, saying, “They didn’t want Han Solo to be a guy smuggling drugs because he’s one of our good guys.” However, Anderson claimed that George Lucas himself confirmed: “of course it's a drug” in a letter back to Anderson’s editors.
Still, in the older books, Spice — specifically Glitterstim — was given a positive side-effect. It was able to boost the telepathic abilities of anyone who ingested it. Basically, micro-dosing Spice helped various Legends characters — like X-wing pilot Coran Horn — have turbo-charged telepathic Force powers. And that so happens to be very similar to another Spice in a different science fiction franchise — Dune.
Did Star Wars rip off the Spice from Dune?
Although there’s no smoking blaster to prove that George Lucas and other Star Wars writers outright stole the Spice from Dune, let’s take a look at the similarities.
- In both Dune and Star Wars, the Spice has a huge impact on the galactic economy.
- The lives of several major characters are altered forever because of the Spice.
- In Dune, the Spice comes from giant sandworms. In Star Wars Legends canon, the spice known as Glitterstim comes from giant spiders.
- In Dune, the Spice gives users telepathic and prophetic abilities. The same goes for Spice in Star Wars Legends canon.
- The substance is called “Spice” in both universes.
In fairness, the idea that Star Wars borrowed the notion of the Spice from Dune isn’t unique. In Babylon 5, there’s a drug called “Dust” which, when taken by the character G’Kar, gives him latent telepathic powers, albeit, briefly. Frank Herbert didn’t copyright the word “Spice,” and even in the Dune universe, it's an imprecise word, standing in for the more formal term, “melange.” (A lot of stuff has two names in Dune, like how the planet Arrakis is also called “Dune.”)
Still, it’s hard to imagine the basic building blocks of the Star Wars galaxy without Spice. Even in The Bad Batch episode “Infestation,” the basic plot of the story can’t exist without it. And within the context of that episode, you wouldn't need to really know what the Spice is or what it does. It’s just a shipment of stuff some criminals want, that some other criminals briefly stole, and a group of mercenaries had to get back. It’s a MacGuffin in Star Wars, but oddly the kind we almost never see or understand fully.
In Dune, the Spice flows and shapes the lives and the stories of the people in that galaxy. In Star Wars, the Spice is a thing the characters need sometimes, and don’t you dare ask questions as to why otherwise we’ll have to start talking about Sith Wayfinders again.
The Bad Batch airs new episodes on Disney+ on Fridays.