While Star Wars has long been hailed as one of the true original triumphs of the cinematic art form, the reality is that George Lucas has never been shy about discussing the key and fundamental inspirations that he had in imagining it. The Flash Gordon serials dazzled the filmmaker when he was younger, and there is clearly an influence from the work of Akira Kurosawa – most notably 1958’s The Hidden Fortress. There’s a long list of sources from which Lucas drew in the creation of his epic space opera, but inarguably one of the most significant was Frank Herbert’s beloved novel Dune.
It’s actually in part because of Star Wars that the spectacular sci-fi tome spent years being deemed unadaptable in the eyes of many, as audiences not in the know about the relationship between the works would potentially see a Dune movie as a “rip-off” of George Lucas’ vision. Thankfully, the accomplishments by director Denis Villeneuve this year have shattered that notion, with his 2021 blockbuster leaving a deep impression in pop culture – but a new story from The Hollywood Reporter has revealed that history wasn’t the only way in which the saga set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ultimately impacted the creation of the new film.
In the last few months and years, Denis Villeneuve has repeatedly talked about his extreme passion for bringing a proper adaptation of Dune to the big screen, and discussed how it has been a dream of his held since first reading the book as a kid. This in mind, it’s far from surprising to learn that he settled on his ideal location for filming the production years before he was actually hired to make the movie. He made part of his breakout 2010 feature Incendies in Jordan’s Wadi Rum desert, and during the experience he decided that it would make a phenomenal substitute for his visualization of the planet Arrakis.
Going into the making of the Dune – which filmed between March and July of 2019 – making this happen didn’t seem as though it was going to present any problems… but then Denis Villeneuve and his production designer Patrice Vermette discovered that they weren’t the only ones who had fallen in love with the miles and miles of sand and rock. During a pre-production helicopter ride over the Wadi Rum desert, the filmmakers spotted “a caravan of black SUVs,” and their instincts immediately told them that it might be another film crew.
Denis Villeneuve discovered Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker was filming in his dream location for Dune totally by accident.
As is detailed in the trade report, it turned out that this instinct was entirely correct. Once Denis Villeneuve and Patrice Vermette were on the ground, the latter contacted Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker’s supervising art director, Paul Inglis, and he confirmed that part of the Skywalker Saga finale was filming in some of the same places that Dune was targeting to shoot.
The simple idea of a desert planet is one of the many aforementioned details that George Lucas borrowed from Dune in the making of Star Wars (there are multiple connections to be made between Arrakis and Tattooine), so it isn’t particularly surprising that the two productions would end up eyeing the same stunning stretch of Earth – but that doesn’t totally subdue the feeling of irony in the circumstance. Thankfully, Wadi Rum is big enough that it was able to suit the needs of both films while specifically avoiding any significant overlap.
Patrice Vermette told THR that the discovery that Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker was “in town” led to a meeting between filmmakers from both productions in a hotel bar, and they were able to work out the logistics so that neither project would be impeded or affected by what was being done by the other. Said Vermette,
Because of the pandemic, the release dates for both Dune and Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker became further apart than anyone had originally anticipated, but one could argue that time only helped the former stand out as a new chapter in the world of blockbuster sci-fi filmmaking. We are now in the midst of the biggest gap between live-action Star Wars movies that we’ve experienced since the launch of The Force Awakens in 2015, and Dune is now properly occupying that time by unfolding its own epic cinematic adventure – which will continue with Dune: Part Two in October 2023.
While the overlaps in their existences of the sci-fi franchises are undeniable, it’s amazing that we now live in a time when Dune is getting the opportunity to truly set itself apart from Star Wars, and it’s an effort for which fans will forever be grateful, with Denis Villeneuve being at the center of the love.
NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.