'Star Wars' for adults? 'Dune' director Denis Villeneuve talks similarities between epic sci-fi stories

Was George Lucas heavily influenced by Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 novel Dune in writing Star Wars? It’s one of the great debates in film fandom.

And while Lucas never explicitly acknowledged it — at least according to our knowledge and research — fans and scholars have little doubt that Star Wars owes its very existence to Herbert’s intergalactic yarn set in a distant future about a young man who leads a desert world’s warriors in an uprise against the galactic emperor.

Herbert himself reportedly cited 37 similarities between Star Wars — which launched in 1977 with A New Hope — and his source material, and they’ve been widely tracked over the years.

The novel Dune did eventually get its own adaptation, David Lynch’s imperfect but still beloved take starring Kyle MacLachlan that was released in 1984 and grossed $30 million (or roughly one-twenty-fifth of A New Hope’s $775 million haul).

This weekend, though, marks the arrival of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, the Arrival and Blade Runner 2049’s masterful, tense and visually stunning $165 million adaptation of Herbert’s novel (the first half, anyway) starring Timothée Chalamet as hero Paul Atreides and featuring a star-studded supporting cast that includes Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem.

Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet in 'Dune' (Warner Bros.)
Zendaya and Timothée Chalamet in Dune. (Photo: Warner Bros.)

And the cycle of inspiration continues, with Villeneuve once promising his film would be akin to Star Wars for adults,” a peg that’s rang true for early viewers.

“I was born with Star Wars,” the Quebec native Villeneuve, 54, tells Yahoo Entertainment in a new interview (watch above). “Meaning Star Wars was the first movie that I asked my parents to go and see in the theater. I was like nine or 10 years old when it came out in 1977. I was the target audience and Star Wars changed my life. I’m here probably, because of Star Wars. You know it’s like I was traumatized… in a great way. I was floored.

“And I think that Dune related in some way to that spirit of someone who wants to take sci-fi seriously… Star Wars was deeply inspired by Dune… And then us making Dune 40-something years later, it’s like we are in a world where the space opera has been occupied by the Empire. So it’s a challenge to define our identity knowing there’s that big gigantic creature that is Star Wars that is there living outside. It was a challenge.”

After Lynch’s Dune underwhelmed in the ’80s, Herbert’s source material would often be called unfilmable. For Villeneuve though — who’s drawing wide acclaim and even early buzz for Dune (likely/hopefully the first of two parts) — it was all about summoning his early experiences with the book.

“The challenge was to channel the teenager that I was that read the book in the ‘80s,” he says. “Like an archeologist, to go back in time and bring back the image that came into my mind when I was reading the book… I tried to go back to that spirit as much as possible.”

Dune is now playing in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

Watch the trailer:

— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo