Dune vs. Star Wars — Which Sci-fi Epic Should You Watch?

It is not secret that the original Dune novel, written by Frank Herbert, inspired a lot of George Lucas’s Star Wars franchise. And no secret either that the cinematic achievement of Star Wars, especially on the visual front, were heavily influential on sci-fi movies going forward — including Denis Villeneuve’s Dune series, funnily enough.

From desert planets to galactic empires to chosen ones, the two share a lot of connections, often intentionally. But how do these two sci-fi megahits stack up against each other? And what things aren’t so similar between these two mutually-inspired franchises? We’re here to answer that.


Basic Info

Dune

Year: 2021-2024
Runtime: 2h 35m – 2h 46m
Size of Series: 2 movies
Rating: R

Star Wars

Year: 1977-2019
Runtime: 2h 1m – 2h 32m
Size of Series: 9 main movies, 2 spinoffs, 10 shows
Rating: PG – PG13

Similarities

  • Similarity 1 – Scope: Both Dune and Star Wars are similar in scope, being massive sprawling sci-fi epics. They both have galactic stakes, (debatably) evil emperors, and extremely futuristic technology that enables gigantic battles and dramatic setpieces.
  • Similarity 2 – Desert Planets: Dune and Star Wars both heavily feature their series mainstay Desert Planets, and both series deal with the realities of those planets. In fact, Dune’s Arrakis was a direct inspiration on Star Wars‘ Tattooine.
  • Similarity 3 – Following Heroes: While Star Wars’ Luke, Anakin, and Rey are heroes in a very different way than Dune‘s Paul Atreides, both franchises do fixate on the epic actions of their lead characters beyond anything else. The large supporting cast in both cases, ultimately, exist to interact with the protagonists of their stories. While Dune is much more critical of its main character than Star Wars, both are ultimately stories about those (debatable) heroes.

Differences

  • Difference 1 – Rating: Both Dune films are rated R, and not for no reason. The themes within it are darker, the violence more gruesome, and the sequences much more intense. Star Wars, by comparison, go up to a “soft” PG-13, with much more light-hearted adventures and more cartoonish violence.
  • Difference 2 – Complexity: Star Wars was originally based largely on Jospeh Campbell’s familiar “Hero’s Journey” story archetype. This has carried on, making Star Wars a fairly easy story to follow, with simple plots, clear characters, and easy-to-understand imagery. Dune, meanwhile, is notorious for its intricate plotting, difficult (but deep) character motivations, and esoteric world-building and lore.
  • Difference 3 – Adventure: Any given Star Wars movie sees the main heroes visiting several different planets, ships, and stations, and usually spend a lot of time showcasing the extremely diverse environments of those planets and locations. Dune, however, focuses most of its time on the planet of Arrakis (also called Dune), with looks at other planets being brief and typically focused on individual elements.

Quality

Dune

Letterboxd: 3.94.5
IMDB: 8.08.8
Rotten Tomatoes (Critic): 83% – 93%
Rotten Tomatoes (Audience): 90% – 95%

Star Wars

Letterboxd: 2.4 – 4.4
IMDB: 6.4 – 8.7
Rotten Tomatoes (Critic): 51% – 95%
Rotten Tomatoes (Audience): 86% – 97%

Across the board, Dune wins out amongst critics and cinephiles. While Dune Part 1 has lower critical ratings than some of the best Star Wars movies, including the entire Star Wars “Original Trilogy” (Episodes IV, V, and VI), both Dunes outperform the rest of the Star Wars franchise easily in most regards. The exception to this is for Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, which has a 2% higher aggregate for both critics and audience scores than Dune Part 2.

Recommendation

If you are deciding whether you should watch Dune or Star Wars, you should ask yourself what tone you are in the mood for, and how much time you have. Dune is a series of just 2 movies with a much darker tone and with much more serious themes, and is also slightly preferred by critics on average. Star Wars, meanwhile, is a massive franchise with 3 distinct main trilogies, 2 standalone movies, a huge amount of shows, and a variety of other media like video games and novels, all of varying quality and tone. All Star Wars media is lighter-hearted and more heroic than Dune.

If you liked Dune or Star Wars, you have a decent chance to like the other, as both have a similar scope and world, with Star Wars even taking direct inspiration from the original Dune novel series in many ways. However, if the tone of either is your reason for liking it — either Star Wars‘ heroic tone or Dune’s serious, philosophical tone — then you might want to steer clear.

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Graves
Graves

Graves is an avid writer, web designer, and gamer, with more ideas than he could hope to achieve in a lifetime. But, armed with a mug of coffee and an overactive imagination, he’ll try. When he isn’t working on a creative project, he is painting miniatures, reading cheesy sci-fi novels, or making music.

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