When it comes to young sci-fi heroes on desert planets, Star Wars has the monopoly.
If you were to ask random people on the street about such heroic figures, poised to take on evil empires, you’d probably have to ask at least 10 people before someone asked if you were talking about Dune or A New Hope.
And yet, if George Lucas hadn’t snagged some of his visual language from Dune, it’s possible Star Wars would have been far less successful. But is Paul Atreides from Dune just the 1.0 version of Luke Skywalker?
Turns out, these two couldn’t be more different. Here’s why. Mild spoilers ahead for Dune and Star Wars.
5. Paul has a great relationship with his parents
Unlike Luke Skywalker, Paul Atreides doesn’t have to confront demons related to his parentage, and that’s because Duke Leto is a pretty good dad.
Yes, Paul gets angsty about all the various schemes that Leto was part of, but Frank Herbert’s Dune novel isn’t designed to make you think Leto was a bad guy, or that he ever became evil. Far from it, in fact.
If both Paul and Luke are defined by their relationships with their parents, Paul is Luke’s opposite in every way. Luke never knew his mother and had to deal with this father being a monstrous warlord. In contrast, Paul hangs out with his mother, Lady Jessica, and basically learns how to be a badass by watching her.
4. Luke triumphs, while Paul’s destiny is dark
In some ways, Luke Skywalker’s path along the traditional “hero’s journey” is a paint-by-numbers adventure. But in other ways, Luke is unpredictable. Luke doesn’t always do what Yoda and the Emperor think he’ll do. This unpredictability is arguably part of why he ends up saving the day in Return of the Jedi.
Conversely, although Paul has confusing visions of the future (like Luke), he doesn’t necessarily avoid negative outcomes. In some ways, as soon as Paul comes to Arrakis, his path to becoming Muad'Dib is set. In the sense that Paul has a harder time avoiding his destiny, he’s actually more like Anakin than Luke.
3. Luke has minimal training, but Paul is a pro
At the beginning of Dune, Herbert makes it clear that Paul had excellent teachers. Gurney Halleck, Duncan Idaho, Thufir Hawat, and even the duplicitous Dr. Yueh all help Paul hone his skills as a warrior and a scholar. On top of that, Lady Jessica is a Bene Gesserit, the Dune equivalent of a Jedi — though arguably, she’s much more shrewd than your average Jedi.
As mentioned by Dave Filoni recently, Luke’s training is quite minimal compared to that of many other Jedi. If you were to pull Paul into the Star Wars universe, he’d probably be closer to a Ben Solo than a Luke: super-powerful, with a ton of resources.
2. Paul’s love is pure — and pivotal
Paul’s love for Chani in Dune is one of the greatest things about the first and second novels. Although Chani doesn’t have a huge role in the first half of the first book, it seems like the new film will reframe some of that narrative to tell Dune from Chani’s perspective.
Somewhat infamously, Luke Skywalker never really finds love in his battle against the Empire. This isn’t Luke’s fault, of course, but the fact that Luke is often a lone wolf makes him strikingly different from Paul Atreides. By the end of Dune, Paul and Chani are a power couple, and the story is about them, not just about Paul. Luke’s story (in the films) stays pretty centered on him.
1. Luke leaves, but Paul stays
The biggest difference between Luke Skywalker and Paul Atreides might also be the most striking difference between Dune and Star Wars in their entireties.
In A New Hope, Luke begins his journey on a desert planet and sets off to see the galaxy. We’re told time and time again in Star Wars that Tatooine (or Jakku) is the type of place you want to get away from and not the type of place you learn to call home.
Paul’s journey to his desert planet is the opposite. The arc of Paul Atreides establishes him as someone who comes from the wider galaxy, specifically the cushy planet Caladan. His family moves to the planet Arrakis, and the story of Dune is about what happens when they stay there.
If Luke were like Paul, then his story would need to start on Courscant and end on Tatooine. Neither philosophical microcosm is superior; both Star Wars and Dune manage to reflect various aspects of human nature through the movements of their characters. But these narrative arcs fall along opposite ends of a spectrum. Luke Skywalker wants to leave his home and discover adventure. Paul wants to keep his identity intact; unwittingly, by coming to Arrakis, he finds a new home.
Dune hits theaters and HBO Max in the US on October 22, 2021.