With the remake of Dune, Denis Villeneuve brings a level of artistry and nuance that many science fiction films lack. This makes perfect sense given the director’s habit of telling slow, character-driven stories, as in Prisoners, Sicario, Arrival, and Blade Runner 2049. Interestingly, when Dune shows House Atreides and the Harkonnen clan going to war on Arrakis over two hours, it becomes clear that this vision is what the Star Wars sequel trilogy should have been.
The new Star Wars films had their moments. Still, they couldn’t overcome J.J. Abrams’ addiction to nostalgia and Rian Johnson’s courage to subvert the tradition. This has led to a series of inconsistent events in which the films have ridiculously brought back Palpatine, introduced new Force powers, started a romance between Kylo Ren and Rey only to end it abruptly, and undermined the idea that you don’t have to be a Skywalker to save the galaxy.
Aside from some beautiful visuals, like the battle between Kylo and Rey in the throne room, the Star Wars sequels have been more about style than substance, which is why fans are so divided and why Disney is taking time to plan new movies. But with Dune, Warner Bros. is taking an intelligent approach through simplicity.
The film is relatively faithful to the original, adapting the first half of Frank Herbert’s first book. Still, more importantly, it treats the idea of the Chosen One the way George Lucas treated Luke Skywalker in the 70s and 80s.
Dune gives Paul Atreides a fantastic journey of self-discovery. Still, it doesn’t complicate things the way Star Wars did with Rey’s parentage and fate. Paul uses his mind control over Jessica’s legacy to figure out his visions of Chani as his lover’s means for the future.
He also has a mentor, Liet Kynes, who is reminiscent of Obi-Wan Kenobi, who dies pretty early on in the journey, which pushes Paul even further as he doesn’t think he has much help left.
Meanwhile, Dune achieves what Star Wars set out to do: expansive worlds like Arrakis, dark villains like Harkonnen, terrifying monsters that throw sandworms at the viewer, and then Paul, the messiah that the rebels sense in him when he connects with the Fremen.
What makes it so good is that it’s not forced, as Paul doesn’t use magic anywhere – he uses his mother’s powers, his military training with Leto and Duncan, etc., and eventually balances it all out and becomes a true hero in the making.
Unlike Finn and Rose’s side mission to Canto Bight, there is no divergent plot, which distracts from the story. Instead, it focuses on the savior and cleverly arranges the cast to highlight the transformation without distracting it. Add in epic action scenes that don’t jump from one to the next; Paul’s development is not rushed.
The story has to do with aliens and an evil empire defeating seemingly immortal tyrants. It feels like the direction it should have taken with a new Palpatine and Darth Vader.
In contrast, the Star Wars trilogy felt unsafe, even going so far as to kill Snoke and use a lot of Hail Marys for the rebellion. In this sense, Dune is much more focused. Even though he’s still in his childhood, Paul feels organically responsible regardless of who lives or dies next to him.
Even if his home is wiped out, that has an Empire Strikes Back essence. Also, nothing is pulled out of the hat to remind the audience that he is the key to the war and the future while still giving him a human and fallible aura.