At this point, most of us can agree that Denis Villeneuve made the impossible possible. He took Frank Herbert’s legendary sci-fi book Dune and made it into popular, digestible entertainment, a feat no one thought would ever happen. And yet along the way he had multiple obstacles, including one from a galaxy far, far away.
“If you think about trying to do your own space opera today, I’m sorry, you are fucked by the huge elephant in the room that is Star Wars,” Villeneuve joked in a new piece by the Hollywood Reporter. He’s talking figuratively of course, in multiple senses of the word, about how Star Wars has become so popular that any similar space opera—even ones that came along before Star Wars, such as Dune, John Carter or Flash Gordon—now will forever be compared to Star Wars. And while making his Dune, the director found himself in a direct competition with that other franchise.
In the same THR story, Villeneuve explains that when he and production designer Patrice Vermette were scouting locations in a helicopter high over the Wadi Rum desert of Jordan they spotted a line-up of over a dozen black SUVs driving around. This was the desert the director had dreamed about making Dune in since he was a child. And yet, as a filmmaker, he knew what those SUVs meant: another location scout.
Vermette remembered that his friend, Paul Inglis, whom had worked with the Dune pair on Blade Runner 2049, was working on the yet-to-be titled ninth Star Wars film, so he shot him a text. “Hey, man, random question. Do you happen to be in Wadi Rum right now?” Vermette said. Inglis texted back with the bad news. “Yup, was that you who just flew over us?” It was indeed that damned elephant called Star Wars.
Thankfully, the story has a happy ending. A meeting was set between the Dune crew of Villeneuve and Vermette, as well as Inglis and the Star Wars crew, at a hotel bar. “We told them, ‘We don’t want to know anything about your story, but let’s protect both of us and make sure we don’t end up shooting the exact same areas of the desert,’” Vermette said. “It was all cool.”
And so what’s what happened when the team behind Dune and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker walked into a bar: they compromised about shooting in different parts of the same vast, evocative desert. Read much more about Dune’s intersections with Star Wars in the excellent Hollywood Reporter story.
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