What’s the Difference Between Dune Spice and Star Wars Spice?

Estimated read time 8 min read

The Big Picture

  • Spice in
    is a valuable commodity due to its hallucinogenic properties and importance to commerce and religion.
  • In contrast, spice in
    Star Wars
    is an illegal narcotic associated with the criminal underworld.
  • Despite the lack of direct confirmation, the concept of spice in
    Star Wars
    was likely influenced by

The spice flows on as Dune: Part Two rocks the box office all around the world. The second half of Denis Villeneuve‘s Dune adaptation offers a complex look at how the flow of one single commodity mobilizes a whole galaxy and how much destruction it may cause. However, those of us who like some good old science fiction might find it somewhat confusing – isn’t there spice in Star Wars, too? Yes, there is! And the spice in both franchises has as much in common as they have in differences between them, as weird as that sounds. Spice is central to both Dune and Star Wars, and one may even have influenced the other. Just don’t mix them because it may get you in trouble with the Fremen or the Stormtroopers.

Dune Part Two Poster

Dune: Part Two

Paul Atreides unites with Chani and the Fremen while seeking revenge against the conspirators who destroyed his family.

Release Date March 1, 2024

Director Denis Villeneuve

Runtime 166 minutes

Main Genre Sci-Fi

Writers Frank Herbert , Jon Spaihts , Denis Villeneuve

Spice in ‘Dune’ Is a Highly Valuable Commodity

“The spice must flow” is one of the most iconic lines in Dune, said by the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) in Dune Messiah. This is the perfect line to describe Frank Herbert‘s series because there is a whole galaxy depending on the flow of spice. Here, the spice is called mélange and can only be found in one place in the whole galaxy, the planet Arrakis.

The spice itself is a substance with hallucinogenic properties that comes from the giant sandworms that roam the endless desert of Arrakis. It’s found on deposits deep beneath the surface, while smaller grains can be seen moving with the sand when the sun is low. Using it can unlock many abilities in people, like the Spacing Guild navigators, who can only pilot starships by taking heavy doses of mélange to make them see briefly enough into the future to guide them through space. Guild navigators are the perfect example of what happens to regular people when they take mélange because their excessive use changes even their physical features, all for just a little prescience. They even need pressurized tanks and suits for themselves so as not to stop breathing it. Without spice, however, there is no space traffic and, therefore, no commerce.

In Arrakis, the native Fremen have been exposed to spice through generations, making them more resistant to its effects, the only change being their deep blue eyes and enhanced fighting skills. Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is the only person who has more control over the substance due to his status as the Kwisatz Haderach, meaning he has a natural predisposition to it. The Bene Gesserit also rely on spice to perform many of their rituals. Their powers and prescience come from their millennia-long exposure to it, too.

Its importance to commerce and religion and its scarcity make spice the most valuable commodity in the galaxy. The fact that mélange is only found in Arrakis means that whoever rules the planet has a hold on the universe as a whole, making Arrakis the centerpiece of galactic politics. Arrakis is a highly coveted fiefdom that the Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken) grants to his closest allies. For a long time, it belonged to House Harkonnen, and it only changed hands when the Emperor gave it to House Atreides as part of a plan to annihilate them. After Paul Atreides becomes the Emperor and unleashes his jihad across the galaxy, the planet becomes the de facto capital, and the other major houses can only accept his rule over it – and, therefore, over the flow of spice itself – or eventually be defeated.

Spice in ‘Star Wars’ Is Actually an Illegal Substance

The use of the term “spice” in two of the biggest franchises nowadays may lead to some confusion. While in Dune, it serves as the fuel that makes the wheels of the galaxy turn, in Star Wars, it’s very different. Unlike the multifaceted role of mélange, spice in the galaxy far, far away is primarily a narcotic substance, often associated with criminal enterprises and underworld activities. Its significance lies more in its economic value and its role in illicit trade.

In Star Wars, spice is heavily trafficked by criminal syndicates such as the Hutts, the Black Sun, and the Pyke Syndicate. When we first meet Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, for example, he is being pressured by Jabba the Hutt to settle a heavy debt he has because he dumped a shipment of spice into space after his ship, the Millennium Falcon, was boarded by the Empire. Running spice is such a lucrative endeavor for smugglers that there’s even some competition around it. The main source of spice is in the mines of Kessel, which we see in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, and traffic around the planet is very dangerous for navigational instability and heavy Imperial patrols. What smugglers and racing enthusiasts call the Kessel Run consists of going to and out of Kessel as quickly as possible. In Solo: A Star Wars Story, a young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) pilots the Falcon to a record of 12 parsecs on the Kessel Run.

Spice is also the cause of most of the fighting between the cartels. In The Book of Boba Fett, Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) has to face this reality to take over Jabba’s former criminal empire and become the daimyo of Mos Espa after the Hutt dies in Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi. It’s a difficult task, however, as the Pyke Syndicate, which runs the spice mines of Kessel, wants to make Tatooine its new hub for spice consumption. The Pykes go so far as trying to have their spice consumed even in smaller settlements like Mos Pelgo, but they are chased away from Tatooine by Fett with the help of Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal/Brendan Wayne/Lateef Crowder), Marshal Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olymphant) and the Mos Espa biker gang.

The status of spice as an actual drug in Star Wars was up for debate for a long time, but George Lucas settled the issue in a conversation with writer Kevin J. Anderson. While writing his novel Jedi Search, Anderson contacted Lucas to inquire about spice, worried that, if it was a drug, it would make Han Solo a drug dealer. Lucas’ answer? “Of course, it’s a drug!” Since then, an effort has been made in the sense of trying to give it some positive qualities, too, but The Book of Boba Fett once again established it as a full-on narcotic substance.

‘Dune’s Spice Likely Influenced ‘Star Wars’ Spice

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Dune Part 2 Image via Warner Bros.

In terms of narrative, spice in Star Wars serves more as a plot device instead of the central element of worldbuilding that it is in Dune. As different as they may be, it’s very likely that the concept of spice in Star Wars was a direct influence George Lucas borrowed from Dune. In a 1977 interview, Lucas mentions that he had a lot of inspirations to make his movie but that the biggest similarity between it and Dune is that “both have deserts.” On the other hand, Frank Herbert thought it was “hard not to sue” because of all the similarities between the two – years later, he would jokingly create with other authors the “We’re Too Big To Sue George Lucas Society,” and even insert the term ‘three P-O’ in Heretics of Dune as the definition of “someone who surrounds themselves with cheap copies made from declassé substances.”

Neither Lucas nor Herbert ever mentioned spice as a common thread between their works, but the similarities are just too many. In A New Hope, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) mentions his fear of being sent to the spice mines of Kessel, meaning the concept had at least been around Lucas’ mind since the early days of Star Wars. Without any confirmation, we’re just left to wonder if it was intentional or not.

Dune: Part Two is now in theaters.

Buy tickets here