Dune Director Denis Villeneuve Thinks Star Wars Peaked With The Empire Strikes Back

You can add "Dune" director Denis Villeneuve to the chorus of voices who think "The Empire Strikes Back" is the best "Star Wars" movie. We've already proven it with an infallible survey this year, but just in case you doubt the veracity of our science, Villeneuve — the preeminent director of modern science-fiction films, from "Arrival" to "Blade Runner 2049" to "Dune" — is here to clear up any confusion.

In a new interview with The Playlist, Villeneuve discussed the influence of "Dune" on "Star Wars" and vice versa. Like many of us, he was first exposed to "Star Wars" (retroactively styled "A New Hope"), only to discover that it and its desert planet, Tatooine, had a literary forerunner in the form of Frank Herbert's "Dune" and its desert planet, Arrakis.

However, it's the darker "Empire Strikes Back" that Villeneuve mentions in the same breath as sci-fi classics like the original "Blade Runner" and "2001: A Space Odyssey." He explained:

"There's something about 'The Empire Strikes Back,' the darkness of it, the tragic elements of it, the way I was feeling in that precise moment about 'Star Wars' — there was something really serious about it that I deeply loved. Science fiction is serious stuff for me; it's something that I love when it considers life and existence serious. That's [why] I have so much reverence for 'Blade Runner,' the original, of course, and '2001: A Space Odyssey.' When people are taking sci-fi seriously, it's so powerful."

The Circle of Influence Is Now Complete

Acknowledging that his comments were sure to be dissected (given the delicate nature of "Star Wars" fandom), Villeneuve continued with his explanation of why he thinks "Star Wars" peaked with "The Empire Strikes Back:"

"So, there was something in 'The Empire Strikes Back,' in its darkness, in the way it was approaching the psychological path of Luke Skywalker. And I just feel like they lost that after. They lost that elegance. And that was maybe something that I was referring to when I said, oh, I wish 'Dune' was—in a way, my idea was ... back to that [early 'Star Wars'] spirit. You must not publish that; I'm going to be crucified [laughs]. But I totally believe that. I never left 'Star Wars,' 'Star Wars' left me."

There are many fans who probably share Villeneuve's sentiments that "Star Wars" left them at some point. Be it the Ewoks, the prequels, or the Disney sequels, everyone has their own different juncture where they think the franchise started to go downhill. Yet as the better episodes of "The Mandalorian" and "Star Wars: Visions" have shown, "Star Wars" still has some gas left in its tank, enough to keep it driving back uphill sometimes.

"The Empire Strikes Back" and the original "Star Wars" are both in the National Film Registry and they're two of the greatest movies of all time. That's a tough act to follow for any film or streaming series, but if nothing else, those early movies continue to inspire people to create art outside the "Star Wars" franchise. With Villeneuve's "Dune," the circle of influence — begun with Herbert's "Dune" and the original "Star Wars" in the '60s and '70s — is now complete.