‘Dune: Part One’ Recap: Everything to Remember Before the Sequel

Liem Soeng

‘Dune: Part One’ Recap: Everything to Remember Before the Sequel

The release of Denis Villeneuve‘s “Dune: Part Two” is the first bona fide cinematic event of 2024, with many early reviews hailing the strike-delayed sequel as a bigger, bolder addition to the acclaimed saga that Villeneuve launched with the first film. The film is set to complete Villeneuve’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s first “Dune” novel while setting up a potential third movie that would pull from its sequel, “Dune Messiah.”

The film might have accomplished the seemingly impossible task of improving on its predecessor’s cast, adding the likes of Florence Pugh, Austin Butler, and Christopher Walken alongside returning stars Timothée Chalamet, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, and Zendaya, who is set to play a much larger role after briefly appearing in “Part One.” The blend of star power, auteur pedigree, and elite craftsmanship behind the camera should make it the kind of blockbuster that no self-respecting cinephile can miss.

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But the expansive “Dune” mythology that sets the franchise apart from other Hollywood fare is often the very thing that makes the films hard to keep up with. If the three years between entries has you forgetting where the story left off, you’re not alone. Keep reading for our recap of everything you need to remember before the sequel hits theaters this weekend.

DUNE, the spice, 2020. © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection
Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Political System Is Complicated, But Spice Is King

“Dune” takes place in a futuristic society where the rise of intergalactic travel has led to the return of a feudal economic system. The galaxy is ruled by Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV (played by Christopher Walken in “Part Two”), who shares power with a legislature known as Landsraad and a large joint-stock company known as Combine Honnete Ober Advancer Mercantiles (frequently referred to as CHOAM). The company is jointly owned by noble houses who divide the galaxy into fiefdoms, with each house ruling a major planet and receiving the economic fruits of its industries.

The most valuable resource is melange, colloquially known as spice, a powerful drug that works as both a recreational hallucinogen and a life-extending panacea with countless health benefits. It’s also used as a raw material for manufacturing many dry goods. The entire “Dune” economy revolves around spice, and controlling the spice trade is the fastest way to obtain political power and economic prosperity.

DUNE, 2021. © Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection
Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Arrakis Is Engulfed in War

“Dune: Part One” began with House Atreides being given control of Arrakis, a desert planet whose harsh conditions mask rich deposits of spice. Water is extremely scarce, and the massive sandworms who roam the vast deserts kill everything in their paths. The planet is home to the Fremen, an indigenous people who have adapted to the arid conditions and worship the worms as deities. But for generations, the planet has existed as a feudal colony whose sole political purpose is the production of spice. Tensions between the Fremen and the various houses that have run the planet — with the help of the intergalactic military known as the Sardaukar — have always been high.

The first film begins with the Atreides family, led by Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), taking over the governorship of the planet and beginning to oversee the spice mining operations. Duke Leto has dreams of bringing peace to the planet, but decades of tension and political scheming from various factions make that a seemingly impossible task. While life on Arrakis is difficult, the economic benefits of the spice trade make it a coveted property.

DUNE, Stellan Skarsgard, 2020. © Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection
Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Leto’s rulership is immediately undermined by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), the head of a rival house who was removed from Arrakis to make way for House Atreides. In an effort to see Leto removed and his own power restored, he stokes tensions on Arrakis through a series of threats, bribes, and assassination attempts that culminate in his invasion of the planet with the help of a mercenary army. Harkonnen takes control of Arrakis during the coup, and Leto sacrifices his own life in a failed attempt to assassinate the Duke while being held in captivity.

DUNE, Timothee Chalamet, 2021. © Warner Bros. / courtesy Everett Collection
Warner Bros. / courtesy Everett Collection©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Paul Atreides Is Everybody’s Chosen One

The one bright spot for House Atreides is the fact that Leto’s son Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) is widely seen as a potential messiah who can save Arrakis. The son of Leto and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), Paul has a unique mix of talents and pedigree that have prompted many groups to hold him up as their chosen one.

Paul’s mother Jessica is a member of the Bene Gesserit, a secret society of women who practice ancient telekinesis and mind control techniques. Their most notable ability is The Voice, a practice in which using a particular vocal tone allows a speaker to hypnotize and control anyone they address. Jessica has trained Paul in the ancient ways of the Bene Gesserit since his childhood, and his increasingly refined control of his abilities has turned him into a powerful specimen.

DUNE, Rebecca Ferguson (left), 2021. ph: Chiabella James /© Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection
Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

The Bene Gesserit have carefully curated their bloodline with the hopes of one day producing a powerful male heir known as the Kwisatz Haderach, who could take the Bene Gesserit methods to new heights. Paul’s advanced powers and royal lineage suggest to many he is destined to become the Kwisatz Haderach.

The Fremen, led by their leader, Stilgar (Javier Bardem), have also been waiting for a savior. Their folk religion tells of a messianic figure who would come to them from beyond their world and lead them to peace and prosperity. When Paul and Jessica join the Fremen at the end of “Part One,” Paul adopts the Fremen name Muad’Dib and begins his quest to fulfill the prophecy and unify the planet.

DUNE, Zendaya, 2021. © Warner Bros. / courtesy Everett Collection
Warner Bros. / courtesy Everett Collection©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Chani Is About To Become a Much Bigger Player

While the “Dune” marketing leaned heavily on Zendaya’s presence as Fremen princess Chani, her screentime in the first film only amounted to a few dream sequences and a brief appearance in its final scenes. But her extended cameo in “Part One” laid the foundation for her to step up as a true co-lead in “Part Two.”

Paul first encountered Chani in a series of visions that he experienced while testing the limits of his Bene Gesserit powers. When he flees to the desert with Jessica and meets up with the Fremen, she is one of the first people he meets. In keeping with the prophecy-laden “Dune” mythology, their preexisting metaphysical connection suggests that they are both part of each other’s destinies. Chani is a talented warrior in her own right and skilled at navigating the harsh realities of desert life. She is assigned to shepherd Paul and Jessica into Fremen life and teach them the ways of the tribe. The budding romance between her and Paul could be the bond that ultimately unifies the planet.

DUNE, 2021. © Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection
Warner Bros. /Courtesy Everett Collection©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Where Did Things Leave Off?

At the end of the first film, Paul and Jessica fled the capitol in the midst of Harkonnen’s violent coup and were left to wander the desert. After meeting up with Stilgar and Chani, Paul embraces what he believes is his destiny to lead the Fremen. While many members are deeply skeptical of him, Paul earns acceptance into the tribe by defeating one of the toughest Fremen warriors in a fight to the death. After winning the duel, Chani leads an enthusiastic Paul and reluctant Jessica into the tribe.

Paul now has to train in the arts of Fremen combat and immerse himself in their religious rituals, which include worshipping and riding the deadly sandworms, in order to eventually take his place at the head of the tribe. Harkonnen still controls the planet’s government and has aggressively resumed spice production, but Paul now has access to an army that has the potential to retake Arrakis and bring unity to the war-stricken planet. But the political turmoil has prompted the Emperor to reconsider his hands-off approach and actively intervene to maintain the status quo on Arrakis.

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