Long Live the Fighters

Before You See Dune 2, Here's the Only Thing You Actually Need to Know

The backstory must flow.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides in Dune: Part Two
Warner Bros. Pictures
Dune: Part Two

The world of Dune is nebulous, nuanced, and dense, so much so that Denis Villeneuve needed two whopping films to adapt Frank Herbert’s first novel. Dune: Part One worked hard to lay out some complex intergalactic relationships, and set up its protagonist, Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), as a messianic figure of legend. All that table-setting will finally pay off in Dune: Part Two. But with nearly three years removed from the film and its predecessor, casual fans may need a refresher before diving back into the world of Arrakis.

Herbert’s epic series is chock full of complex themes, but beneath all that lies a relatively simple story. Set thousands of years in the future, Dune follows the ascension of Paul, the son of a Duke at the center of a political tempest. The story effectively begins when Paul’s father, Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), is chosen as the new steward of the planet Arrakis. It’s the sole supplier of a substance called spice, which fuels interstellar travel. It’s also a valuable resource to the natives of Arrakis, the Fremen, who use it to heighten their awareness and reflexes.

This new appointment kickstarts the House of Atreides’ demise. Leto and his family are betrayed and nearly wiped out by a rival house, the Harkonnens. Paul and his mother (Rebecca Ferguson) are two of the coup’s few survivors, and they seek refuge with the Fremen. When we catch up with them in Part Two, they’ve fully ingratiated themselves into Fremen society, and are gearing up for another attack from the Harkonnens.

But let’s back up: why exactly are the Harkonnens so set on fighting House Atreides, and what does their beef mean for Dune: Part Two?

House Atreides vs. House Harkonnen

In Dune: Part One, the Atreides find themselves under siege.

Warner Bros. Pictures

The Harkonnens, while formidable, aren’t the masterminds behind the Arrakis coup. It’s true they governed the planet before House Atreides were appointed its new leaders — which gives them a valid reason to take Arrakis back by force — but it’s the leader of the Imperium, Emperor Shaddam IV, who has the real bone to pick with Duke Leto.

In one of Dune’s more exposition-heavy scenes, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) explains that the Emperor has grown jealous of Leto, as the leader of House Atreides has risen in power and esteem over the years. Other noble Houses frequently turn to Leto for guidance, causing the Emperor to fear for his position. He only grants Leto a fiefdom in Arrakis to orchestrate a conflict between House Atreides and the Harkonnens, at which point the Emperor grants Baron Harkonnen the use of his army, the Sardaukar, to take Arrakis back.

Aided by a spy in the ranks, Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen), the Harkonnens ambush the Atreides in their Arrakis stronghold. The Baron’s nephew, Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista), leads the siege. He’s later appointed the planet’s new steward; when we meet him again in Part Two, he’ll be working to reestablish spice production in earnest.

House Atreides vs. House Corrino

Paul’s fight with the Harkonnens is far from over in Dune: Part Two.

Warner Bros. Pictures

The Harkonnens will still be a huge adversary in Part Two, especially with the introduction of Austin Butler’s Feyd-Rautha. He’s another of the Baron’s nephews, and a much more immediate threat to Paul. The film will also explore the Harkonnen’s home planet in greater detail, but it’s the Emperor and his own family, House Corrino, who will take on a more active role in the sequel.

As Paul steps into his role as the fabled messiah, the Kwisatz Haderach, his fight with the Harokkens and the Corrinos is set to spin into an all-out galactic conflict. He’s been fueled by visions of a massive battle; while that’s probably inevitable, Paul intends to play the long game in his battle against the Imperium. In Part One, Paul, his mother, and their trusted aide, Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), briefly discuss alternatives to conflict, and Paul broaches the idea of marrying one of the Emperor’s daughters in an attempt at peace. That passing remark plants the seed for the introduction of Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), who will play a massive role in future Dune installments.

There are a few other notable plot points to remember, including the shifting allegiances between members of the Bene Gesserit, Paul’s trippy visions, and the budding love story between Paul and Chani (Zendaya), but those should feel relatively straightforward compared to the dynamics between the great Houses. With the Emperor’s betrayal now out in the open, and Arrakis on the brink of revolt, it’s House Atreides against the galaxy.

Dune: Part Two opens in theaters March 1.

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