Everything you need to know about the ‘Dune’ universe before seeing the new movie
- Denis Villeneuve’s new “Dune” adaptation premieres October 22 and features a star-studded cast.
- But those unfamiliar with the 1965 novel that inspired the movie might feel a little lost.
- The world of “Dune” is complex and richly crafted – here’s what you need to know about it.
The film begins in year 10191, where the majority of planets and worlds are under the control of the Padishah Emperor. Also known as the Imperium, the Galactic Padishah Empire is comprised of noble houses (like the Atreides and Harkonnens), as well as numerous other planets.
Major political players in the Imperium include the mystical Bene Gesserit sisterhood, the Spacing Guild (whose members are responsible for interstellar transport and trade in the Imperium), and the Landsraad.
The Landsraad is a governing body that represents all of the noble houses, ruled by a high council and overseen by the emperor. Within the Landsraad, houses can form alliances, discuss trade agreements, and enact ritual vengeance (called kanly), among other tasks.
Two rival houses are featured in the movie. One is the House Atreides.
Led by Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), House Atreides is one of the most powerful forces in the Imperium at the start of the film. While they initially accept the Imperial decree to take over as stewards of the desert planet Arrakis, most members of House Atreides remain skeptical of the Emperor’s intentions.
The home planet of House Atreides is the planet Caladan — with its lush vegetation, tremendous bodies of water, and constant rain, Caladan is a distinct contrast to the arid and dry Arrakis.
Key members of House Atreides include Duke Leto and his consort, the Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson); master of weapons Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin); swords master Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa); Leto’s personal physician, Dr. Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen); and Leto and Jessica’s son Paul (Timothée Chalamet), who is poised to become the leader of House Atreides one day.
The Harkonnens, the other major house that features prominently in “Dune,” are the longtime rivals of House Atreides.
The Harkonnens were the stewards of Arrakis before the Imperial decree forced them to turn over control of the planet to House Atreides. Vicious, cunning, and cruel, the Harkonnens primarily reside on the planet Giedi Prime, and are determined to take back Arrakis at any cost.
Key members of the Harkonnen house include the Baron Vladimir (Stellan Skarsgard), who floats above the ground instead of walking, and the Baron’s brutish nephew Glossu Rabban (Josh Brolin).
Also a key part of the Harkonenn force is the Mentat — a highly intelligent and trained adviser who acts as a human computer — Piter de Vries (David Dastmalchian).
Also in the mix is the mystical Bene Gesserit sisterhood.
An ancient, secretive, all-female organization, the Bene Gesserit are key power players in Imperium politics — the Padishah Emperor himself even has a Bene Gesserit in his court to work as his Truthsayer, and Bene Gesserit forces are at work on nearly every planet in “Dune.”
The sisterhood has carefully-crafted plans for the Imperium, primarily wanting to guide humanity to a path of enlightenment and eventually have a Bene Gesserit on the throne. Their plans are dependent on the arrival of their messiah, the Kwisatz Haderach.
Lady Jessica, herself a Bene Gesserit, was required by the sisterhood to give birth to a daughter, who would in turn be wed to Feyd-Rautha (another nephew of Baron Harkonnen) and end the feud between the houses. The daughter of Jessica and Leto would eventually give birth to the Kwisatz Haderach, who’d later rule over the entire empire.
But Jessica disobeys the plans of the sisterhood by giving birth to her son Paul, ultimately choosing love for Duke Leto over Bene Gesserit breeding plans. Paul is considered a potential Kwisatz Haderach himself, earning a visit from the Mother Superior Mohiam at the beginning of “Dune.”
In addition to their powerful politics, the Bene Gesserit are also highly-trained in both hand-to-hand combat (called “the weirding way”), and in coercion, using “The Voice” to compel subjects to do their bidding.
The Bene Gesserit additionally have knowledge of events to come — meaning that they’re acutely aware of what will happen when Paul and his family arrive on Arrakis.
Overseeing everything is the Padishah Emperor, whose Imperial forces are known as the Sardaukar.
The Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV doesn’t make an appearance onscreen in the new “Dune,” but that doesn’t mean his presence isn’t felt.
The Emperor controls the stewardship of Arrakis, removing the Harkonnens from overseeing spice production at the beginning of the film and transferring power to House Atreides.
And at the Emperor’s disposal are the Sardaukar, fearsome Imperial warriors who train on the hostile planet of Salusa Secundus.
To reveal the extent of the Emperor’s plans for House Atreides would likely spoil the movie for some. It’s safe to say, however, that the Emperor will do anything — including forming an alliance with the Harkonnens or deploying the Sardaukar — to maintain power.
The desert planet Arrakis, and the indigenous Fremen people who live there, play a key part in the “Dune” narrative.
Arrakis is notable for containing reserves of the highly-valuable substance the “spice melange,” which increases awareness and extends the physical life of those who consume it. When taken by individuals with latent powers, the spice can also lead to vivid prophecies and greater perception.
Spice is used by several powerful groups in the Imperium, including the Guild Navigators, who employ spice’s mind-altering abilities to travel through space and time. Long term exposure to spice can cause the eyes to turn a bright blue.
Even though there is a large population of indigenous people, called the Fremen, on Arrakis, Houses in the Imperium are frequently appointed as stewards of the planet, and given responsibility for the lucrative task of mining and shipping out spice all over the empire.
Since spice mining yields so much profit and power, to be chosen as steward of Arrakis is, in theory, a great honor.
But the planet is hostile in more ways than one. The scorching heat and frequent sandstorms are a hindrance to spice production, as are the horrifying sandworms, which are drawn to rhythmic noises such as those emitted by spice mining operations.
The Fremen can successfully navigate Arrakis’s harsh conditions — they wear protective clothing called stillsuits, which help keep the user cool and recycle moisture emitted from the body into drinkable water.
They’ve also devised ways of moving that avoid attracting the worms, the largest of whom is considered a god by the Fremen and referred to as Shai-Hulud.
Fremen culture is rich and complex, and also includes a prophecy of a messiah, called the “Mahdi,” that’s heavily influenced by Bene Gesserit doctrine. When Paul arrives on Arrakis, he’s referred to by some as the “Lisan al-Ghaib,” or the “outsider prophet.” Some even begin to suspect that he’s the Mahdi.
In “Dune,” the leader of the Fremen tribe at Sietch Tabr (“sietch” being the Fremen word for village, and Tabr the location on Arrakis) is Stilgar (Javier Bardem), who forms an uneasy alliance with the newcomers to Arrakis.
Chani (Zendaya), a Fremen woman who captures the attention of Paul, is also part of the Fremen at Sietch Tabr.