Reflections on Dune: Part Two

I love the story of Dune so, so much — which is not really a sentence I would have anticipated writing when I first tried reading the book about a decade ago. 

For whatever reason, I didn’t really connect with Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel back then. Maybe it wasn’t the right time in my life or the right point on my geek journey, etc. I probably wouldn’t have tried engaging with the story again if it wasn’t for the first trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s film adaptation. 

Something about that trailer sparked my imagination and made it catch fire, and I knew this was a movie I HAD to see the second it came out, preferably in IMAX. And once I finally got to watch it, after a pandemic delay, I was absolutely in love. 

It wasn’t just the film, either — I checked out the audiobook from my local library, and I loved it too. So much more about the story clicked for me now. In it, I found the threads that likely inspired the creators of many of my other favorite geek stories, like Star Wars and Game of Thrones. I was all about Dune now, and I couldn’t wait for the second part of Villeneuve’s retelling. 

Now, you’d assume that since I had read the book before and recently listened to the audiobook, I would know what to expect in Dune: Part Two. However, I’d forgotten most of what I’d read in Dune a decade ago, and when I listened to the Dune audiobook, I made the decision to stop about halfway through, so I could be surprised by the film, and then pick back up with the audiobook after the movie came out. 

This may not be the most popular of opinions, but I actually prefer to see a film or TV adaptation first, and then go back and read the book it was based on. I find that this way, I’m not hyper-fixated on what changes may be introduced to a story. I like to be surprised by a film’s twists and turns, and then I can go back and read the novel and add layers of richness and nuance to the story. 

I did know a few spoilers about Dune: Part Two ahead of time, due to my loving husband accidentally letting some details slip about the novel (yes, I continue to give him grief about this). While I would have loved to be caught off guard and truly surprised by some of the film’s biggest surprises, I still really, really loved it, and my fingers are crossed Villeneuve will continue to make more films set in this universe. 


Someone asked me whether I liked Part One or Part Two better, and I don’t know if I can choose. They truly do feel like one movie with a three-year intermission. Part Two is, overall, more action-packed, but I also love the slowly-building tension in Part One

I still can’t get over how beautiful the cinematography is in both these films and how real it looks. To me, great cinematic sci-fi should be a blend of practical and special effects. Special effects are needed to bring fantastical details like the sand worms to life, but there’s no substitute for filming in a real location and capturing the scenery and lighting just right. I believe I read somewhere that Villeneuve filmed part of Dune in the deserts of Jordan, which is also where I believe J.J. Abrams filmed part of Star Wars: Episode IX. Both these films capture the wild, sunbaked beauty of a desert world — beautiful and terrifying and vast and lonely. I don’t know that I’d actually want to visit such a harsh world as Arrakis, but I love looking at it on a movie screen. 

I also appreciate Hans Zimmer’s work on the soundtrack, bringing back many of the themes that worked so well in Part One. The music sounds epic and otherworldly, and like the cinematography, it helps bring this story to life. 

However, Dune doesn’t just look and sound beautiful — it’s packed with great performances that build and deepen the characters we met in Part One. Warning: Spoilers ahead in the next section!


Rebecca Ferguson as the Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica really stood out to me in Part One, and I was eager to see where her journey would take her. I loved seeing a powerful female character with abilities that I’m sure inspired some of George Lucas’ development of the Jedi in Star Wars. She was also a devoted mom caught between her responsibilities to the Bene Gesserit and her loyalty to her family. 

I found her story arc in Part Two tinged with some sadness (and Paul’s as well, but more on that later). She “chooses” to drink the poisonous Water of Life (I put “chooses” in quotes because as she points out in the film, her options were to either do that or be executed). She ascends to a new level of consciousness and becomes a Reverend Mother (I loved her costumes and I’m tempted with thoughts about new cosplay opportunities). However, by taking on the weight of that responsibility and the centuries of knowledge that come with it, she loses a part of herself. 

She’s more detached and cunning in this film. I’ll never forget the heart-wrenching scene in the first movie where she waits outside the room where Paul is being tested, and she whispers her mantra about fear as she appears absolutely devastated over the danger he’s in. Yet now, she sends Paul to drink the Water of Life without much hint of fear or concern. Her son has an unavoidable date with destiny, and she accepts that pragmatically.

She hasn’t become a bad person or a bad mother; she has had to sacrifice her old self to become something harder and more dangerous, to help her family survive the coming war. 

Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) starts the film off as a reluctant chosen one. He wants to join the Fremen and learn to fight and survive in the desert, but he isn’t sure he wants to be the prophesied Lisan al Gaib and ignite a holy war. 

In the desert, Paul falls in love with warrior Chani (Zendaya), and he learns how to ride a sand worm (in one of the most exhilarating scenes in the movie; I could watch an entire movie just about sand worms). He resists his destiny as long as he can, but when the Harkonnens tighten their grip on the planet Arrakis and threaten to exterminate the Fremen, he’s forced to walk the path he once feared.

Paul also loses some of himself when he takes the Water of Life. Gone is the reluctant young man who dreaded what he would do with unlimited power once he gained it. He’s full of confidence and bravado, and there’s not a shred of self-doubt or reluctance when he marches up to the Emperor and compels him to abdicate the throne. (Another little moment I really liked in the movie was watching Paul slam his foot against the floor with a sound mimicking the calling of a sandworm, when the Emperor hesitates to kiss his ring.)

Although this is the version of Paul that the galaxy needed to depose the Emperor and deal justice to the Harkonnens, it’s also sad because the boy (the one Chani fell in love with) has been transformed into someone who could either save the galaxy or destroy it. 

Also, shout-out to Austin Butler for a great performance as heir-to-the-baron Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. After watching Butler in this and the recent Elvis biopic, I can tell that he’s the sort of actor who really, REALLY commits to a role. That intensity can be a little scary, but I do mean that as a compliment. He’s almost as evil as the baron himself, and he brings a tense brutality to his final duel with Paul.


I feel like there are too many deeper themes woven into Dune to discuss in just a few paragraphs, but I will say that it is satisfying to watch the corrupt Harkonnens and the Emperor get their due. It’s ironic because even though the Emperor feared the power and influence of Paul’s father, Duke Leto probably never would have made a play for the throne if he’d been allowed to live. The Emperor’s plan then backfires by turning Paul into a revolutionary figure, and the Emperor and the Harkonnens lose far more than just Arrakis. 

There’s also a more complex discussion to be had about the changes to the original story, and since I’m still what I’d call a newbie fan of Dune, I don’t have a lot of context to comment on those changes. 

I don’t mind that in the movie, Paul is the one to finally take down the baron. Although in the book it’s his sister Alia who gets the family’s revenge, I think in the film it was important for Paul to have this moment. It shows the audience his evolution into a powerful player on the galactic political stage. 

I’m not sure how I feel about the changes to Chani’s arc; I think I’ll have to wait until I listen to part two of the audiobook and then compare what happens. Some of the changes were likely added to simplify Paul and Chani’s relationship arc and build tension for general audiences. 

What if the film had shown Paul telling Chani about his plan to marry Princess Irulan for political convenience only, and she supported it? There’s still suspense there, because you don’t know when they would get to see each other again and how their lives and their relationship would change. 

Anyway, I’m really curious to see what happens if Dune: Messiah is adapted to film. The box office for Part Two seems very promising, but sequels are never a sure thing in Hollywood. Regardless of what happens with this franchise, I’m thankful to Denis Villeneuve for starting me on my Dune journey.

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