Each step of Dune’s high fashion press tour—Timothée Chalamet (fresh from the chocolatier origins story Wonka), Zendaya, Florence Pugh and Austin Butler (currently tearing up the skies in Masters of the Air) provide enough star wattage to power a suburban town—leads to one place: the sequel.

That was not always inevitable: Dune is not exactly based on dream source material. American author Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name is unwieldy and takes several head-scratching turns (especially in its many, many spin-offs). It has been adapted twice before, with David Lynch’s—shall we call it divisive?—1984 film and an Emmy-winning TV series in 2000. But Villeneuve, the Canadian director behind Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, proved more than capable at turning dense text into a memorable triumph (splitting the novel in two was a good idea). A healthy box office, six Oscar wins and strike-related delays later, that sequel is almost upon us. But, uh, what actually happened in the first instalment of Villeneuve’s Dune? Prepare yourself for some pleasingly silly sci-fi names and plot points.

Where and when is Dune set?

Warner Bros Pictures

Dune takes place around 20,000 years in the future. In a world where noble houses are locked in an often-vicious power struggle over resources. The most important of which is “spice”, a substance which puts humans in an elevated state of mind and also allows for space travel. It can only be found on the planet Arrakis. Harvesting, though, is difficult because of the giant, desert-roaming sandworms, which you may recall from that nightmare-inducing popcorn bucket doing the rounds.

We enter the Duniverse when the head of House Atreides, Duke Leto (played by Oscar Isaac), is put in charge of Arrakis, an inhospitable desert planet, taking over from Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård, deliciously creepy). But as Leto takes over, Emperor Shaddam (who will be played by Christopher Walken in Dune: Part Two) and Baron Harkonnen plot to oust Leto. Another problem that will face House Atreides? Arrakis is home to the Fremen, who have adapted to survive in brutal conditions, though they are perceived as savages by the ruling classes.

Leto has a busy family life. His partner Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), is a follower of the Bene Gesserit, a group of women who have mind-reading abilities. The sisterhood had instructed Jessica to have a daughter who could become a clairvoyant saviour to humanity. Unfortunately for everyone involved, she had a son, Paul (Chalamet), who has an enviably sharp wardrobe and a blessed upbringing. His father’s aides, Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) teach him military combat. While his mum passes on teachings from the Bene Gesserit.

In the film, we watch as Paul develops frightening visions of the future, a recurring headache for the boy. And things do not stop there for Paul. Soon, the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling) stops by to test his instincts. Using a deadly box into which Paul must stick his hand into before he passed out. She tells Baron Harkonnen that whatever his plans for House Atreides, he must not kill Paul and his mother.

Alongside these machinations, we learn about life on Arrakis (anyone familiar with the novel knows that its charm is in Herbert’s world-building). For example, the Fremen are respectful of Paul and Jessica thanks to some advance planning from the Bene Gesserit. Paul also catches sight of a sandworm and starts to have even more vivid premonitions thanks to the abundance of spice.

Warner Bros Pictures

Villeneuve’s pensive film picks up the pace with a failed assassination attempt on Paul. One of Leto’s aides, Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen), betrays his leader and disables the fortress’s shields. This allows the Harkonnens and ruthless Sardaukar soldiers to invade. Yueh paralyses Leto and inserts a poison gas capsule in his mouth. After Baron Harkonnen kills Yueh, Leto sets off the gas which results in a few Harkonnen deaths but not the Baron himself. The Baron orders Jessica and Paul to be dropped in the desert. But Yueh has left the pair with stillsuits (those breathing apparatus you see on Timmy and Zendaya in the trailer) which make survival a little more likely. The mother and son manage to escape thanks to Jessica’s deployment of a Bene Gesserit technique called the “voice”.

While traipsing through the desert, Paul and Jessica eventually reunite with Duncan and the ecologist Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster). In an excellent action sequence, we witness a Sardaukur ambush. There, Duncan sacrifices himself so Paul and Jessica can escape. Kynes, also seriously injured, calls for a sandworm in her dying moments, which kills the soldiers.

After this near-death sequence, Jessica and Paul bump into a tribe of Fremen. It is here that Paul meets blue-eyed Chani (Zendaya, making the most of her limited screen time). This is the girl about whom he has been dreaming. There is an instant, if mysterious, connection between them. But not everyone in the tribe is jazzed about Paul and one warrior, Jamis, challenges him to a duel. Paul wins (using a knife that Chani has provided) and thereby wins favour with the Fremen.

What happens next?

The stage is set for the second film. It will likely complete the adaptation of Herbert’s first book and deliver some well-earned revenge for Paul. It will also introduce Princess Irulan (Pugh) and Baron Harkonnen’s bald and deadly nephew Feyd-Rautha (Butler). If this film is a success, and God knows it should be, we may be getting an adaptation of Herbert’s follow-up, Dune: Messiah.

You can watch Dune on Netflix now. Dune: Part Two is in cinemas on 29 February.

Originally published on Esquire US

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