Dune recap: What happened in Part One of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic?

The deserts of the planet Arrakis are a hostile place for outsiders. There’s the heat. The wind. The perishing thirst. Take just a few errant steps, and you’ll find yourself falling into the maw of a giant sandworm.

The story of Dune can be just as unforgiving an environment for those unfamiliar with the terrain.  In adapting Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel, Denis Villeneuve’s two Dune films have condensed and simplified aspects of the source material, but it’s still a lot to get your head around – from the invented jargon (Fremen? Bene Gesserit? Lisan al Gaib?) to the political and religious twists and turns of the story.

If you’re in need of a refresher before Dune: Part Two, here’s a rundown of all the plot points, characters and terminology you need to know from the first Dune.

The set-up

Dune begins in the distant future, with the universe divided into a set of rival houses, all under the rule of the emperor. In this universe, the most valuable resource is the spice melange, a hallucinogenic powder that is needed for interstellar travel. This spice can be found only on the desert planet Arrakis. In the build-up to the events of Dune, Arrakis is under the control of House Harkonnen, who are in charge of harvesting and refining Spice. In doing so, they face violent resistance from the planet’s native population, known as the Fremen.

The story begins with the emperor ordering the Harkonnens to leave Arrakis, with control of the planet transferred to House Atreides. (We do not meet the emperor in Dune; in the sequel, he is played by Christopher Walken.) The bitter rival of House Harkonnen, House Atreides is led by Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac). His son and heir, Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), is the story’s protagonist. He is the only child of the Duke and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), the Duke’s longterm concubine.

Lady Jessica (Ferguson) and Paul (Chalamet) on their home planet Caladan (Warner Bros)
Lady Jessica (Ferguson) and Paul (Chalamet) on their home planet Caladan (Warner Bros)

Lady Jessica is a member of the Bene Gesserit, a shadowy organisation of superpowered women who seek to covertly influence the politics of the universe. Through many generations of calculated eugenicist cross-breeding, the Bene Gesserit have sought to produce the Kwisatz Haderach, a male superbeing capable of leading humanity. Though Jessica was instructed to give birth to a girl, she instead chose to give birth to Paul, believing him to be the future Kwisatz Haderach. At the same time, the Bene Gisserit have also spent centuries growing a religion on Arrakis, centred around the idea of a messiah, known as the Lisan al Gaib or Mahdi, a figure from another world who would understand the ways of the Fremen and lead them to paradise.


On the Atreides home planet of Caladan, Paul is tutored by his mother in the supernatural skills of the Bene Gisserit – including “The Voice”, a way of speaking that compels someone to obey. He’s trained in physical combat by weapons master Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and sword master Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa). Meanwhile, he’s also plagued by troublesome, prescient dreams and visions of a Fremen girl on Arrakis, who we later find out is called Chani (Zendaya).

After the Atreides are handed control of Arrakis, Duncan travels out to help cool tensions with the Fremen, in the hopes of building an alliance. As the Atreides prepare to leave for Arrakis, the Harkonnen leader, known as the Baron (Stellan Skarsgård), arranges for some of the imperial’s most skilled soldiers, the Sardukar, to assist in a coup on Arrakis. Paul is tested by Bene Gisserit leader Reverend Mother Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling), and passes the trial of Gom Jabbar – a test in which he holds his hand in a box that causes extreme pain, and cannot withdraw it under penalty of death.

Arrival on Arrakis

The Atreides arrive at Arrakeen, the government base of Arrakis, and acquaint themselves with the planet. Paul and his father see a spice harvester get consumed by Shai-Hulud – one of the humongous sandworms that travel around under the surface of the planet, attracted by rhythmic noises. (To avoid this, the Fremen have developed a method of travelling across the desert known as sand-walking.) Paul inhales spice, which seems to only intensify his visions of the future.

Gurney (Brolin) and Leto (Isaac) on Arrakis (Warner Bros)
Gurney (Brolin) and Leto (Isaac) on Arrakis (Warner Bros)

Duncan’s efforts to ingratiate himself with the Fremen prove somewhat successful; a meeting between Stilgar (Javier Bardem), a Fremen leader, and Duke Leto, goes positively. Among the Fremen, rumour spreads that Paul may be the Lisan al Gaib. There is an attempt to assassinate Paul, but he manages to emerge unscathed.

The coup

The Atreides are undone by a betrayal: Dr Wellington Yueh, the family’s doctor, has been blackmailed into aiding the Harkonnens. He lowers the base’s shields and incapacitates Duke Leto – but gives him a fake tooth filled with poison that he can use to kill the Baron. The Harkonnens and imperial Sardukar – led on the ground by the Baron’s nephew Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista) – storm the Atreides stronghold.

Caught off-guard and with their shield down, House Atreides suffers heavy losses. The Baron kills Dr Yueh, and prepares to kill Duke Leto when Leto bites down on his tooth – poisoning himself fatally but only damaging the Baron. Paul and Jessica are flown out to the desert, to be left to die, but are able to overwhelm their captors using The Voice.

The aftermath

With control of Arrakis now back in the hands of the Harkonnens, Paul and Jessica are on the run. They reunite with Duncan Idaho, who managed to escape the carnage back at Arrakeen, and seek to find refuge in a Fremen settlement – known as a Sietch. En route, they are attacked by more Sardukar, who kill Duncan in battle while he buys time for the others to escape.

Jessica (Ferguson), Chani (Zendaya), Stilgar (Bardem) and Paul (Chalamet) (Warner Bros)
Jessica (Ferguson), Chani (Zendaya), Stilgar (Bardem) and Paul (Chalamet) (Warner Bros)

Paul and Jessica eventually encounter a small group of Fremen, among them Stilgar, Chani, and Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun), a man whom Paul foresaw he would meet. In his visions, Jamis is a benevolent friend and teacher; the visions do not quite prove true, in a literal sense at least. Jamis, distrusting of Paul and Jessica, challenges them to a duel in ritual combat. Paul wins the duel, reluctantly killing his skilled opponent.

The film ends with him being accepted by the Fremen group, seemingly embracing the path of the Lisan al Gaib.

‘Dune: Part Two’ is out in cinemas from 1 March