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What to remember from ‘Dune: Part One,’ according to people who know it best

Hosts of the “Dune”-inspired podcast “Gom Jabbar” recap the first film — and share what to look out for during the second.
Images of Zendeya, Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, and Jason Momoa
Zendaya, Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac and Jason Momoa star in "Dune: Part One."Kelsea Petersen / TODAY Illustration
/ Source: TODAY

The first “Dune” film was released in 2021, and now the second installment based on Frank Herbert’s sci-fi book series is out in theaters March 1.

For those in need of a recap of the world of Arrakis that director Denis Villeneuve sets up in “Dune: Part One,” fret not — we’ve tapped a pair of experts: Abu Zafar and Leo Wiggins, hosts of the “Dune”-inspired podcast “Gom Jabbar,” who have given the primer you need before seeing “Dune: Part Two.”

Since creating the podcast in 2020, the two have co-hosted hundreds of episodes of “Gom Jabbar.” Now the world knows all about Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Zendaya as Chani — and, of course, the sandworms, too.

“At this point we’ve read every page there is to read and back and forth,” Wiggins says. “We’ve made it our job to know everything there is about it.”

Below, Zafar and Wiggins tell what to remember about “Dune” before going into the theater to watch “Dune: Part Two.”

What happened in the first ‘Dune’ movie?

The “Dune” universe is ultimately about large political groups fighting each other, Zafar says.

“You have House Atreides, the ‘good guys,’ who were decimated in the first film,” he says. “You have the Fremen, this oppressed class of people, these indigenous tribes on Arrakis. And then you have the Harkonnens, who are your ‘bad guys.’”

Let’s recap the major players across these groups:

  • Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet): the heir to House Atreides on their planet, Caladan.
  • Chani (Zendaya): a Fremen woman who is put in charge of protecting and guiding Paul on Arrakis.
  • Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Issac): the leader of House Atreides and the father of Paul Atreides.
  • Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson): the Bene Gesserit concubine to the Duke.
  • Guerney Halleck (Josh Brolin): Paul's weapons teacher.
  • Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa): a devoted House Atreides swordfighter.
  • Stilgar (Javier Bardem): a Fremen leader.
  • Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard): the leader of House Harkonnen.
  • Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling): a Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother.

Knowing these characters and their history is essential to learning the new characters in “Dune: Part Two,” Zafar adds, particularly Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken), his daughter Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler).

“In this new film, we’re also introduced to the Emperor, who is also doing a lot of political maneuvering behind the scenes. So in addition to the Bene Gesserit, we have the Emperor, we have the two houses fighting both literal wars, but also political, behind-the-scenes wars as well,” Zafar says. “So on a large scale, this is a big political movie about a bunch of groups who don’t get along.”

Now let’s recap the major plot points:

  • The Emperor gives House Atreides control of Arrakis, a desert planet mainly used for production of spice, the most valuable resource in the “Dune” universe used for anything from manufacturing to a hallucinogenic drug.
  • House Harkonnen, which previously ruled Arrakis, begins undermining Duke Leto Atreides’ rule over the planet.
  • Baron Vladimir Harkonnen invades Arrakis, and the Duke sacrifices himself in an attempt to assassinate the Baron, leading Paul and Jessica to flee the capitol of Arrakeen to the desert.
  • When Paul joins the Fremen in the desert, he adopts the Fremen name “Maud’Dib,” and several Fremen believe he is their Mahdi, or a messiah who would come to their land from another world and lead them to prosperity.
  • Meanwhile, the Bene Gesserit, a society of women with mind control powers, have been carefully planning their bloodline for hundreds of years to produce a male heir called the Kwisatz Haderach. Given Paul’s powers and heritage, some believe he could become the Kwisatz Haderach.
  • Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother and a Bene Gesserit herself, finds out she is pregnant.
  • As Paul starts his journey to lead the Fremen, he defeats Jamais, one of the most powerful Fremen warriors, and begins to fall for Chani, the Fremen woman guiding him through the desert.

While Wiggins says “Dune Part: Two” has “enough spectacle (and) exciting stuff” for the average viewer to enjoy without seeing the first film, he and Zafar strongly urge anyone interested in the second film to watch the first.

“The first movie ends with Zendaya turning to camera and locking eyes with the viewer going, ‘This is just the beginning. There’s another movie coming, please watch,’” Wiggins says, laughing. “This is definitely two parts of a single continuous story.”

What to look out for in ‘Dune: Part Two’

Read into the subtext

Zafar says viewers watching “Dune: Part Two” should keep in mind the moral ambiguity of the characters and their actions.

“On the surface this movie can feel like a very straightforward hero’s journey — like this is Luke Skywalker, he’s going to beat Darth Vader,” Zafar says. “But ‘Dune’ is very much not that — there’s a lot of gray area in this universe.

“Yes, Timothée Chalamet is beautiful and he’s our hero and he’s doing some wonderful acting on screen, but you do want to be questioning everything he’s doing — and that goes for all the characters.”

Zafar adds that because “Dune” is a deep philosophical and political story “seeped in mysticism and religion,” viewers should ask themselves the big questions.

“It really does ask you to question everything — everything you’re seeing on screen,” Zafar says. “Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Did that person really mean that? What is the message that I’m being told here? Because there’s a lot of subtext as well.”

Keep an eye on the Bene Gesserits

The other piece to look out for while watching “Dune: Part Two” — and rewatching “Dune” — is the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, which include characters Lady Jessica, Gaius Helen Mohiam and, in some ways, Paul Atreides himself.

“Pay attention to what they’re doing,” Wiggins says. “This sisterhood is ancient, over 10,000 years old. They’re always working from the shadows. They are pulling the levers of the imperium and driving imperial events to their wishes.”

Wiggins adds the Bene Gesserits are attempting to bring back their Kwisatz Haderach, a male Bene Gesserit with access to all the memories of his male and female ancestors.

“Zooming out, there are some things that you can kind of get away with not paying attention to,” Wiggins says. “But the Bene Gesserit and what they are trying to do, and how they are manipulating everything, ends up being very central to ‘Dune,’ and especially in this second movie, it comes to the foreground in a way that I think people will appreciate.”