‘Dune: Part One’ ending explained: Where could a sequel go from here?

Zendaya, backlit, in a gauzy headwrap
Zendaya as Chani in Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune.”
(Warner Bros. Pictures)

When Denis Villeneuve first began to consider taking on a big-screen adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel “Dune,” he knew a single film wouldn’t cut it.

The same vast scope and richly detailed world-building that had long drawn filmmakers to Herbert’s sweeping novel — the story of the battle for dominion over a desert planet and the rise of a reluctant young messiah named Paul Atreides — was also what made the book so difficult, if not impossible, to tackle in a conventional two-hour-and-change film.

Just ask David Lynch, who disowned his ill-fated 1984 adaptation of Herbert’s novel after it flopped at the box office. Or Alejandro Jodorowsky, who in the 1970s spent years and millions of dollars in preproduction costs developing his own wildly ambitious “Dune” fantasia, only to have his heart broken when it fizzled into nothing (a doomed effort chronicled in the 2013 documentary “Jodorowsky’s Dune.”)


From the start, Villeneuve had made clear to the film’s backers, Legendary Entertainment, that he would only take on “Dune” if he could break the book into two films — and with visions of a franchise dancing in their heads, Legendary quickly agreed.

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Now, with the long-awaited first installment in theaters and on HBO Max, Villeneuve and his cast and crew — along with millions of hardcore “Dune” fans — are waiting anxiously for the official go-ahead so they can actually finish the story.

“We’re all calling each other all the time: ‘Have you heard anything?’” the film’s production designer, Patrice Vermette, says. “They can’t leave us hanging.”

In a recent interview with Deadline, WarnerMedia strongly hinted that a sequel will be forthcoming: “Will we have a sequel to ‘Dune’? If you watch the movie you see how it ends. I think you pretty much know the answer to that.”

But where might the story go in part two? For those who haven’t read the book — and for those who have — Villeneuve and his team shared some hints with The Times.

(Warning: plot spoilers ahead for both the original book and the new film version of “Dune.” If you’re not familiar with the material, read our review or this feature on the movie’s development first and then come back.)

A man and a woman stand in a desolate landscape.
Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica Atreides in “Dune.”
(Chia Bella James / Warner Bros.)

“Dune: Part One” ends essentially at the midway point of Herbert’s book, with the villainous Harkonnens having retaken Arrakis by force and Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), having escaped and been taken in by the desert-dwelling Fremen.

While Paul has been accepted into the tribe after defeating one of its members in hand-to-hand combat, he has not yet fully proven himself to be the messiah the Fremen have long awaited. Jessica wishes to see her son — who is now the leader of House Atreides after the death of his father, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) — whisked off Arrakis to safety. But in the Fremen, Paul sees a fearsome army that could retake the planet from the Harkonnens and help fulfill his father’s dream of forging a powerful alliance that could make Arrakis a paradise.

“My father didn’t come here for riches but for the power of your people,” Paul tells the tribe. Seeing a Fremen riding on the back of a massive sandworm, he remembers Leto words to him: “Desert power.”

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“This is only the beginning,” the young Fremen warrior Chani (Zendaya) says, as she and Paul walk into the dunes — a line that doesn’t appear in the book but is as good a note as you could want to end a cliffhanger on.

Without going too deep into spoilers for the book, the rest of Herbert’s novel chronicles the bloody fulfillment of Paul’s messianic destiny as his Bene Gesserit-honed mental powers grow and his bond with Chani and the rest of the Fremen deepens, pulling them into battle with not only the Harkonnens but also the yet-to-be-seen Emperor.


“God knows there’s a lot of story left to tell,” says Eric Roth, who co-wrote the “Dune” screenplay with Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts. “A lot of [the sequel] will be concerned with the Fremen and what their political strategies are. You’ll get into the relationship with Paul and Chani. And then, of course, there’s always the villain.”

The villainous Baron Harkonnen looms up in a scene from “Dune”
Stellan Skarsgård as Baron Harkonnen in a scene from “Dune”
(Warner Bros. Pictures/Legendary Entertainment)

Ah yes, the villain. Some fans of the book may be surprised at the relatively scaled-down role that Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and his sinister clan have in the first film. But Villeneuve says this was by design in order to keep the story balanced; he suggests the baddies will figure more prominently in the sequel.

“This movie is really focused on Paul,” Villeneuve says. “I brought in a little bit of the Harkonnens just for context, to understand the geopolitics of the story. These are choices that were made in order to make sure that the first movie would have momentum and be visceral and not suffer from too much exposition. I had to streamline it to make sure we found the right equilibrium, and the way we did that was to focus on Paul and Jessica. There will be much more about the Harkonnens in the second movie.”

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Other characters who got rather short shrift in the first film, like the mentats Thufir Hawat and Piter De Vries, could also get more screen time in a sequel. And characters who were left out entirely — like the Baron’s scheming nephew, Feyd-Rautha, memorably played in Lynch’s film by Sting — could get their turn in the spotlight.

“There are some characters that are less developed that I’m keeping for the second film — that’s the way I found the equilibrium,” Villeneuve says. “We tried in this movie to stay as close as possible to Paul’s experience. Then, in the second one, I will have time to develop some characters that were left aside a little bit. That’s the theory. I hope it will work.”


Looking ahead, the “Dune” universe offers almost limitless possibilities for Legendary and Warner Bros. After the success of the first book, Herbert went on to write five additional “Dune” novels; his son Brian has since co-authored more than a dozen additional books and story collections in the ever-expanding saga, not to mention the video games, graphic novels and other ancillary projects. If you want to get a quick sense of just how vast the “Dune”-iverse has become, do a scan through the full list of characters compiled in the “Dune” Wiki.

A man points something out to a woman in an elaborate costume.
Director Denis Villeneuve on the set of “Dune” with Rebecca Ferguson, who plays the Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica.
(Chia Bella James / Warner Bros.)

Along with the potential “Dune” sequel, a spinoff series called “Dune: Sisterhood” that will center on the Bene Gesserit order is already in development for HBO Max. And more projects may well be on the way.

“As a storytelling universe, ‘Dune’ has extraordinary potential,” says Spaihts, who was initially set to be the showrunner on “Dune: Sisterhood” but left the project to focus on the “Dune” sequel. “This is a universe of 10,000 worlds, with civilizations spanning millennia and so many schools and tribes of people caught up in political intrigue, spiritual searches, battles and ancient vendettas.

“You could tell stories in this universe forever,” he adds. “But I think it tempts fate to make plans that far into the future.”

Then again, in a way, looking into the future and tempting fate is what “Dune” is all about.


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