Spice Rant

Hear Me Out: Dune 2 Should Be The Last Dune Movie

The film franchise could stop right here and be just fine.

Gurney and Stilgar in 'Dune: Part Two.'
Warner Bros/Legendary
Dune: Part Two
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For some, Dune: Part Two is the greatest science fiction epic of the 21st century. For others, the film is solid, but a shockingly radical departure from its source material, much more than Dune: Part One. But everyone has the same question: What’s next? Will Dune: Part Two really result in Dune: Part Three? So far, the answer from Denis Villeneuve is maybe. “I always saw a trilogy,” the director said in 2021, noting his intention to adapt the second novel, Dune Messiah, into a third film. In 2024, as Dune: Part Two finally hit theaters, Villeneuve confirmed that a third film is in the works, but that he needs “a break,” in order to make sure the movie is done the way he wants it. The last thing Villeneuve wants is to be rushed into a Hollywood blockbuster schedule.

And yet, because of the very specific ending of Dune: Part Two, and because of the actual content of Dune Messiah, should we really be clamoring for Dune 3? Perhaps the best bet here is for Villeneuve to quit while he’s very much ahead, and leave Arrakis on a high note. Thanks to the ending he crafted for Dune: Part Two, that’s possible. But if Dune 3 happens, it could threaten to undo everything that makes both of these films work. Mild spoilers ahead.

Dune 2 is not The Empire Strikes Back

What’s the matter girl — you smell some Spice?

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

Everybody loves to compare Dune to Star Wars. The Star Wars comparison makes a fair amount of sense when you consider the desert planet action, the Chosen One vibes, and the fact that George Lucas ripped off a fair amount of Frank Herbert’s spicy ideas to make the Force happen.

But, lately, you may have heard tons of smart people comparing Dune: Part Two to The Empire Strikes Back, insofar as Dune 2 is a fantastic sci-fi sequel that is darker and more daring than the first film. Even Christopher Nolan recently said, in a conversation with Denis Villeneuve: “To me, if Dune: Part One was Star Wars, this was very much The Empire Strikes Back.” Villeneuve responded to this by saying, “I have to say to you Chris, that is a massive compliment.”

It is a massive compliment, and you can see where Nolan is coming from on an artistic level. But it’s not really a good or useful analogy. Dune: Part Two completes the existing story of Frank Herbert’s first Dune novel, while The Empire Strikes Back was an entirely new story, with a giant twist that George Lucas certainly did not plan when he made the first Star Wars movie. Further, Dune 2 is not a transgressive response to Dune 1 at all. It’s just the last one-third of the book, and even there, it leaves out several events, and at least a few pivotal characters.

No offense to Nolan or Villeneuve, but the closest Empire analogy here is simply the fact that Villeneuve basically changed the ending of Dune, making it feel like a bit of a cliffhanger, kinda in the style of Empire. With that final shot of Chani on the sandworm, the movie puts more focus on her story. Plus, the movie pushes back against Paul’s visions in the first movie and makes her actively against Paul’s holy war, rather than her fairly complicit role in the novel. If you’d never read any of the Dune books, you might feel exactly the way some felt at the end of Empire. What’s going to happen to Chani? Is Paul really turning evil? And what’s next for the planet Arrakis?

The thing is, a hypothetical Dune 3 won’t answer those questions in a way that makes sense with the source material. This means that if we extend this unwieldy Star Wars analogy, Dune 3 won’t be like Return of the Jedi. Instead, it will be more like a muddled Revenge of the Sith.

Dune 3 could ruin the journey of Chani

Movie Chani (Zendaya) is p*ssed. Book Chani? Not so much.

Warner Bros/Legendary

If Denis Villeneuve and Jon Spaihts write a Dune 3 screenplay that remains faithful-ish to the novel Dune Messiah, then that movie will end with Chani dying after giving birth to her and Paul’s twin children; Leto II and Ghanima. Yes, this is nearly exactly like Padmé dying in childbirth in Revenge of the Sith, and yes, like that moment, it takes a feminist heroine and has her endpoint become an antiquated tragedy.

Now, taking a few steps back, the changes to Chani’s character do thematically enhance and clarify lot of Frank Herbert’s anti-colonialist goals and feminist themes. That said, these are still quite big literal changes. Chani does not ride off into the sunset angry with Paul at the end of the novel Dune. Instead, she and Jessica chat about how not having the title of “wives” gives them unseen power. Book Chani ends up resolving, like Jessica, to not hate the game, but to play the game well. Movie Chani (Zendaya) hates the players, the game, and everyone who is touched by corruption. She ends the movie as the last true idealist, a kind of audience surrogate who is hoping that not everyone in this sci-fi kingdom is totally cynical.

So, how does a hypothetical Dune 3 take this version of Chani and have her end up exactly like Book Chani? Arguably, it can’t. While many non-male characters have a ton of agency in Dune Messiah, and in the third book, Children of Dune, it’s hard to argue that Chani is one of them. She spends most of Messiah being secretly poisoned by Irulan, and then, by the end, lets Paul drive an ornithopter blind, so she can go have his babies. Then she dies. How will this check out with the Chani we saw in Dune: Part Two?

From the perspective of needing the movies to make sense, Chani cannot have the same fate in a Dune 3 movie that she has in Dune Messiah. This means Villeneuve would have to change Messiah even more than he altered the first book. And while all of that might be possible, we’d definitely be in the realm of a sequel that would have to fully make up things up, rather than Dune: Part Two, which tweaks motivations to make thematic points land. It could work. A hypothetical Dune 3 could be a huge success, and double down on a Chani-centric narrative. But this would (likely) be a brand-new story.

Dune Messiah isn’t that great

“Hey Paul, I heard we’re both insufferable jerks in the second book. Paul? Are you listening to me?”

Warner Bros/Legendary

To put it another way, as a novel, Dune Messiah is nobody’s favorite Dune book. Easily the shortest of all the novels by about half, the book feels more like a coda to Dune than a book on its own. If anything, it’s a bridge to Children of Dune, the 1976 bestseller that masterfully concluded the story of the Atreides on Arrakis, at least within the same general time frame of the first book. The presence of an adult Alia (Anya Taylor-Joy) in a Dune: Part Two future vision made a lot of people say that this means we’re seeing Alia from Messiah, but really, she’s a full-blown adult in Children of Dune, not Messiah.

Now, back in 2003, John Harrison had the good sense to adapt Messiah as part of the story of Children of Dune. This three-part TV miniseries remains much better than you might think, simply because it condenses the events of Messiah into a set-up for the more interesting story of Children. Could Villeneuve be considering something similar — to combine the tragedy of Messiah with some of the twists and turns of Children?

In terms of the coolest moments in the saga, a combo adaptation of Messiah and Children feels far more preferable than concluding the cinematic saga on the bummer ending of Paul getting blinded, walking into the desert, and Chani dying in childbirth. Children of Dune ends with Leto II (Paul and Chani’s son) getting ready to turn into a sandworm hybrid. It’s pretty clear which ending sounds cooler and more satisfying.

If Dune 3 happens it either needs to radically change the novels, or borrow from a novel that’s a bit further ahead in the timeline. But because all of that sounds like a lot of sandworm tap-dancing, you have to wonder, is it worth it? Because Dune: Part Two already has a great ending, it might be wise to give the spice a rest. Villeneuve has made two masterpieces with these films. He has nothing to prove.

Dune: Part Two is out in theaters now.

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