Denis Villeneuve is only getting started with Dune. The first part of his latest sci-fi epic is a visually stunning adaptation of Frank Herbert’s iconic book series. Packed with immense details and a large ensemble of characters, Villeneuve knew from the start that he couldn’t do the entire story justice in the span of one film unless Warner let him do a five-hour movie. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.)
With Dune: Part One, Villeneuve starts at the story’s very beginning when the Emperor orders Paul Atreides’ family to move to the dangerous planet of Arrakis to manage the spice harvesting. As you know, things don’t go according to plan, and Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), set off on a harrowing journey in the deep desert of the planet known as Dune.
What happens and where they end up in the movie’s final moments might seem confusing given what we saw in the visions that plagued Paul throughout the film. Here is a breakdown of Dune: Part One’s ending, including Atreides’ encounter with the Fremen and Paul’s surprising battle.
Major spoilers for Dune: Part One ahead.
Dune ending explained: Encountering the Fremen
The opening moments established the Fremen, the group of fierce warriors with glowing blue eyes indigenous to the planet Arrakis, as a significant presence. One Fremen member, Chani (Zendaya), narrates the beginning of the film. She also shows up regularly in Paul’s dreams, or prescient visions, rather.
Once the Harkonnens and the Emperor’s Sardaukar take down House Atreides, Paul and Lady Jessica escape and survive the attack while everyone presumes them to be dead. Lost in the desert but armed with life-saving Fremen-designed stillsuits, the pair eventually encounter a group of Fremen, including Chani.
This is the same group that Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster) had met and allied with before the Sardaukar killed them earlier in the film. Their leader, Stilgar (Javier Bardem), is there. Paul met Stilgar near the film's beginning when Duncan introduced the Fremen leader to Paul’s father, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac), and House Atreides’ council.
Even though Stilgar and Paul have met before, this encounter doesn’t go well. Jamis (Babs Olusanmokun) and Stilgar’s fellow Fremen are not very welcoming to Paul and Lady Jessica. Jamis tells Stilgar to get rid of the Atreides and take the water preserved in their stillsuits. As the tension grows between Paul and the Fremen, Stilgar decides to spare Paul’s life but can find no reason to spare his mother’s. Of course, that’s not an acceptable arrangement for the Atreides, and that’s when the fight begins.
Dune ending explained: Paul fights Jamis
The Atreides fight the Fremen, with Paul disarming Jamis and Jessica getting an advantage on Stilgar. This short-lived fight results in a standoff between them. Jamis formally challenges Stilgar’s leadership since Jessica was able to overwhelm him, thus making him less worthy of calling the shots. Jamis moves forward by announcing the Tahaddi Challenge, which calls for a fight to the death. Paul, fighting on his mother’s behalf, must face Jamis, who would become the new Fremen leader if he wins.
This duel might seem confusing if you recall Paul’s visions throughout the film. In one of his dreams, Jamis appears to be Paul’s mentor and guide. Paul also envisioned himself being stabbed by a crysknife, a Fremen weapon made from a sandworm’s tooth, making the impending battle more unnerving. His visions have also increased in intensity while in the desert and exposed to spice melange. Another vision shows Paul leading the Fremen as some type of messianic figure that will rebel against the Empire.
However, the ending proves Paul’s visions are not concrete or consistently accurate. When Chani approaches Paul as he prepares for the duel, she gives him the crysknife he foresaw. She tells Paul that she doesn’t believe the prophecy that he is their messiah-like figure. In the spirit of honor and fairness, she gives him the crysknife because she has little doubt that Paul could beat a great fighter like Jamis.
Chani is not wrong about Jamis being a great warrior, but his fighting style differs from Paul’s training which involves Holtzman shields that block blows to his body. (The Fremen’s stillsuits don’t have shields because it could alert sandworms.) The fight proceeds with Paul overpowering Jamis, but instead of finishing him off, he gives him the chance to yield. That’s not an option for this type of challenge. The one fighter who survives is the winner.
Jamis thinks Paul’s reluctance is a strategy to undermine him further, but Jessica tells Stilgar that Paul has never killed someone before, which explains his hesitation. Forced to end the fight, Paul takes a final blow to Jamis and wins the challenge. The Fremen respect the outcome and welcome Paul and Jessica into their group.
Dune ending explained: “This is only the beginning”
Paul’s vision of his death ends up not coming to fruition, at least at that moment, and you see his relief. His vision said he had to die to become the prophesied messiah. While Denis Villeneuve confirmed to Inverse that he intended for Paul’s visions to be enigmatic, they still contain a shade of truth of what’s to happen in the future, even if the details are still a bit hazy.
His victory at the end brings him officially into the Fremen community. After what the Emperor had done to his family, it makes sense that Paul would eventually lead the Fremen into battle against the Empire, like one of his earlier dreams revealed.
Paul and Jessica join the Fremen on their journey back home. Across the desert, Paul sees one Fremen riding a sandworm. Chani tells Paul, “This is only the beginning.” With that one line, the movie ends.
Dune: Part One builds up to the next part of Paul’s journey, one that is sure to be even more exciting — if we do get to see it in Part Two. Warner Bros. has yet to announce the sequel, with Villeneuve confirming he's still waiting for the green light.
If you can’t wait to know what happens next, Frank Herbert’s book series is waiting for you. But if you rather wait for a continuation of Villeneuve’s adaptation, let’s hope it comes sooner rather than never.
Dune: Part One is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.