There have been three film adaptations of Frank Herbert’s Dune since 1984, but only the latest (directed by Denis Villeneuve) has been brave enough to release a sequel. After we were introduced to Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Zendaya as Chani in 2021, the star-crossed lovers reconnected earlier this year on the big screen. It was important to the director that the Dune 2 ending not be perceived as a “White savior story,” which was some of the criticism of Herbert’s novel from the mid-60s. Instead, Villeneuve wanted his work to reflect the dangers of power, as shown through Paul’s ascension to Emperor of the known galaxy.

Throughout Dune 2, Paul explores the Freman culture while struggling to accept the Lisan al Gaib prophecy, which suggests he could be the people’s messiah. The young man deals with moral dilemmas while navigating this discovery, even experiencing visions of bloodshed that could come from his hands. Rather than accepting his fate, Paul hopes to prove himself to the Fremen and help them become liberated. However, unwavering faith from Stilgar (Javier Bardem) and his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who’s been spreading the word of the prophecy relentlessly, leaves our main character with no choice but to ascend.

Denis Villeneuve’s Sequel Ends on a Dark Note

When Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler) destroys the Freman’s north seitch, Paul is forced to make a move on the opposition earlier than expected. He plans to drink the Water of Life, which will leave him with the full intensity of the Bene Gesserit powers. In doing this, the aspiring Emperor believes he’ll gain the total support of the Fremens and take power on Arrakis as the Fedaykin army is strong enough to overtake the Harkonneris – with help from atomic weapons, of course. Thanks to his newfound powers, Paul can challenge the current leader, Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken).

As war ensues in Arrakis, Chalamet’s character plots the best way to overthrow the Emperor. First, he asks to marry Shaddam’s daughter, Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) to ensure the Corrino bloodline remains in power. After previously trying to destroy the House Atreides, Paul knew that the current ruler wouldn’t willingly give his power away. His second strategic move was to fight Feyd-Rautha, which would lead to a natural end to the Harkonnen bloodline and a path to replace the Emperor, even without the support of the Great Houses.

Not only does the Freman messiah appear to fatally wound Feyd, but he also kills Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), who was originally murdered by Paul’s younger sister, Alia Atreides (Anya Taylor-Joy) in the first Dune novel. Before Feyd’s death, Dune 2 confirms that he and Lady Margot are expecting a child, so we may meet his children if the upcoming Dune 3 incorporates plot points from Herbet’s Paul of Dune.

The Arrakis are liberated from Harkonnen rule thanks to the champion’s efforts, and Paul has now avenged the death of his father while amassing more power for House Atreides. As newly appointed leader and Lisan ai Gaib, Paul’s visions of “ruling with the backing of a religious jihad and the knowledge that this will only result in a galactic war responsible for the death of billions,” as per ScreenRant, have come true.

How Chani’s Story in ‘Dune 2’ Differs From the Books

The Dune 2 ending differs from the book it’s based on most obviously through Zendaya’s character’s storyline. She spends the film doubting the Lisan al Gaib prophecy, even as her feelings for Paul develop. The believed messiah professes his love for Chani tirelessly, even before he proposes to Princess Irulan. Because he’s on a quest to become Emperor, Paul follows his head instead of his heart, which lies with his fellow Freman. Unfortunately, a future with her would bring no political gain to the Lisan al Gaib, and that’s not a risk he’s willing to take.

While Herbert wrote Chani as a woman who stands by Paul and continues to love him despite his marriage to Irulan, Villeneuve tells the story differently, In his version, Zendaya leaves as the new Emperor ascends, preparing to ride off on a sandworm without a clear destination. “There’s heartbreak, there’s betrayal, there’s loss and confusion,” the Euphoria actress told Comicbook. “I feel like it’s a quite painful ending.” Speaking with Inverse, the Dune 2 director noted that it was important to tell this part of the story through Chani’s eyes so audiences could see his actions through the eyes of the person he was betraying most.

Paul Atreides Has One Holy War to Fight

As the Dune 2 ending wraps, Lady Jessica declares that a “Holy War” is beginning as her son’s army begins boarding ships to face off against the Great Houses. We see Paul instruct Stiglar, Gurney (Josh Brolin) and other loyal supporters to head off to battle in his name after hearing the remaining Great Houses won’t honor his ascension. Visions in the 2021 Dune film foreshadowed this moment as the Freman leader dreamt of “holy war spreading across the universe like unquenchable fire.”

With renewed faith in their Lisan al Gaib, the Freman army becomes a religious jihad that will stop at nothing to see Paul be recognized. This is part of the setup for Dune 3, though it’s worth noting that Paul’s conquering of the universe likely won’t be the story unfolding in the upcoming film. Instead, Dune: Messiah fast forwards 12 years in the future to focus on the protagonist as a well-established Emperor.

What You Need to Know about ‘Dune 3′

Even before his March 2024 release hit theaters, Villeneuve was hinting at making Dune a trilogy. As of December 2023, a script adaptation of Messiah is in the works, which will likely see Paul and Princess Irulan still married. There’s plenty of curiosity around what will happen with Chani after the changes we saw during the Dune 2 ending, but it could be a while before answers arrive. For now, the director is working on projects in genres outside of sci-fi so that when he returns to work on the threequel, it can hopefully be the franchise’s best yet. Development announcements began rolling out in April 2024, with Chalamet, Pugh and Zendaya all expected to return.