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Dune, Part Two: Paul Becomes a Hero — Very Reluctantly

Some departures from the book work better than others. The “reluctant hero” trope simplifies a complex political situation but at a cost

Last time, we discussed the opening of Dune’s sequel, ending with Jessica drinking from the Water of Life. Already, she has experienced a number of changes. At first, they don’t seem to alter the story much; however, once Jessica becomes the Fremens’ Reverend Mother, the alterations start to steer the plot further and further from the book.

Introducing a conflict about the Bene Gesserit religion

These consequential changes first appear when Paul is waiting for his mother to wake up from a comatose state after drinking the Water of Life. In the sequel, the Fremen are divided about whether or not the Bene Gesserit religion is true. This was not the case in the book. There might’ve been some debate about Paul being their savior, but the Fremen generally didn’t question their religion.

In the movie, the skeptics are led by Chani, which is another dramatic departure from the book that will impact the story a great deal. There were times when I felt the movie was pushing a more secular narrative. In the 1984 film, there was a hint of the supernatural at work, which went beyond the Bene Gesserits’ scheming. Frankly, I felt that approaching the subject this way made more sense because Paul’s visions alone implied the intervention of the divine.

But the writers for Part Two imply that something more naturalistic might’ve been at play. Jessica might’ve been driven insane by the Water of Life rather than truly being given the collective memories of the Reverend Mother. This insanity might’ve also infected Paul later in the film. While the source is open to interpretation, I suspect that the writers favor a secular explanation, mostly because they choose Chani as their surrogate for the secular position when she was a believer in the novel.

Paul does not want to be a leader in this version

However, the most dramatic change is how Paul reacts when an argument breaks out between the Fremen while Jessica is unconscious. Some of the Fremen believe that the fact that Jessica survived the Water of Life — making her their new Reverend Mother — proves Paul is their savior. Chani and her contingent believe that the whole prophecy is a lie meant to control them. Each side continues arguing until Paul explains that his mother was trained to survive poisons like the Water of Life and that he does not view himself as their savior. He says that he only wishes to fight beside them; however, he doesn’t wish to lead them.

This change is significant. It works in some ways, but in other ways, it doesn’t. The bottom line is that the writers chose to make Paul a reluctant hero who has no lofty ambitions. This alteration works well in terms of Paul’s personal story arch. He needs to reach a point where he can accept his role as the Kwisatz Haderach. It would be understandable for him to run from this position at first. However, this change opens up plot holes for the story as a whole.

The main problem is that the Fremen have spent years fighting the Harkonnens. While they are excellent warriors, they lack something that keeps them from winning their war. In the book, Paul teaches the Fremen the Weirding Way, which is a kind of martial art that enables the Fremen to easily overpower the Harkonnens. In the 1984 film, Paul arms the Fremen with Weirding Modules, special guns that use sound to enhance their firepower. In both instances, Paul gives something to the Fremen that provides them with an edge they desperately need. This edge helps convince the Fremen that Paul is their savior.

I should also note that in both versions, Paul is known for being clever on the battlefield and while this is mentioned in the sequel, the movie doesn’t ever show Paul leading the Fremen or implanting his own strategies. If Paul only joins the Fremen as a mere soldier and doesn’t make any changes, there’s no reason to believe that the Fremen would start winning their war against the Harkonnens, nor is there any reason for the Fremen to accept Paul as their savior. Even if all the Fremen believe in the Bene Gesserit religion, Paul still has to do something extraordinary in order for them to believe he’s something special.

Does the “reluctant hero” role work well with Paul’s character?

Paul’s entire goal is to avenge his father. He can only do so if he restores his House. In order to do that, he must accept the strategy men like his father and Duncan Idaho laid out for him. It was always the plan for the Atreides to recruit the Fremen, even before the Harkonnens’ surprise attack, so there’s no reason for him to hesitate to lead these desert nomads. To refuse to do so would almost be an insult to the men who worked so hard to put him in a position where he could restore his House.

It’s true that he wishes to avoid the jihad shown to him in some of his visions, but in the novel, he doesn’t hesitate to lead the Fremen; he only wishes to find a way to avenge his father without starting a holy war.

Finally, treating Paul as a mere soldier creates a scenario where there is no real opportunity to adequately explain the political situation that made the emperor feel personally compelled to land on Arrakis.

Where’s the Spacing Guild in all this?

There’s no mention of the Spacing Guild, which fully understands the importance of the spice on Arrakis. In the 1984 film, it is the Guild that pressures the emperor to deal with the matter directly because, without the spice, space travel would come to a halt. In the book, they pressured. everyone to deal with Paul because they understood what his actions on Arrakis meant. This pressure is what compelled everyone to land on Arrakis.

Absent this background, there’s no reason to believe the emperor would ever put himself at risk by landing on the hostile desert planet. And Paul’s plan would fall apart if the emperor simply refused to show up. Yet in Part Two, all Paul does to grab the emperor’s attention is send a letter. If the emperor had ignored this letter, then what else was Paul supposed to do? How Paul understood the political situation and used his knowledge to force the emperor’s hand needed to be clearly explained, and I felt that the sequel failed to do so.

So, the screenwriters’ change that makes Paul the reluctant hero creates some narrative problems; however, the writers do set the situation up in such a way that Paul has no choice but to begin as a mere soldier. To be fair, this change does work in a way because we get to see Paul earn the respect of the Fremen over time.

This gradual process pays off handsomely when Paul rides a sandworm. This scene is one of the most impressive spectacles I’ve seen on the theater screen in years. The visual effects in this movie are, overall, incredible.

Going forward, Chani’s cynicism becomes a growing issue in the story. But before we can explore that, we must first talk about the way the sequel reintroduced the Harkonnens. The screenwriters did a number of things right, and we’ll talk about that next Saturday.

Here are all the parts of my extended review of Dune: Part Two (2024):

Dune: Part Two succeeds brilliantly — but dooms plans for Part III. The difficulty is that the changes made for the film have warped the core story so much that it’s going to be nearly impossible to follow the source material from here on out. For example, if the Bene Gesserits are the true power behind the throne, why do they need a Kwisatz Haderach to cement their power?

Dune, Part Two: Paul becomes a hero — very reluctantly Some departures from the book work better than others. The “reluctant hero” trope simplifies a complex political situation but comes at a cost. Overall, Paul’s reluctance, in this version, to be the Fremen’s leader enables him to earn their respect over time while doing more ordinary tasks.

Dune, Part Two: At last, Feyd-Rautha becomes relevant. The treatment of Feyd in this version is more satisfactory than in any previous one. We are prepared for Paul’s confrontation with him. The portrayal of Chani in Part Two is, however, much harder to understand. If she doesn’t believe in the Bene Gesserit religion, why is she there on Arrakis?

Dune, Part Two: At last, Feyd-Rautha becomes relevant. The treatment of Feyd in this version is more satisfactory than in any previous one. We are prepared for Paul’s confrontation with him. The portrayal of Chani in Part Two is, however, much harder to understand. If she doesn’t believe in the Bene Gesserit religion, why is she there on Arrakis?

Note: Here’s my series looking at Dune (1984), linked together, starting with “Where did Dune 1984 succeed? Where did it fail?”

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Dune, Part Two: Paul Becomes a Hero — Very Reluctantly