The film roughly covers the first half of the 1965 Frank Herbert novel of the same name, telling a story set in a feudal society in the far future. In the Imperium, the known universe of the story, the desert planet Arrakis is highly prized for its valuable supply of a life-extended drug dubbed “spice.”
And though the Emperor stays off-screen in the Denis Villeneuve film, we see his influence throughout the story, as he spurs a conflict between House Atreides and House Harkonnen.
The Emperor colludes with House Harkonnen to destroy House Atreides.
At the start of the story, the Emperor assigns Duke Leto I of House Atreides (Oscar Isaac) to rule over Arrakis, knowing full well that the Duke has enough influence in the Imperium and its Landsraad — the Imperium’s collection of noble houses — to one day challenge him.
But House Harkonnen believes Arrakis to be their property, so they wage war on House Atreides — which, of course, was the Emperor’s plan all along. The Emperor conspired with House Harkonnen to wipe out House Atreides.
The Bene Gesserit use the war to try to get Paul Atreides out from under Lady Jessica’s influence.
Also in play is Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the Duke’s son with Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), an outcast member of a sisterhood of women called the Bene Gesserit. The Gesserit, who are trying to breed a messiah-like figure called the Kwisatz Haderach, shun Jessica for having a son instead of a daughter and thus violating the Gesserit’s plans.
So the Gesserit leader, the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling), helps instigate the war, as well, hoping to get Paul — whom they believe might be the Kwisatz Haderach — out from the influence of his mother.
A ‘Dune’ sequel could reveal the Emperor.
The Emperor might have a larger role — and even an onscreen role — in Villeneuve’s planned second Dune film. (“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,” WarnerMedia Studios and Networks CEO Ann Sarnoff told Deadline recently.)
In the meantime, this Dune film shows Paul and Jessica aligning with the Fremen, the native population of Arrakis. And going forward, their combined forces could halt spice production on the planet and force the Emperor to acknowledge his role in the war.
“The Emperor will face an uphill battle against the combined Atreides and Fremen alliance,” Screen Rant’s Chris Bellows speculates. “He will find himself precariously perched between revealing his treachery to the Landsraad, which risks galactic war, or totally disrupting the entire universal economy. All audiences can do now is hope for a Dune sequel to find out who will prevail between the duplicitous forces of the Emperor and House Harkonnen and the Fremen followers of Paul Atreides.”