The Houses of Dune

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Dune is an absolute phenomenon. But beyond all of the sand worms, spice trade and intergalactic skullduggery is a vast, intelligent story with incredible depth. Sure, it’s a blockbuster two-part (so far) story about a family saddled with becoming landlords for the most dangerous planet in the universe. But it’s also about power struggles - specifically, between several great houses. But who are these houses, and what are these rivalries all about? Time to catch up on all the intrigue.


House Atreides

Of the four major players in the Dune universe, the noble House Atreides are the closest to what you’d call “the good guys”. In Dune: Part One, we met the Atreides clan on their lush, wet and storm-swept planet of Caladan. There, we saw the royal family in their natural habitat: Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) was the father of the group, and his concubine, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson). Their son is Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the… look, we won’t say hero of the series, but he’s certainly our lead. We learn how well he’s been raised - trained in the art of combat by Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) and the art of foolhardy heroism by Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa), he’s exactly who you want to win the day.

The problem is, the House of Atreides is inherently noble, and the universe of Dune is unrelentingly brutal. Their age-old feud with the ruthless House Harkonnen is already on everybody’s radar, so when Leto finds out his family are going to be heading on over to Arrakis to run the joint, he’s pretty sure things are going to go badly. And you know what? That Leto is a sharp one. Their rivalry is going to kick-start a war to end all wars.

House Harkonnen

In a traditional storytelling sense, Harkonnen are the baddies of Dune.They use terror, brutality and fear to rule. Ruled by Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard), they’re more than happy to accept the Emperor’s offer to pull a fast one on House Atreides. With a decidedly un-chill vibe, their culture seems to revolve around death: their homeworld, Geidi Prime, is an industrial hellscape - in Dune: Part Two, you’ll see a glimpse of their favourite pastime, with the Baron’s favourite, Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler) engaging in gladiatorial combat.

They’re the polar opposite of House Atreides. They might also be brutal enough an enemy to help Paul and Jessica rally the native population of Arrakis to their side.

The Bene Gesserit

Essentially, the Bene Gesserit are a sisterhood of space witches. Often acting as political advisors, they’re gifted with spooky powers - they can use “the voice” to manipulate others, and they have visions which allow them to predict the outcome of events. Perhaps this explains why they have their fingers in so many pies - they’re advising the Emperor, true, but even Paul Atreides’ mum, Jessica, is a Bene Gesserit sister. And that’s where things begin to take a fascinating turn: Jessica was meant to have a daughter, but Leto wanted a son.

Jessica broke the rules and gave him one, and worse, she taught this son - Paul - the ways of the Bene Gesserit. This means that when Paul ends up on a planet covered with a drug that alters the mind, the stage is set for a hybrid being talked about only in prophecy. In short, the Bene Gesserit may have been outmatched and outwitted by one of their own… or at least, the son of one of their own.

The Fremen

Ahh, the Fremen. Not a “house” in a traditional sense, they’re the most powerful faction in the world of Dune. Natives to the desert planet Arrakis, they’re nomads; a mystical people, long under the thumb of the Emperor and his forces, just waiting for an excuse to rise up. The power struggle over Arrakis boils down to one thing: spice. Also known as melange, the spice is basically a drug that alters the mind and allows travel between the stars: it is, therefore, what allows the galaxy to tick. To the Fremen, spice is sacred, and as such, they’re constantly engaged in a guerilla war, trying to push outsiders off their homeworld.

When Paul and Jessica escape into the desert in the first film and end up meeting a group of Fremen, including Chani (Zendaya) and Stilgar (Javier Bardem), events are set into motion which will change the universe forever. Turns out Paul has the potential to become something of a messiah for the Fremen… and the Fremen might just have the power Paul needs to push back against the Harkonnen threat.

House Corrino

Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV. Not a nice guy, just FYI - if you recall from the first film, he’s the one who (offscreen) gives Duke Leto the poison chalice that is power over Arrakis. Thing is, The Emperor was taking advice from the sisters of the Bene Gesserit, who had him absorb more power by effectively handing the Atreides family over to the brutal Harkonnen. The Emperor (played in Dune: Part Two by Christopher Walken) doesn’t feel great about this, but it’s too late to back out now.

House Corrino uses the Sardaukar, who we see in the first Dune; basically the SAS of the Dune universe. They’re an elite, ruthless fighting force, deployed onto Arrakis to help the Harkonnen forces overthrow Atreides. By this metric, House Corrino are technically the most powerful of all… or would be, if they weren’t puppets of the Bene Gesserit sisters. Speaking of which, Irulan (Florence Pugh) is the daughter of the Emperor, and she’s been sent to try and marry Paul. The catch? She’s also got a Bene Gesserit mentor. Honestly, House Corrino has some serious issues. Can they survive the events of Dune: Part Two? Or will their walls come tumbling down?

Now, you’re primed and ready for the sci-fi epic which everyone is talking about.

Make Dune: Part One and Dune: Part Two a part of your movie night!