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Zendaya’s and Florence Pugh’s Dune characters are set up for a galactic rivalry

A princess, an exiled lord, and a nomad form Dune’s great ‘love’ triangle

zendaya as her character chani with blue eyes in the dune movie Photo: Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Pictures

The latest trailer for Dune: Part Two starts just like 2021’s Dune: In the middle of a desert with Zendaya’s character Chani. But anyone who expected to see a lot of Zendaya in 2021’s Dune would have been sorely disappointed: She’s barely in the thing until the very end!

The good news is, if Dune: Part Two is anything like Frank Herbert’s Dune (and 2021’s Dune certainly was), we’ll be seeing a lot more of Chani, and Zendaya’s portrayal, when the movie hits theaters in November. Plenty of time between now and then to read Dune and find out what happens for yourself.

But if you’d rather not wait or read the book, here’s a quick rundown anyway.

Who is Chani, Zendaya’s character in the Dune movies?

Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Zendaya as Chani in DUNE: PART TWO Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

Daughter of the researcher/planetologist Liet Kynes (played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster) and a fremen tribesperson, Chani and Paul Atreides meet in the book in exactly the same way they do in the 2021 movie — at a knife fight. Paul has recurring visions of a young blue-eyed woman who turns out to be Chani, a fremen warrior assigned to guide him and his exiled mother in their integration into the Fremen.

What can we expect in Dune: Part Two?

[Ed. note: I’m about to describe the whole ending of Dune. This is your spoiler warning for a 60-year-old book.]

Paul spends two years of exile with the Fremen before the forces of history bend him into becoming their messianic leader. And in that time, Chani and Paul fall in love (without marrying) and have a child (though their baby is killed in an imperial raid on a Fremen encampment before the book comes to a close). Chani stands with Paul through the whole story of Dune, and we can expect them to be a big part of Dune: Part Two.

Dune director Denis Villeneuve recently told Vanity Fair, “I kept saying to my crew, ‘The most important thing is that spark, that relationship between [Paul and Chani]’ If we don’t capture that, if we don’t have that onscreen, there’s no movie. The epicenter of the story is this relationship.”

Who is Florence Pugh’s Princess Irulan?

Florence Pugh as Princess Irulan Corrino in Dune 2 with a metal headdress made of sharp-looking ornaments Image: Warner Bros.

Dune: Part Two will also put a big hurdle in the way of Paul and Chani’s relationship: the politically capable Princess Irulan, daughter of the Padishah Emperor, played by Florence Pugh. In the very final moments of the novel, Fremen forces under Paul’s banner make a successful takeover of the planet Arrakis, and threaten to destroy all spice production — on which all interstellar travel depends — if the Padishah Emperor does not abdicate.

But in order to become the next Emperor, Paul has to marry the Emperor’s daughter; though he swears to never sire an heir with Irulan, so that he and Chani’s children will inherit.

Narratively, Irulan and Chani are foils, representing Paul’s personal desires and hopes, and the iron restrictions of politics and fate — but they’re also part of a cycle. Paul’s late father rejected politics by remaining unmarried in honor of the “mistress” (Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica) that he’d fallen in love with, so that their son would become his heir. If you’ve seen Dune (2021), you already know that politics destroyed him in the end.

The final lines in the Dune novel are about Chani and Irulan — and about this tension between the small reality of two people in love contrasted against the massiveness of galactic history. Lady Jessica tells Chani not to put too much stock in being called a concubine rather than an empress. “We,” she says, “who carry the name of concubine — history will call us wives.”

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