Dune is having a moment. Released in 1965, Frank Herbert’s landmark novel struggled to find publishers willing to take on its highly complex plot, multiple character arcs, and departure from traditional science fiction tropes. Fast forward nearly 60 years when references to Dune — thanks in no small part to Denis Villeneuve’s two-part blockbuster film adaptation — are as common as sand on Arrakis.

Now, Paul Atreides and company are seeking to do what other major literary franchises have already done: translate roaring success on the silver screen into more streaming platform subscriptions. Like Star Wars and Game of Thrones, Dune comes with a treasure trove of content, most of it untapped by any form of popular culture outside of the original books themselves. Like its House of the Dragon series, HBO is entering Herbert’s Known Universe to bring to life a prequel story set millennia before the events of Villeneuve’s movies. Here’s everything we know (and theorize) about the highly-anticipated Dune: Prophecy.

The Origins of the The Bene Gesserit

Set approximately 10,000 years before Paul rides his first sandworm, Dune: Prophecy places the Bene Gesserit order front and center. Originally known as the Sisterhood of Rossack, the Bene Gesserit are most overtly represented in Herbert’s original novels by Lady Jessica, Paul’s mother and consort of Leto Atreides.

Although initially planning to direct the HBO series, Villeneuve has since withdrawn from the project due to scheduling conflicts. In his stead, Anna Foerster — a director with experience on the set of Outlander and Underworld movies — will take the helm of what appears to be a highly female-centric story. In other words, Paul’s been put on the backburner. 

In a similar vein as Robert Jordan’s Aes Sedai in The Wheel of Time series, the Bene Gesserit are an exclusive all-female order that train extensively to exhibit physical and mental supernatural powers. Often criticized as “witches,” Bene Gesserit members learn how to temporarily control others with the use of “the Voice.” This technique is achieved by a combination of mental control and shifts in vocal tone. Less Jedi Knights and more Witches of Dathomir, the Bene Gesserit evolve into adept string pullers behind many of the universe’s most powerful leaders and impactful events, which this new series no doubt will cover.

Dune: Prophecy Is Based On A Prequel Novel

Frank Herbert wrote the original Dune books that largely focus on the life of Paul Atreides and his rise to power. However, Brian Herbert, Frank’s son, partnered with Kevin J. Anderson to write 26 prequel novels that dive into timelines far removed from Paul, Chani, and Lady Jessica’s lifetimes.

Dune: Prophecy is an adaptation of one of these prequels, specifically Sisterhood of Dune. Part one of the Great Schools of Dune trilogy, Sisterhood of Dune is positioned as the follow-up to the Butlerian Jihad. For hardcore Dune fans, this event represents the actual conflict between humans and “thinking machines” that resulted in the dismantling of artificial intelligence systems throughout the planetary systems.

The fallout from this war directly situates the Great Families as major players within the sort of interstellar-Game of Thrones that more or less defines the next 10,000 years of the Known Universe’s history. Whether Mentats — the cognitive human powerhouses intended to replace mechanical computers — will play a significant role in Dune: Prophecy remains to be seen.

Harkonnens Lead the Bene Gesserit

Based on the teaser trailer, two of the main characters in Dune: Prophecy are (gasp!) Harkonnens. In Denis Villeneuve’s Dune movies, we don’t see much of Harkonnen women outside of the Bene Gesserit order. Feyd-Rautha’s introductory scene shows his sexual sadism with an entourage of enslaved women. However, there is no clear window into the lives of female Harkonnen family members who aren’t literally chained in a room with a psychopath.

That is about to change with the release of Dune: Prophecy. Two of the primary characters in the series are Emily Watson’s Valya Harkonnen and Olivia Williams’ Tula Harkonnen. As the trailer’s off-screen narrator, Valya seems to be a primary driver of the move towards dedicated sisterhood that the Bene Gesserit so value. 

Although it’s unclear precisely how far back Dune: Prophecy is going to delve into her past, Valya’s status within the eventual Bene Gesserit order definitely seems to be an overarching storyline. As a student, Valya develops side-by-side with Dorotea, a character we know little about other than she served as the second Reverend Mother in the Bene Gesserit’s history. It certainly isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine a series of betrayals, alliances, and manipulations playing a large part in Valya’s rise to power.

The Feud Between House Harkonnen and Atreides

According to the expanded Dune universe, Valya also plays a critical role in stoking the Harkonnens’ hatred for the Atreides bloodline. In the events of Sisterhood of Dune, Valya has inherited the 80-year-old bitterness of her predecessor, Abulurd Harkonnen. 

A warrior and leader in the Butlerian Jihad, Abulurd disobeys direct orders from his superior, Vorian Atreides, and falls into disgrace when his actions lead to catastrophic human casualties. After this devastating loss, Vorian Atreides banishes the Harkonnen line to Lankiveil, a planet as cold and lifeless as Arrakis is hot and filled with spice melange.

Raised on the harsh conditions of Lankiveil, Valya internalizes the sense of injustice done to her ancestor. As such, many of her actions in the prequel books are directly or indirectly geared towards harming the Atreides line. Tula, Valya’s sister, plays a large part in these schemes for revenge, which will probably make the sibling dynamic between these two complicated, to say the least.

Bene Gesserit Manipulation

Much of the negative reputation associated with the Bene Gesserit stems from their willingness to manipulate events both on an individual and planetary scale. Outside of just using “the Voice,” the Dune books describe the Bene Gesserit practice of religious engineering as an example of their generation-spanning power grab.

The results of this mythical ‘seed-planting’ are best demonstrated with the Fremen, the group of desert-dwelling rebels that Paul encounters on Arrakis. Driven by the Missionaria Protectiva, the Bene Gesserit deployed representatives to Arrakis at some point in the planet’s past. These initial missionaries introduced Fremen to the Lisan al Gaib/Mahdi prophecy which, of course, aligns perfectly with Paul’s later role as the Kwisatz Haderach. 

On a smaller but no less impactful scale, the Bene Gesserit are shown multiple times to wield their powers of female reproduction strategically. In Dune Part 2, Léa Seydoux’s Lady Margot blatantly seduces Feyd-Rautha in order to become impregnated with his genetic heir. This ability may get some backstory in Dune: Prophecy since it reflects the control Bene Gesserit women have over their menstrual cycles and biological sex of unborn children. Indeed, Lady Jessica’s decision to birth a male child is one of the great plot drivers of the first Dune. 

The Dune Prophecy Equals….Paul?

Ultimately, the biggest hint for what the prequel series is going to be about lies in its title. From the first time the Bene Gesserit test Paul using the Gom Jabbar, it becomes apparent that his role in the Atreides struggle for control on Arrakis will soon have much broader implications for the universe at large. 

The overarching goal of the Bene Gesserit order is to control the destiny of their prophesied Messianic figure, the Kwisatz Haderach. Similar to the Dragon Reborn prophecy in The Wheel of Time series, the Kwisatz Haderach is foreseen as a male entity with extraordinary prescient and mental abilities. This individual’s power would allow him to sense a multiplicity of futures and, because of this gift, select the path with a desired outcome. As the universe’s puppet masters, the Bene Gesserit clearly want influence over this man, which prompts them to place particular attention on their selective breeding programs.

The fruition of these labors, however, is still several millennia away, which makes Dune: Prophecy an especially interesting chapter in the saga’s lore. Although the struggle between aristocratic houses certainly continues, it’s the Bene Gesserit — indeed the “sisterhood” Valya so eloquently describes — who become the real power players in the future of the empire. One thing is clear: HBO has no lack of source material when it comes to this new series. Like House of the Dragon, the success of Dune: Prophecy will rely on detailed world-building, strong character development, and some amazing action scenes. We couldn’t be more excited.

Dune: Prophecy is scheduled for release on Max in the fall of 2024.

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