'Dune 2's Radical Chani Reboot Fixes Frank Herbert's Biggest Mistake

'Dune 2's Radical Chani Reboot Fixes Frank Herbert's Biggest Mistake

In Dune: Part Two, Chani is not taking any of Paul’s sh*t. While Zendaya’s Fremen warrior badass is, canonically, the only true love for Muad'Dib, in the novel, she doesn’t end up marrying him, mostly because Paul chooses to take as much power as possible and get hitched to Princess Irulan. The novel Dune ends with Lady Jessica telling Chani that “history will call us wives,” reminding her that even though they don’t have a formal claim to power, each of them is more powerful without a marriage than with it.

But, in Dune: Part Two, Chani’s love for Paul is less straightforward, and she’s far less complicit in his acension to the throne. This is a not-so-subtle change to Chani’s character even though her role in the plot is generally the same as the book, the tone is decidedly different. And, for director Denis Villeneuve there’s a specific reason why.

In adapting the rest of the 1965 Dune into Dune: Part Two, Villeneuve wanted to make Frank Herbert’s motivations and message clear: that Paul is not the hero. And that meant Chani had to change. “When I did the adaptation, I tried to be faithful to Frank Herbert,” Villeneuve tells Inverse. And [to do that] I changed the nature of Chani's character to create a perspective that I hope Frank Herbert would agree with in order to achieve his goal.”

Spoilers for Dune: Part Two ahead.

Chani — the voice of dissent

Chani (Zendaya) and Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) don’t see eye-to-eye in Dune: Part Two.

Warner Bros/Legendary

In the novel, Paul has some hesitation about the inevitable future he sees — in which he essentially becomes a dictator — but Chani is steadfastly in support of him. Not so in the film! In Dune: Part Two, Villeneuve turns Chani into a spokesperson for Frank Herbert’s true views on charismatic leaders who change the world too quickly. She’s distrustful of Paul’s takeover of the Fremen, and though she loves him, she’s against his crusade against the rest of the universe. Pointedly, Chani doesn’t join Paul as he goes to rain terror down upon the universe at the end of the movie. This smartly contradicts details of Paul’s future vision in Dune: Part One, but doesn’t exactly contradict the novel.

Arguably, Chani’s passiveness in both Dune and Dune Messiah is one of the greatest weaknesses of both novels. Even in Messiah, the more overtly subversive and tragic book, Chani trusts Paul so much that she agrees to let him personally pilot an ornithopter while she’s pregnant, and right after Paul has been blinded. It’s hard to imagine movie Chani doing this.

Chani’s future in motion

Chani wants to protect her people against Paul.

Warner Bros/Legendary

Because the possibility of Dune 3 — and adaptation of Dune Messiah — seems utterly inevitable, do all these changes to Chani add up to a different ending? While she survives the events of the novel Dune, by the end of Dune Messiah, Chani dies just as she gives birth to her and Paul’s twin children. (Yep, just like Padmé Amidala! George Lucas never stopped cribbing from Dune.)

But with Chani reimagined in Dune: Part Two, would Villeneuve stick to this outcome for her in the future? Doesn’t the new version of Chani deserve better than that? And more urgently, would Villeneuve change the events of Messiah even more and have Chani live?

When it comes to details about a movie version of Dune Messiah, and whether or not Chani’s fate could change in the end, Villeneuve is evasive but thoughtful. “I will not dare to talk about Dune Messiah/Dune 3, because it’s a movie that is still in the writing process,” he says candidly. “I think it’s a beautiful question.”

Dune: Part Two is playing in theaters now.

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