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Every Story Needs an Iconic Unhinged Villain, and ‘Dune’s Has Finally Arrived

Austin Butler as the villainous Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in 'Dune: Part Two'

With a Vanity Fair-exclusive first look and the official trailer upon us, I think it’s safe to say that Dune fever is definitely back. At least I know I’m feeling it, rising from the deep of my fandom brain like a leviathan—or should I say, like a sandworm. 

Those who have read the first installment of Frank Herbert’s iconic space opera know what’s in store for Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides as he makes his way through the deserts of the planet Arrakis in Dune: Part Two. Even if you haven’t read the novel, you can trust that it’s going to be spectacular considering the precedent that Dune: Part One set two years ago.

Honestly, there was just one thing missing from the first part of Denis Villeneuve’s take on Dune: a truly iconic and unhinged villain who everyone loves to hate. Of course, we had Stellan Skarsgård’s Baron Harkonnen in Dune: Part One, orchestrating the fall of House Atreides with no small help from the galactic Emperor himself, and his brutal nephew Glossu “Beast” Rabban, played by Dave Bautista.

Dave Bautista as Glossu "Beast" Rabban in Dune: Part One
Honestly, this character design is so good. Equal parts terrifying and memorable (Warner Bros.)

But still, we didn’t see that much of them in the grand economy of the movie, which was of course more focused on the Atreides story and Paul’s first encounter with the Fremen. And while the Harkonnens’ character design makes them quite impossible to miss and to forget, neither of them had that “oomph” of truly unhinged villainy. With good reason; Villeneuve was clearly saving that for Part Two.

This is the movie that is going to introduce to us Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, brought to the screen once before by Sting in David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune with a very distinctive character design—that red hair, especially. Austin Butler, who won a Golden Globe for playing the titular role in Elvis, has taken on the role of Feyd-Rautha for in Dune: Part Two. From what we’ve seen, it’s clear that his character design seems to be very different from Sting’s, but equally striking—which is exactly what you need to make your villain memorable.

So let’s take a closer look at what kind of character Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen is, and what we can expect from him as Dune: Part Two moves closer to its release date.

So who exactly is Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen in Dune?

Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen is the youngest of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen’s two nephews and the one he has chosen as his heir—which is also why Feyd-Rautha and Glossu do not share the same surname. Raised on the Harkonnens’ homeworld of Geidi Prime, Feyd-Rautha grew up to be charismatic, calculating, capable, and ruthless in a much different way than his brutal older brother—something that made Feyd-Rautha a favorite of the Baron and secured his position as heir, as well as his leading role in the Baron’s schemes of power.

The other thing that’s important to know about Feyd-Rautha is that he, too, is a product of the centuries-long breeding program that the Bene Gesserit have orchestrated throughout the Empire. The original plan was for the Kwisatz Haderach (the Sisterhood’s prophesied savior) to be born out of the union of the Houses Atreides and Harkonnen, thus also resolving the blood feud between the two—which is why Lady Jessica was supposed to have a daughter.

The Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam, played by Charlotte Rampling, tests Timothée Chalamet's Paul Atreides in Dune
The fact that Paul was never supposed to exist in the Bene Gesserit plans might explain some of the animosity the Reverend Mother has towards him and his mother (Warner Bros.)

As we learned in Dune: Part One, however, when the Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Charlotte Rampling) visited Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) on Caladan before the family left for Arrakis, Jessica decided to go against the Bene Gesserit’s schemes and follow Duke Leto’s wish of having a son. Obviously, Feyd-Rautha and Paul are now headed toward an inevitable clash.

What will happen to Feyd-Rautha in Dune: Part Two?

That’s as much as I can say before spoiling some of the major plot points of the upcoming movie. If you’d like to go into Dune: Part Two completely spoiler-free, then I suggest you stop your read now—if you don’t mind spoilers, or if you’re already somewhat familiar with the plot and would like a refresher, however, feel free to continue reading.

With the marriage solution to the feud between the Houses of Atreides and Harkonnen made impossible—though something tells me the writers over at Archive of Our Own are already sharpening their keyboards—the Bene Gesserit decide to act to salvage Feyd-Rautha’s genetic material in case things don’t go well for him, which is where Léa Seydoux’s Lady Margot enters the game.

Lady Margot plants a seed of weakness in Feyd-Rautha, a word of command that would render him immobile—something that comes into play later, during the final clash between Feyd and Paul. In the meantime, the young Harkonnen schemes with his uncle, the Baron, to completely destroy what’s left of House Atreides. Their plans include installing Glossu Rabban as an interim despotic ruler on Arrakis to make Feyd appear as a benevolent savior to the Fremen, and Feyd-Rautha marrying Princess Irulan, the Emperor’s eldest daughter, to gain influence over the imperial throne.

But even the Harkonnens aren’t immune to schemes—Feyd-Rautha’s eagerness is taken advantage of by Thufir Hawat, the mentat at the service of the House of Atreides, whom we already saw in Dune: Part One, played by Stephen McKinley Henderson. Thufir preys on Feyd-Rautha’s desire for power and almost manages to get both him and the Baron killed.

Thufir Hawat as played by Stephen McKinley Henderson in Dune
The Atreides’ mentat definitely has some tricks up his sleeve (Warner Bros.)

All this tension demands a high-stakes resolution: a single combat between Feyd-Rautha and Paul, which happens toward the end of the story. That’s where the word of power that Lady Margot conditioned Feyd with comes back; Paul knows that by using it he could easily win the duel, but he would also owe his victory—and a debt—to the Bene Gesserit. Paul’s stalling gives Feyd the chance of almost killing him, even if in the end it’s the young Atreides who emerges the victor.

(featured image: Warner Bros)

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Benedetta (she/her) lives in Italy and has been writing about pop culture and entertainment since 2015. She has considered being in fandom a defining character trait since she was in middle school and wasn't old enough to read the fanfiction she was definitely reading and loves dragons, complex magic systems, unhinged female characters, tragic villains and good queer representation. You’ll find her covering everything genre fiction, especially if it’s fantasy-adjacent and even more especially if it’s about ASOIAF. In this Bangtan Sonyeondan sh*t for life.