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Why the Sandworms in ‘Dune’ are the most important characters in ‘Dune’

By May 10, 2023No Comments4 min read

The sandworms in Dune might seem like plot devices and atmospheric world-building. But they actually unlock the point of the whole story.

If there’s something that truly defines the world of Dune besides spice, sand, and complex political drama, it’s the iconic sandworms that live under the dunes of Arrakis. These creatures, known as Shai-Hulud, are one of the elements of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel with the most lasting cultural impact. Even the biggest space opera of them all, Star Wars, references them. Even SpongeBob Squarepants has a whole episode dedicated to the Great Alaskan Bull Worm, as it should. These worms do more than just add tension and danger to the world of Dune. They also carry a deep, symbolic significance.

So it’s no surprise that in the latest trailer for Denis Villanueve’s Dune: Part Two, the Shai-Hulud take a central role. Especially as we get to see the tradition of worm-riding in these films. Besides being a key landmark of the ecosystem of Arrakis and responsible for the production of the highly valued spice Melange (which, fun fact, has a slight tase of cinnamon), the Shai-Hulud foretells a powerful connection between the Fremen, the planet’s natives, and the planet itself.

Immortal things.

The Fremen believe that these giant worms are representative of their central deity. Hence, the Fremen refer to them with great respect and reverence. Their name comes from the Arabic “shay’ khulud” which roughly means “Immortal thing.” Because of that central role in their cosmology, the sandworms play a vital role in Fremen culture, which translates to the character development of Paul (Timothée Chalamet), the main protagonist of the story. For instance, the Crysknife, the Fremen weapon of choice that was given to Paul’s mother Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) by her head housekeeper Shadout Mapes (Golda Rosheuvel), is made from the tooth of a sandworm.

The Fremen aren’t the only characters on Arrakis heavily impacted by the sandworms, of course. Those who see the planet as merely the backdrop of resource extraction and exploitation have to confront and adapt to the Shai-Hulud to obtain the spice. The sandworms operate as a “grand obstacle” to the colonization of the entire planet. In fact, Herbert himself mentioned in an interview that the dragon in Beowulf was a major influence, as it’s certainly of English’s literature’s original “obstacles” in poetic storytelling.

However, the sandworms aren’t just obstacles when it comes to mining some spice. In the novel, the Shai-Hulud also represent avital rite of passage. Paul Atreides has to ride a Shai-Hulud to prove himself a full member of the Fremen. A full citizen of the planet itself, by extension. You can see this more clearly in the new trailer below:

What the trailer reveals.

In the trailer, we see Paul go through the steps of taking control of a Shai-Hulud with surprising book accuracy. Paul summons the worm with the vibrations in the sand caused by a thumper and hooks himself to a scale of the worm to take control of it. As this happens, we get a first glance to some of the higher stakes that this second part is presenting.

We meet Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), the daughter of Emperor Shaddum IV (Christopher Walken), and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen (Austin Butler), the nephew of the previous ruling house of Arrakis and the narrative foil of Paul. The trailer is full of sci-fi action, Villanueve’s bold color pallets, and probably more speaking time for Chani (Zendaya) than in the whole previous film.

The last time we saw Paul, he had lost almost everything. His father (Oscar Isaac) had been assassinated and his family had been deposed from the throne of Arrakis. So, he and his mother joined the Fremen and walked with them into the dunes after showing their willingness to learn their ways. It seems that in the next installment of the saga, we are going to witness his full embracing of “desert power” as he prepares to make a stand against the Harkonnen and their allies. Expect to see far more of how the sandworms play an integral part in bringing Paul’s journey to an epic high that Han Solo and even SpongeBob himself could only dream about.

Dune: Part Two opens in theaters on November 3, 2023.

Pedro Luis Graterol

Based in Mexico, Pedro Graterol is the News editor for TV and Film of InBetweenDrafts. He is a Venezuelan political scientist, violist, and a nerd of all things pop culture. His legal signature includes Sonic The Hedgehog’s face.

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