You could write 10 books on the planets, intergalactic politics and people who live among so many stars in the massive Dune universe. And some people have! Frank Herbert's six-novel epic is surrounded by other stories written by his son Brian Herbert with the help of the inimitable Kevin J. Anderson. We know the movie in theaters and streaming on HBO Max only covers part of the original book, but that doesn't make the amount of information needed to get the most out of what we are about to experience any less intense.
Fortunately, you all have me. I've been reading the Dune books my entire life, and all of that information finally has a use. Here's a quick terminology guide with basic explainers to help make the movie that much more enjoyable.
Hard-core Dune fans may shout, "Just read the book!" but -- fun fact -- the first Dune movie released in 1984 also had a paper handout explaining all of the strange language used in the film. It seems a little silly to hand out a piece of paper for people to refer to in a dark theater when you want them to watch the screen in front of them, so I'm going to do it a little differently. Please don't use your phone when the movie starts, but if you want to glance at this before it starts and after it's over, you have it here to enjoy.
After several galactic wars, one of them against robots, the Great Houses of the Universe decided there needed to be a ruling body of sorts to dictate how things would be. The Dune universe is now controlled by a single ruling family, House Corrino. The head of this house, Emperor Shaddam IV, is the 81st Emperor of the Known Universe. As the movie starts, the 68-year old Emperor worries about his place as emperor, thanks to a rumor he'd poisoned his 138-year old father.
To maintain power, Shaddam needs to keep everyone in the universe happy and under control.
Everything in the universe requires this mind-altering drug to continue at its current pace. It makes you smarter and live longer. Under extreme conditions it even makes your eyes turn blue, but more on that later. Everyone uses spice, aka melange, though how much you use impacts its effect. Space pilots take it so they can navigate this universe's form of hyperspace, and tacticians take huge quantities so they can process massive amounts of information in a short period of time.
Everyone needs spice, and without it the universe would grind to a halt and a lot of wealthy people would die, because this stuff is artificially extending their lives.
Spice can only be found on one planet, and that's Arrakis. This planet is almost entirely desert, with very little naturally occurring water found on the surface. The spice is the byproduct of massive sandworms that roam the entire surface of the planet. Attempts to move sandworms to other planets to create multiple places with spice production have failed. It only happens on Arrakis.
This is the most important planet in the universe, and whichever family the emperor puts in charge of mining spice is thereby one of the most important.
At the beginning of Dune, the family responsible for mining spice on Arrakis is the Harkonnen family. The homeworld for this family is massively industrial and polluted, meaning they had done such a good job stripping their own planet of its natural resources the emperor thought they would be perfect for mining Arrakis.
House Harkonnen is asked to leave Arrakis at the beginning of the Dune story because they were stealing spice to sell on the side instead of giving it all to the emperor. These are not good people, and they will do anything to regain control of Arrakis.
As one of the most popular of the Great Houses in the universe, Duke Leto Atreides and the rest of his family have built a reputation for doing the right thing and helping those in need. They are incredibly popular, and it is believed that if they run the mining operations on Arrakis it would keep everyone in spice for a very long time.
But being that popular usually means your enemies are willing to do quite a bit to take you down.
The native people of Arrakis are a tribal people dedicated to living in harmony with the planet, which frequently makes outsiders see them as supernatural or even magical for being able to survive in the desert and coexist with the massive sandworms. Fremen are usually easy to spot, as they all have spent so much time with spice in the air, water and food they have developed deep blue eyes. The whole eye is blue, not just the retina, and they call this the Eyes of Ibad. You'll also see Fremen wielding a crysknife, a sacred weapon forged from the tooth of a giant sandworm.
When the Harkonnen occupied Arrakis, the abuse of the planet was so extreme some Fremen felt it necessary to take action. This caused a great deal of bloodshed and in some cases enslavement of the Fremen, all of which ended when House Atreides took control. But that doesn't mean all or even most Fremen trust the new occupants of their planet.
Arrakis is an extremely hot desert with almost no moisture in the air, and being outside in normal clothes for extended periods of time is almost always catastrophic. Everyone who lives on Arrakis, including the Fremen, wear stillsuits to survive in the harsh environment. This suit not only keeps your whole body safe from sandstorms and extreme heat, but it also collects all of the liquid your body produces and filters it to the point of being drinkable again.
Yes, all of the liquid your body produces. All of it.
There's an intergalactic guild of supernaturally enhanced women in this universe, called the Bene Gesserit. Among many other things, these women can alter the chemical composition of their own bodies to create poisons and manipulate others through a power of suggestion called The Voice. This collection of abilities is frequently referred to as The Weirding Way, and even includes a particularly lethal form of combat. The Bene Gesserit are frequently revered as holy women, cursed as spies or witches, and generally feared and respected everywhere.
It's extremely rare for a man to be taught the ways of the Bene Gesserit, much less be particularly good at using their abilities, because they're extremely careful with their breeding and picking who gets trained.
After a great war with thinking machines, the Great Houses decided to permanently ban the use of complex computers. Instead, great human computers called Mentats were created by the great houses. These humans are capable of immense calculations in milliseconds, as well as military strategy, though not all Mentats are created equal. The training usually starts at birth, and these human computers are exposed to something called the Juice of Sapho once they have shown advanced cognitive abilities, to further expand their mind.
One of the greatest living Mentats is Thufir Hawat, who serves House Atreides.
As protection from assassins, many wealthy members of the Galactic Court use a personal shield to keep themselves safe. This energy barrier is custom calibrated to the needs of the wearer, meaning it can be loose enough to allow someone to reach a hand through it or dense enough to restrict air molecules from passing through. These shields are close enough to the skin to protect the wearer from just about anything at range, though a slowly moving blade can penetrate a shield if wielded correctly. It is also known throughout the worlds that if a personal shield were ever hit by a lasgun the resulting explosion would be atomic in scale.