Why Dune: Part Two cut Paul and Chani's son Leto II

Dune co-writer Jonathan Spaihts explains why Paul and Chani's son was left on the cutting room floor.
(L-r) TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET as Paul Atreides and ZENDAYA as Chani in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “DUNE: PART TWO,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
(L-r) TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET as Paul Atreides and ZENDAYA as Chani in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “DUNE: PART TWO,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Niko Tavernise © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

Dune: Part Two has been out for a few weeks now, which means we've all had a chance to see it at least 15 times and know all its ins and outs by heart. Or at the very least, have seen it once — enough to discuss the reasoning behind some of the film's biggest changes from Frank Herbert's seminal 1965 science fiction novel.

In general, Dune: Part Two captures the spirit and scope of Dune in a way that no other previous adaptation quite managed. At long last, we have an adaptation for this important piece of genre fiction that's on the level of something like Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But that's not to say that Dune: Part Two was slavishly faithful to the original text; it actually made quite a few changes from the book, for better or worse.

One of those changes which particularly surprised me was that the film cut Leto II, the infant child of Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and Chani (Zendaya) who is unceremoniously killed off in Herbert's original Dune novel once the fighting between the Harkonnens and Fremen picks up near the end of the story. In the movie, Paul and Chani never have a child at all. Why the change?

(L-r) ZENDAYA as Chani and TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET as Paul Atreides. in Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures’ action adventure “DUNE: PART TWO,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures © 2023 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

Dune co-writer Jonathan Spaihts shed some light on why director Denis Villeneuve's movie cut out Leto II during a recent interview with Inverse. It all came down to keeping the story razor-focused on the conflict between Paul and his Harkonnen nemeses. And Leto II — who Spaihts points out never even appears in the novel and dies off-page — was a distraction.

"[Paul] has grief about it, but has little time for that grief because in the middle of conducting a war," Spaihts explained. "So the arrival and departure of that off-stage baby barely ruffles the waters of the novel itself, and really would’ve been a peculiar distraction in the film."

While it's true that Leto II has a pretty small role in Dune, I do have some conflicted feelings about this change due to how it changes the nature of Paul and Chani's relationship. Going through having a child and then losing it is an important moment for them which ripples into the next book, Dune Messiah. It'll be interesting to see how the third movie reconciles that change, whenever it gets made.

Why Dune: Part Two cut the time jump and changed Alia

Leto II is one of several changes in Dune: Part Two which came about partially as a result of condensing the novel's timeline. In the book, two years pass while Paul and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) live with the Fremen. In the movie, less than nine months pass, which we know because Lady Jessica is still pregnant with Alia by the end.

Originally, Spaihts and director/co-writer Denis Villeneuve considered placing the two-year time jump at the end of Dune: Part One, but felt that would be too "unwieldy" to tack on to the end of an already overstuffed movie.

“We knew it was coming, and [it was] one of the things we had to sort out when writing Dune: Part One,” Spaihts explained. “And one possibility was that the time jump would be the break, and the first film would carry Paul and Jessica all the way up to becoming members in the tribe and Jessica becoming a Reverend Mother, and then we would leap forward years.”

Similarly, it was decided that beginning Part Two by skipping ahead a few years might also be too confusing. Plus, it would allow the conflict with the Harkonnens to fade into the background while the screenwriters for Dune: Part Two wanted to keep it firmly front and center.

“To allow such a long time lapse inevitably would sort of cool the passions of Part One,” Spaihts said. “If Duke Leto’s death were years and years ago, then it would lessen the lingering trauma that all the characters were feeling. We wanted the heat of their passion to be fresh and their wounds to be fresh.”

Anya Taylor-Joy
"Dune: Part Two" World Premiere - Arrivals / Samir Hussein/GettyImages

As a result of this change to the timeline, it became necessary to change the role of Paul's younger sister Alia (Anya Taylor-Joy). In the book, Lady Jessica gives birth to Alia after drinking the Water of Life to become a Reverend Mother. Alia is born as a fully developed adult in the body of a child; she talks like an adult and thinks like one, but still appears like a toddler for the rest of the book, which is pretty creepy. This is something the Dune movie creators were already nervous about getting right, so eliminating the time jump ended up being a blessing in disguise, since it meant that Alia wouldn't be born yet by the end of the movie.

“We were a little leery of that talking toddler, as a distraction in the middle of the film,” Spaihts said. “That’s a difficult thing to execute on film.”

This also allowed for an expanded role for Lady Jessica, who might take the cake as the creepiest character of Dune: Part Two; she spends the majority of the movie talking to Alia's fetus while the unborn baby telepathically gives her two cents about the various problems facing Paul and the Fremen.

“It left Jessica talking to a kind of phantom inside her and walking through the Fremen world in an apparent madness, talking to someone who wasn’t there. And we loved the drama of that," Spaihts said, adding that Denis Villeneuve was especially excited to dig into the weirdness of it all. “Denis was engaged by the visual challenge of representing this little premature adult in utero wrapped in pearly pink light and floating in a fluid.”

Changing Alia is even more of a daring decision than cutting out Leto II. Without getting into spoilers, Alia eventually becomes just as major of a player in the Dune franchise as Paul himself. This has me even more curious to see how the character is portrayed in Dune: Part Three, when Anya Taylor-Joy will presumably be able to portray her more fully.

Dune: Part Two is still out in theaters. Go see it again while it's still there, for the love of Shai-Hulud!

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