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How Dune 2 Repeats The First Movie’s Character Change

Dune 2 casts Souheila Yacoub (No Man’s Land) in the role of the Fremen sandrider Shishakli, who was originally a male in Frank Herbert’s novel.


Warning: This contains SPOILERS for Frank Herbert’s Dune series.Souheila Yacoub’s Dune: Part Two role as Shishakli is a gender-swapped version of the character from the book, similar to Sharon Duncan-Brewster’s Liet Kynes in Dune: Part One. As Denis Villeneuve’s Dune franchise reboot enters the second half of Frank Herbert’s formative sci-fi novel, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) and Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) retreat into the deep deserts of Arrakis to live among the Fremen in Sietch Tabr. With the confirmation that Souheila Yacoub will play the Fremen Fedaykin and sandrider Shishakli in the cast of Dune 2, audiences can expect to see Paul learn how to ride the great Shai-Hulud using maker hooks.

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Though Shishakli appears very briefly in the book, it was he who first taught Paul Atreides how to use maker hooks to ride the great maker – one of the Fremen’s many names for Arrakis’ great sandworm. Fremen males typically become sandriders at 12 years old, a rite of passage for those who have come of age. After a thumper is used to draw the presence of a sandworm, hookmen ready themselves to catch it. Once aboard, the worm-steersman stands atop the maker and uses the hooks to open and close the sandworm’s segmented body, causing it to roll to avoid sand from getting between its segments – effectively steering the worm as it moves forward. Apart from being one of the more visually stunning Fremen traditions in Dune, learning to ride one of the sandworms of Arrakis is crucial to surviving in the deep desert, as the Fremen use them to traverse the vast distances between sietches. While Frank Herbert’s Dune doesn’t explicitly say that only men can ride sandworms, it’s implied that this is the case. Not only is sandriding terminology male-dominant, Fremen culture revolves around crucial gender-based roles, such as how only females can become a Sayyadina and ascend towards becoming the Reverend Mother of an entire sietch.

Related: How Dune Already Smartly Changed Feyd-Rautha’s Book Role

Dune 2 will be erasing some of these cultural boundaries through gender-swapping the Fedaykin sandrider Shishakli – echoing how Villeneuve turned de facto Fremen leader Liet Kynes into a woman in the first movie. Using gender-swapped characters is a creative choice that not only distinguishes Villeneuve’s Dune from past movie adaptations, it also serves to make the backstory of Dune‘s Fremen even better. Shishakli being a woman essentially means that any young 12-year-old Fremen can aspire towards becoming a sandrider – regardless of gender.


Dune 2’s Shishakli Change Makes The Fremen Better

Souheila Yacoub’s female Shishakli, from a feminist standpoint, completely changes the Fremen into a more progressive culture. Turning sandriding into a gender-neutral tradition is actually more consistent with how the Fremen are initially portrayed as an infallible indigenous people who have nothing but good intentions. With the Fremen better reflecting a millenia-old culture that dates back to the Zensunni Wanderers who first settled the planet, Dune 3‘s biggest plot twist will be much more jarringly effective – should Denis Villeneuve’s Dune trilogy come to fruition. Dune 3 will be based on Frank Herbert’s Dune: Messiah, the second book in the series. In Dune: Messiah, Paul’s visions of the Fremen going on a galactic jihad and slaughtering millions in his holy name become reality, as Paul struggles to bear the weight of being the Padishah Emperor of the Known Universe, turning Arrakis into the center of the Imperium, and the prophetic insights of omniscience.

In the Dune novel, the reason why the Fremen have such an advanced culture and a deep connection to the land is to better illustrate the follies of messiah worship. After the first novel ends with Paul becoming Emperor and the Fremen taking control of Arrakeen, the planet’s seat of power, Dune: Messiah sees the progressive Fremen turning into religious zealots. Though Paul Atreides’ visions came true and finally allowed the Fremen to terraform the planet into a lush paradise, the messianic nature of Paul’s rise as a proto-religious political figure came at the cost of meaningless galactic genocide. In Dune: Part Two, Souheila Yacoub’s female Shishakli may seem like a small change to the source material, but it actually distinguishes and deeply improves Villeneuve’s modern take on the Fremen of Arrakis.

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