Denis Villeneuve’s Dune sequel is on the horizon, and with it comes one notable character left out of Part One: Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. Fans of David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation will remember Sting in this memorable, villainous role. Who could forget that spiky orange hair, tire-like underwear, and energetic flamboyance

In Villeneuve’s version, it’s Austin Butler’s turn to go bad—very bad. The recent Oscar-lnominee looks to provide a whole different spin on the character. Gone is the camp and color. This Feyd-Rautha is all black-and-white venom. And, like his fellow cinematic Harkonnens, his clean head and harsh features make for a menacing sight. If nothing else, Villeneuve knows how to cut a striking figure.  

Dune Part Two character poster of feyd-rautha harkonnen
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If you’re familiar with Frank Herbert’s novel, then you already know Feyd-Rautha is one of the most deplorably evil characters in the Dune universe. Which is saying a lot, given his exceedingly evil family, some of whom we met in Part One

But if you haven’t read the book or watched Lynch’s movie, you might be wondering: who is Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen and how does he fit into the story of Paul Atreides? Here’s everything you need to know about the character ahead of Dune: Part Two

Feyd-Rautha’s Origins in the Dune Universe, Explained

Feyd-Rautha was born with the surname Rabban but is in fact part of the Harkonnen family. He’s the son of Abulurd Rabban, brother of Glossu Rabban (Dave Bautista), and nephew and heir of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), the primary antagonist of Dune: Part One. The Baron saw great potential in Feyd from a young age, preferring him to his older brother—which resulted in an understandably complicated family dynamic. He brought the boy from his home on Lankiveil to Giedi Prime, intending to groom him as the worthy successor of the Harkonnen dynasty. 

But his worthiness isn’t by accident. Like Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), Feyd is the product of the breeding program established by the Bene Gesserit, the mystical sisterhood that secretly controls much of the Dune universe. The Bene Gesserit intended for Feyd to marry the daughter of Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and produce an heir: the Kwisatz Haderach. The Kwisatz Haderach was meant to be a male Bene Gesserit with the memory of all of his male and female ancestors, and with the power to bridge space and time. The union of Harkonnen and Atreidies would also resolve the long and bitter conflict between the two houses. 

Feyd-Rautha Is a Disturbance of Fate

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This plan was thrown into disarray when Lady Jessica betrayed Bene Gesserit orders and birthed a son, Paul, instead of a daughter. (Jessica, a Bene Gesserit herself, has the power to control the sex of her children.) Because of this choice, Feyd-Rautha and Paul instead become fated rivals, locked in a duel of politics and prophecy. 

While the two share many attributes—thanks to their noble upbringings, education, and combat training—they are by nature quite opposite. Where Paul is kind, loyal, and empathetic, Feyd is ruthlessly cruel, brutal, and self-serving. He’s even willing to kill his own family if it means rising to the top. In many ways, Feyd-Rautha is like Paul’s dark-sided doppelgänger. Two halves of a Bene Gesserit breeding-program made whole.  

We see evidence of how Dune: Part Two will portray this side of Feyd in the trailers. Butler—strikingly hairless and brooding, rendered in monochrome—emits a feral scream as he fights in a massive gladiatorial arena. He looks as chilling as his reputation, a porcelain snake ready to strike his prey. And Feyd-Rautha is indeed a worthy enemy to the boyish and gentle Paul. 

How Feyd-Rautha Fits Into Dune: Part Two

Though Feyd was absent from Dune: Part One, he’ll play a large role in the sequel. His Bene Gesserit genes mean that he’s of great importance to the order—and therefore the plot. We know that Léa Seydoux will play Margot Fenring in Part Two. She’s a Bene Gesserit envoy with a key role in Feyd-Rautha’s story. Margot was sent by the sisterhood to help preserve Feyd’s genetic material through seduction. And she also uses the Voice to encode in him a fail-safe word that can, upon hearing, cause paralysis. We see their interactions in the trailer for Dune: Part Two, so this storyline will likely play out just like it does in the book. 

But Margot is one small part of Feyd-Rautha’s story. In Herbert’s novel, Feyd also rivals Paul for a place in the Imperium. Originally, the Baron wanted to create a marital alliance between Feyd and Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh), eldest daughter of Emperor Shaddam IV (Christopher Walken), to set the table for political interference. He planned to seat Feyd-Rautha on Arrakis, overtaking his brother Glossu (who invades the planet and takes control in Part One, under the Baron’s guidance), and elevating Feyd’s savior status.

Warner Bros./Legendary

This, the Baron believed, would allow the Harkonnens not only access to the throne and the ability to influence it, but would secure the house’s overall dominance in the Known Universe. Of course, this is an epic science-fiction story with many moving pieces. Therefore, not all goes according to plan. The Emperor grows suspicious, alliances are tested, and Feyd hatches his own plan for Harkonnen dominance. 

A Dance with Destiny Between Paul and Feyd

Paul, on an empirical infiltration mission of his own (along with a host of other important, messiah-esque things), eventually comes to a head with his rival Feyd. We see glimpses of this moment in the trailers, too. Feyd pointing his blade at Paul’s chest. Paul in opposition, crysknife in hand. Eyes locked, bodies mounting—the two of them entwined in a twisted dance of fate. 

We won’t spoil how things end up for Paul and Feyd-Rautha. But we can’t wait to see how Butler handles it. The promising young actor, fresh out of the Elvis suit that made him famous, has a lot to live up to. Feyd-Rautha is a frightening, sadistic character with a bloodlust that rivals his Baron uncle. How can he stack up to Stellan Skarsgård’s massiveness, in terms of intimidation? And how will he play against the more delicate Chalamet? Can he beat out Sting as the Feyd-Rautha we remember forever? 

We’ll all find out together when Dune: Part Two arrives in theaters on March 1, 2024.

Editor’s Note: Nerdist is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.