I just saw the Dune: Part 1 movie, and haven't read the books at all.

In the movie, there's an invasion on the Arrakis planet, that seemed to come from nowhere. In the movie they mentioned some details like that the "Hand of God" messed with their comms, or that Dr Yueh disabled the shields, but it doesn't seem plausible for a society that has space travel to not be able to detect a full blown invasion.

It doesn't make much sense for an entire planet to fall on a single night, when they were expecting some kind of trouble.

I feel like they didn't address that in the movie, is it explained in the books?

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    Oct 26, 2021 at 8:26
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7 Answers 7


They didn't notice the invasion because Arrakis has no satellites for reasons that will become clear outside the scope of this film (or in the book). They also had no comms due to Yueh's sabotage. Also, the Spacing Guild transports move faster-than-light (space-folding), so the enemy ships effectively appeared directly in orbit.

This is a detailed response to a secondary question that OP has raised a few times in the comments: "Why would the Duke accept the move to Arrakis if he knew it was so dangerous?"

Just wanted to address OPs skepticism around the Atreides family accepting the move to Arrakis. The politics of the Dune universe are huge and complicated and it's all pretty skimmed over in the film due to time constraints, so here's a quick (simplified) run down. I'll try to keep this spoiler free as far as the first half of the book (in line with the first film), but it's all a pretty expansive and tangled web so sorry if I touch on anything that isn't mentioned

Basically there's 3 major players:

The Spacing Guild

A completely neutral force that has an absolute monopoly on interstellar travel. They use massive quantities of spice to artificially evolve humans into superhuman computers called Navigators, who are the only people capable of plotting safe travel through the stars. The spice exposure also give Navigators a small amount of prescience (no magic, just extreme statistical analysis). They basically provide the service of interstellar travel to the Imperium and the Landsraad at an exorbitant fee. No one messes with them for fear of being denied interstellar travel and effectively cut off from the rest of the known universe.

Key points:

  • Technically neutral
  • People pay them for interstellar transport
  • Heavily reliant on spice to maintain their power
  • Some level of prescience
  • No one dares to mess with them

The Landsraad

All the Great Houses (including Atreides and Harkonnen). There are 30+ Great Houses and they all have their own alliances/enemies amongst themselves. Skirmishes between the houses over resources etc are common, but outright war isn't, due to the complexity of the politics, the massive cost of transporting armies through the Spacing Guild and the fact that the Imperium wouldn't allow it (if houses are busy having full scale war, they aren't busy paying taxes.). The Landsraad also act as a sort of "council" in that, together they are more powerful than the Imperium, so they are both ruled by and hold power over the Imperium. No one house or small group of houses would dare upset the Imperium. If the Emperor says jump, a House basically has to say "how high?".

In the past, houses have contracted with the Spacing Guild to take them somewhere secret, out of reach of the Imperium when they have felt like they had no other option but, of course, this means cutting yourself off from the rest of the universe. This is called "going renegade" and is about the worst possible option. It's considered a disgrace and is effectively admitting defeat.

Key points:

  • 30+ Houses. Lots of internal politics
  • Can't do interstellar travel without the Spacing Guild
  • Individually much weaker than the Imperium
  • Technically always have the option of "going renegade", but this is basically giving up everything you have in defeat and exile. Not exactly desirable.

The Imperium

Rules over the houses of the Landsraad and effectively takes taxes and tells them what to do. Y'know, emperor stuff. The Imperium benefits if all the great houses are more or less getting on with business and paying taxes, so has a vested interest in keeping them in line and not at each others' throats. Has a big scary army of very elite soldiers called Sardaukar that are occasionally used as a "peacekeeping" force and just generally as a threat to the Great Houses to not get above their station. Generally has the allegiance of the Great Houses (as much as any Emperor ever does), so an offence to the Imperium is also kind of an offence to the other Great Houses (even if only because they are scared to not take the Imperium's side.)

Although very powerful, the Emperor still needs to be be political. Can't afford to offend too many of the Great Houses at once for fear of a revolt. Can't afford to offend the Spacing guild for fear of being cut off.

Key points:

  • Very powerful.
  • Generally has the allegiance of the Great houses
  • Still subject to the movements of politics

Some important things to know about the Emperor/Imperium/Atreides

The Imperium and the Great Houses are not actually really separate entities. Basically, one of the House Leaders sits on the throne and that house is called The Imperium. If any of the other house leaders want to be the Emperor, really they just have to shove the current Emperor off the throne, sit down and not get shoved off themselves. Obviously, politically, this is a very difficult trick to pull off. Not only would your house have to survive a war against the Imperium, their Sardaukar and all their allies, but you'd also have to be strong enough at the end of that war to be able to defend it. Basically this isn't something that happens often.

The current Emperor (at time of the events in Dune) is the head of House Corrino. As it happens, Duke Leto Atreides was the Emperor's cousin, so he was technically of noble birth. He was also very popular within the Landsraad and widely recognised as a strong and fair leader. He functioned as the de-facto spokesperson for the Landsraad and is growing in power and influence over the Landsraad.

So why the House Atreides agree to go to Arrakis?

The Emperor mandated that House Harkonnen had controlled Arrakis for long enough and it was now someone else's turn. He chose House Atreides. Obviously, from the Duke's point of view, this was an extremely dangerous political position to be in. Atreides and Harkonnen were old enemies and he knew they wouldn't take kindly to the change of hands of the most valuable resource in the universe. He fully expected hostile actions from House Harkonnen but, as far as he was concerned, House Harkonnen were also being told what to do by the Emperor and wouldn't dare commit a full assault against the Emperor's command. So being given the fief of Arrakis by the Emperor was a massive opportunity for House Atreides to become incredibly rich and the only risk was a few skirmishes with the Harkonnens that he was confident he could deal with.

So the Duke has 3 options:

  1. Do what the Emperor says, take control of the most important planet in the known universe, become incredibly rich and deal with a little more aggression from a house you've already been warring with for ages.
  2. Deny the Emperor (because reasons?) and face his (and all his allies, including the Harkonnen's) wrath and definitely be completely destroyed.
  3. Give up everything you have to pay the space guild to move what's left of your house the the end of nowhere to live in squalor forever.

Which would you choose?

Ok, so if it was such a good deal, why did it go so wrong?

Right so this is where a lot of intrigue comes in that was necessarily cut from the films. As mentioned before, Duke Leto was both of noble birth and very popular with the Landsraad, so not only could he potentially be a danger to overthrow the Emperor with the support of much of the Landsraad, he could even do it with a legitimate claim to the bloodline. The Emperor is paranoid that his house is weakening, that Atreides will eventually make a move for the throne. He wants Atreides out of the picture, but needs to find a way to do it without upsetting the Landsraad.

The Harkonnens have been at war with the Atreides for a long time. The reasons are a little beyond the scope of this (already very long) post. Basically the Harkonnens would jump at the chance to wipe the Atreides off the map for good.

They conspire together to hand Arrakis over to House Atreides (which in itself isn't particularly unusual), then the Emperor bolsters the Harkonnen forces with Sardaukar and basically turns a blind eye to what happens next. Now that the Harkonnens have an enormous army and the green light from the Emperor, they throw an unheard of amount of money at the Guild to transport the force and destroy House Atreides. Even the Guild are happy to play their part. Because they have some level of prescience they have foreseen the threat that Paul Atreides having control over Arrakis could present to them (not to give anything away...) They want him out of the picture, so they are happy to turn a blind eye to the happenings on Arrakis.

The Harkonnens are happy because House Atreides is gone and they get Arrakis back. The Emperor is happy because House Atreides is gone and he can write it off as a transition scuffle that got out of hand on a remote planet with no witnesses. The Guild are happy because Paul will be killed as part of the assault. Everyone is happy. Except House Atreides...

Duke Leto Atreides had no way of knowing that the Imperium and the Harkonnens were conspiring. As far as he was concerned, the Imperium would afford him some political protection during the transition, if anything.

Edit: I actually vaguely remember Duke Leto mentioning that he thinks it's possible the Emperor is conspiring with the Harkonnens and that the move to Arrakis could be part of an assassination plot, but he trusts Hawat to be able to handle it. He never considers anything so blatant as a full on assault with Sardaukar.

There's also a bunch more about how the Bene Gesserit and the Spacing Guild play into all of this, but, yeah... Basically this seemed like a pretty normal exchange of fiefdom that happens every so often as standard practice. Duke Leto had no reason to think anything out of the ordinary was happening and was possibly slightly blinded to any conceivable risks by the massive opportunity Arrakis presented. He had no reason to say no, but even if he had, saying no would mean certain destruction anyway.

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    While this is all very interesting, I'm struggling to see how this answer the question as originally posed: "Why didn't they notice the invasion?". Now I haven't seen the film and may be missing some of the relevance of this context. But as it stands, to me, it's not quite answering the question. As a Q&A site, related discussion doesn't really fit well within the scope unless it can be appropriately framed to the question.
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 26, 2021 at 11:31
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    @Edlothiad This answer is actually in response to several of OPs comments on other answers. I tried to point that out with "Just wanted to address OPs scepticism around the Atreides family accepting the move to Arrakis.", but I guess, if you hadn't seen those comments, that wouldn't make much sense. I'll edit to clarify. I added this as an answer rather than a comment response because I don't have enough rep on this exchange to comment on other's answers. Oct 26, 2021 at 11:48
  • @Glorfindel I got your typo edits, but StackExchange auto-rejected them :( I'll go make those edits myself. Thank you! Oct 26, 2021 at 12:01
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    I'm more than aware that it was in response to OPs comments on other answers, but unfortunately the answers section should be reserved for answers about the question in the title post and not for answering questions in the comments. Your write up, however, is incredibly insightful and useful and has a lot of value. Regardless the guidelines must be upheld. For you answer to be relevant to this Q&A it must either reflect on how this information relates to the question in the OP, or be removed and reposted on another question which directly asks about the politics
    – Edlothiad
    Oct 26, 2021 at 12:01
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    Ok so you agree that OP has asked for information and that my post provides that information, but it should be deleted anyway? Let's say I copy this as an answer on another question elsewhere. How do I then let OP know that I've answered his question elsewhere? I don't have enough rep to comment! This is clearly valuable context to the discussion going on in this page and directly answers questions from OP. Deleting this answer just removes information from the universe and benefits no one. Oct 26, 2021 at 12:11

There's a few false assumptions there. First are foremost: the Atreides are not capable of space travel, they just have access to it via the Spacing Guild and their heighliners (those mind bogglingly giant tube shaped ships that appear in orbit.) In the book it's explained that the reason why Arrakis has no satellites is because the Spacing Guild (who have a total, universe wide monopoly on space travel) won't allow them. The reason for that prohibition is complicated, but broadly it is due to the Fremen secretly bribing the guild with extra spice under the table, to hide what they're doing in the deep desert from prying eyes.

The movie doesn't really explain much about the Guild at all, but an important aspect from the books is their strict neutrality. There's a line in the book during the crossing from Caladan to Arrakis that says something to the effect that the Atreides ships could be parked right next to Harkonnen ships in the hold of the heighliner, but neither side would dare even attempt a hostile act. The penalty being the entire house being banned from space travel; cut off from the rest of the universe.

That neutrality goes both ways of course. If one house wants to invade another house's territory, so long as they pay for passage the Guild will transport their forces. No questions asked. Now there are still rules of engagement that houses must abide by when doing this kind of thing (mostly the Great Convention that prohibits the use of atomics against people, and the Forms of Kanly that govern the execution of a war of assassins,) all of that however is between the houses of the Landsraad and the Imperium. The Guild doesn't get involved.

So yes, it's entirely possible to be taken by surprise like this because the Harkonnens showed up in such overwhelming numbers, attacking everywhere all at once at the exact moment the shields and communications went down in Arakeen. They just had to pay the Guild enough, and they'd make it happen.

As Leto says in the movie, the Atreides thought they'd have more time before any attack. They never dreamt that the Baron would commit such a force, at such an exorbitant expense. Plus on top of all that: Sardaukar! They were out gunned, out numbered, taken unawares, betrayed from without and within, had barely a few weeks to secure their foothold, all of it while under pressure from sabotage, assassination attempts, AND the demands of fulfilling the Imperial tithe.

In short; the Atreides were set up to fail.

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    I may be misremembering or misinterpreting the books, but don't they have space travel (reference to family frigates), but interstellar travel was restricted to the guild?
    – Michael
    Oct 23, 2021 at 13:27
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    Another thing to note is that the inhabitable part of Arrakis (excluding any Fremen in the deep desert) is a very small part of its landmass. Most villages occupy a small fraction of the area 60+ degrees North. So its more like invading Canada than the whole planet.
    – richardb
    Oct 23, 2021 at 13:40
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    @Marco They kind of didnt have a choice. When the Emporer asks your house to steward Arrakis then it is both a blessing and a curse. You stand to be enriched, but you also dont really have a choice. I think they knew an attack was coming but not so soon and not at that scale. Oct 23, 2021 at 21:33
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    @Marco The only legal alternative, briefly mentioned in the book, was to go 'Renegade'. Essentially giving up almost everything they had, for the Guild to take them somewhere only they knew. If Leto had known the actual scale of the attack, he might have done that. But he believed they had a chance and being on Arrakis would eventually make them much stronger. Oct 23, 2021 at 23:00
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    @Marco Like I said, they had mere weeks to secure a planet previously held by their mortal enemies, who doubtlessly removed, sabotaged, or destroyed any defensive equipment of use on their way out. The Atredies had to start from scratch on one of the most inhospitable planets in the universe, all while making sure spice production went uninterrupted. But even so, no defence could stand up to the sheer numbers that were brought to bear. In the book they were even higher; something like five legions at Arrakeen alone, two of which were Sardaukar.
    – Kris
    Oct 24, 2021 at 9:00

I'll copy here a few choice quotes from the book.

There were very few cities on Arrakis:

Two legions landed at Carthag. Five legions--fifty brigades! --attacking the Duke's main base at Arrakeen. A legion at Arsunt. Two battle groups at Splintered Rock.

The Harkonnens had ruled Dune for a long time, and they had left spies everywhere. The invading forces knew exactly the strength of each city:

And it became clear that the invaders knew precisely which weight of arms to send where. Precisely! Superb Intelligence.

House Atreides underestimated how much the Baron was willing to spend to achieve total victory:

More than a hundred brigades--ten legions! The entire spice income of Arrakis for fifty years might just cover the cost of such a venture.

(two of these legions were Sardaukar, while the defenders expected a few brigades at most. A legion is 10 brigades, or about 30 thousand men.)

Some tactical "innovations" were unexpected:

The artillery, Hawat thought bitterly. Who could have guessed they'd use artillery in this day of shields?

It has already been mentioned that the Fremen bribed the Guild to keep the skies of Dune free of satellites, that could have provided an early warning of the invasion.

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    I would argue the most important part here is the sheer scale -- and that cost quote is wonderful. The Baron is known to be greedy, nobody expected that his hatred would overcome his greed to such an extent. He was on Arrakis for 80 years, and spent 50 years of income. That's a huge dent. And indeed we then see him asking his governor to squeeze the planet dry to try and recoup part of it. Oct 24, 2021 at 11:11
  • +1. I also like how despite the fact that this was a ridiculous amount of overkill that no one reasonable would have anticipated - and that he wouldn't have been able to do much about it even if he had - his final bitter thought is still "My Duke... I've failed you.". Because the buck still stops with him even if there wasn't anything he could have done. Oct 25, 2021 at 13:44
  • This answer would be improved by explaining how a legion, a brigade, and a battle group differ in size. It seems like a legion is bigger than a brigade, but how many soldiers is that?
    – TylerH
    Oct 25, 2021 at 14:24
  • @TylerH edited. The size of a legion and a brigade is defined in the Appendix. No idea of how large a "battle group" is, but context suggests that it's smaller than a brigade.
    – Vorbis
    Oct 25, 2021 at 15:46
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    @Vorbis The appendix of what? This question is about the movie, which does not have an appendix.
    – TylerH
    Oct 25, 2021 at 15:50

This was actually mentioned in the movie. Apparently, there were no satellites on Arrakis, presumably because the Atreides were still in the process of settling in. According to the transcript of the movie:

There’s no satellites over Arrakis. The Atreides would die in the dark.

Apparently the plan, was long in the making

Harkonnen sabotage slows us down.

and they wanted to invade Arrakis as soon as possible to catch Atreides unprepared.

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    The context of that phrase is related to external satellites, in the sense that it would not be publicly known that the Sardukar helped on the invasion. However, that doesn't mean that the Atreides had no way of detecting that they were going to be invaded. It seems... weird that they can fly all their ships to a planet and then not be able to defend it from invasors because they were settling in. What if there was an invasion from an outside force? (not a betrayal)
    – Marco
    Oct 23, 2021 at 9:11
  • Sorry, but the quote is quite clear. Arrakis had no satellite network guarding the planet and the Harkonnen knew (and exploited) that.
    – Hans Olo
    Oct 23, 2021 at 9:13
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    It absolutely is a plot point that there are no satellites. Jessica tells Paul it's because they aren't one of the "rich" houses, but there is another reason I will not spoil.
    – swbarnes2
    Oct 23, 2021 at 16:49
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    Because being appointed the governer/ruler/whatever of Arrakis was a great honor. It's mentioned, IIRC, in the book that, even knowing that it is a trap, it would be even more dangerous to turn down the appointment and remain on Caladan.
    – chepner
    Oct 23, 2021 at 19:29
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    @swbarnes2; But, boy, I wish I could spoil it! But you're right. There is a definite, defined, and very specific reason why there are no satellites, one which makes total sense in the context of the story. (For the curious, they made a book about it; "Dune"). None of these other answers are necessary IMHO.
    – JohnHunt
    Oct 24, 2021 at 19:53

The OP has expressed significant scepticism in comments that the Atreides would accept going to a planet where they had no way of spotting an invasion on the way before it happened.

One thing it's worth being clear about: every planet is in that situation.

No one in the Imperium has any form of long-distance space travel except the Spacing Guild. If you want to go to another planet you pay for passage on a Guild Heighliner. The houses do own spacecraft, but they are only capable of in-system travel; these craft travel between systems inside Heighliners.

This means that commercial travel arriving at a planet looks like a Heighliner popping out of fold space, then various craft emerging from it and heading towards the planet. And an invasion looks like a Heighliner popping out of fold space, then various craft emerging from it and heading towards the planet.

This means the absolute greatest amount of notice you can have of an invasion by an out-of-system force is the amount of time it takes their troop carriers to approach from near the Heighliner and then land. Less if the troop carriers aren't able to be immediately told apart from regular arrivals. I don't know how long much time this process actually takes, but you should be thinking of it as more analogous to real spacecraft descending from Earth orbit than to spacecraft approaching Earth from Mars or other planets.

What might stop an invasion anywhere else is defensive military infrastructure, not the ability to spot an invasion force weeks before it arrives. I don't know whether troop carriers would be too well shielded to possibly shoot down before they land, but it would need infrastructure: ground to space missile bases, an aerospace force, etc. If it's not possible, then you need fortresses, logistics on the ground.

House Harkonnen had plenty of warning about leaving Arrakis (since they were consipiring with the Emperor), and knew that they planned to come back and invade soon; they would certainly not have left much of this infrastructure on Arrakis intact for House Atreides to make use of. House Atreides needed time to get all this set up again, but would have assumed that eventually they could defend themselves nearly as well on Arrakis as they had on Caladan (perhaps better, with the wealth they could extract from the spice harvest).

I believe it's also mentioned in the books that the Guild monopoly on space travel actually makes all out war and interplanetary invasions fairly rare, since the guild charges enormous amounts to move troops and military equipment. House Atreides was much more concerned about saboteurs and assassins than an invasion by a large enough army to overwhelm the defenders.

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    Heck, Hawat's internal monologue even addresses the fact that no one had expected the Baron to spend the flat out ridiculous amounts of money for the gigantic overkill -- over ten times as much as even his worst-case estimate had envisioned. If your enemy shows up earlier than you could have imagined with ten times as much firepower as anyone reasonably expected him to bring, you're going to have a bad time. Oct 25, 2021 at 13:41

As the other posts say, the book tries to explain why the Atreides didn't notice the invasion. Does it make sense? Not really. Here's why:

  1. There are no communications or satellites on Arrakis

Assume that's something that sometimes happens in this universe. The Atreides would know that and prepare massive defenses. Unless there's no war in Dune, in which case:

  1. The Austrian didn't anticipate an invasion

In what universe is there not often war between rival groups? Duke Leto also rebuffs any meeting with the Harkonnen before the invasion and they constantly discuss preparing to personally fight and kill harkonnen in the first few chapters. So are we to believe Leto knows there's a trap from the harkonnen and everyone in his house is getting ready to fight the harkonnen but he has no idea they'll invade?

  1. They were ready but a doctor sabotaged their defenses

No. Even a really good doctor can't disable a super skilled military defense. Real defenses have tons of redundancy and authorization checks. They are decentralized and constantly monitored. There is no reasonable explanation for how a powerful military would lose a big battle except if it hadn't fought in a while and even then it would take weeks to defeat. There's also no such thing as a force as powerful as the Sardaukar. And as you saw Duncan Idaho killed a bunch of them. Unless....

  1. The Atreides did anticipate a war but couldn't refuse the emperor

What theory or historical event is this based on? When have pieces of an empire been forced to take over a fiefdom? And why would the Atreides have been seeking power if the emperor destroys any house that gets too powerful? Real life isn't the game Risk. You wouldn't risk that without a stronger alliance from other houses.

The only explanation that makes sense is this is completely unprecedented in this universe and that the Atreides training specially for combat with the Harkonnen was supposed to be for occasional skirmishes in which case that should be a major aspect of the book. Instead the book treats it as tragic but definitely not wildly shocking. If this is the first war in centuries that's amazing.

  • Welcome to SciFi. I'm struggling to see how this answers the question "Why didn't they notice the invasion in Dune?" - instead it seems like you're addressing other answers in your answer
    – fez
    Nov 5, 2021 at 6:40
  • Hi! Welcome to SciFi! Just a heads up, your answer will probably be deleted pretty quickly as it doesn't answer the original question, but I just wonted to point you towards my earlier answer on this thread, which I think addresses some of your concerns. In summary: 1. Yup, there are no satellites, but that's not really relevant as satellites couldn't see an invasion force coming anyway. 2. They did anticipate resistance, but not a full scale invasion as this would appear to be directly opposed to the Emperors will. 3. See my next response (character limit) 4. See my accepted answer. Nov 8, 2021 at 13:33
  • Point 3: One thing you have to understand is that technology is weird in Dune. Basically, computers are banned (following something called the Butlerian Jihad long before the events of Dune). This is why the Spacing Guild and Mentats exist. So anything that you imagine as being computer controlled, just doesn't apply. They are basically working with pretty simple radio comms in most cases. As to your point about how they were so overpowered so quickly, other answers (including mine, somewhat) on this question have answered that in depth. The film also makes it look quicker than the book. Nov 8, 2021 at 13:42
  • It took some time for the Harkonnen to use the artillery to trap the Atreides in the cave, but if that's the entire Atreides army and the Atreides are still the most powerful they wouldn't need to go into caves. Ask yourself two questions: 1) Could a universe like Dune exist? No, the doctor taking down the entire defenses is impossible as are many other things, 2) Assuming everything else is true, how smart is Duke Leto? He moved his entire family and army to another planet and got eliminated in an unlikely but plausible way and no other Houses found out to retaliate.
    – user7340
    Nov 10, 2021 at 23:26

Others have mentioned the reasoning from the novel (that the Guild can be bought, no satellites etc), but one reason for the movie is how Heighliners act in the movie.

In the novels, Heighliners are vessels which fold space around themselves. A ship boards a Heighliner and the Heighliner travels by folding space.

In the movie, it appears that the Heighliners themselves act as portals from one to another - you enter the Heighliner at one planet, and exit at another, through a different Heighliner.

In the movie, we see the invading ships seemingly pouring out of the Heighliner (also, it appears that the Heighliner at Arrakis has been moved quite low, potentially at the edge of the atmosphere). The invading force literally just has to enter the Heighliner (at Giedi Prime/Salusa Secundus, wherever) and find themselves above Arrakeen.

There was no notice of the invading force because the invading force wasn't there - until it was right on top of the Atreides.

  • "it appears that the Heighliners themselves act as portals from one to another" - or the director decided to not show the multi-hour journey through the emptiness of space because that wouldn't have made a very good movie?
    – fez
    Jan 28, 2022 at 6:19
  • @fez I think foldspace is more or less instantaneous. Plus, in the movie, on some of the occasions we see the Heighliners we can see "through" the Heighliner to a different starscape.
    – user25730
    Jan 30, 2022 at 21:36

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