Duke Leto’s Plan: Theorycraft

It’s clear to the Atreides that the change in fief is likely a trap.

So what is Duke Leto’s plan? If the Atreides are a popular House and a potential threat to the Emperor in the Landsraad, how does he hope to offset the combined power of the Emperor and Corrino-allied forces?

Bringing the Fremen on as Allies is certainly a great tactic, since they show themselves to be more than equal to the Imperial Saudakar. However, one would think that would not be nearly enough to counterbalance the weight the Emperor could throw at the Atreides.

Does he hope to increase Landsraad returns on spice mining so that everyone is happy and forestall any intervention?

Unfortunately, I’m mixing book and movie (and the movie is more clear in my mind atm) but I want to say that the Atreides potentially underestimated the risk to them by the Emperor and failed to properly bring on allies, ie. other Houses, and/or did not have a broad enough spy network to warn them of the broader threat.

That said, whichever way you slice it, Shaddam IV was seemingly courting civil war in any case by giving the Atreides Arrakis.

1 Like

I would go the other way and say it isn’t made totally clear in the movie, apart from a brief discussion in the ecological research facility.
The book is pretty explicit that the Saudakar were disguised as Harkonnen and no-one knew they were there.
Against the combined forces and the traitor the Atreides stand no chance, but Leto was expecting to only face the Harkonnen troops and unless there was a decisive blow he could probably fend them off.
At least long enough to get the Landsraad drawn in and force a ceasefire to ensure the spice production.

I got the idea that he was expecting sabotage and low level warfare to damage spice production. Which as the governor he would ultimately get the blame for, reducing his clout in the Landsraad and damaging him politically. Thus reducing his threat to the Emperor.
In that way he definitely underestimated how much the Emperor was willing to risk to take him out.

Duke Leto was playing Chess.
The Harkonnen were playing mug the b**■■■■ with the help of the police.

1 Like

All great points and I agree with you that it seems Leto was expecting low level warfare, with the hit to his reputation being the main risk.

It seems to almost doubly reinforce the idea that Shaddam was taking a huge risk by deploying Saudakar since complete victory simply could not be ensured on the scale of a planet (I don’t know, maybe, depends on population centers? I can only come up with Arakeen and Carthag off the top of my head). Guess it would also depend on how recognizable Saudakar are but, again, one would assume the Emperor had given thought to how to disguise them (Although, weren’t they recognizable to the Atreides? Will have to check).

My next point is moot, because the plot is the plot but, can I just express how bad of an idea it is to allow the Harkonnen to attack Arrakis? Sole source of spice in the universe and you’re going to let a couple of Houses duke it out over control? Naw, man. Not in my Empire.

I agree it is a massive risk. The Harkonnens at least had been planning this for a while and had stockpiled massive amounts of spice to pay for it (and possibly to make up for any harvesting shortfall in the short term).

Also I wonder if dynastic issues may have come up.
Shaddam only had daughters. It isn’t fully clear but in the novel it appears that succession follows a male primogeniture system.
With no male heir and the Atreides being very popular there was the risk of the Emperor being forced to betroth a daughter to Paul. At which point the Atreides effectively take the throne on his death. The Baron was considering something similar with Feyd.
There are enough examples of something similar in the British monarchy (Henry VIII and Elizabeth I being the obvious) that it is not unreasonable.

1 Like

It is not a bad idea, if you want to limit the power of the Padishah-Emperor. If he had the control of Arrakis then he would have absolute control. And that’s something none of the noble houses of the Landsraad want. So if they cannot agree on a governour for Arrakis, placing the planet under the control of the Landsraad, then the only solution is that the Padishah-Emperor give it to one of the noble houses (with the opion to remove that fiefdom if they do not produce enough Spice). This keeps the Padishah-Emperor in control of Arrakis without controlling Arrakis directly. At the same time it pins all the other houses against eachother, because every single one of them wants to control Dune.


Great point and agree on having Arrakis be a source of tensions between the Houses.

To clarify, what I meant was to have the Houses fight ON Arrakis. The likely damage to spice infrastructure and the potential instability caused by protracted warfare between two ducal Houses seems like an inordinately high risk.

It definitely speaks to the idea that the Emperor considered adding his forces in order to tip the scales absolutely in the Harkonnen’s favor. It also speaks to the idea that Shaddam IV was either reckless or desperate (perhaps both).

Dynastic issues is an interesting thought. One wonders what level of nobility is required to marry directly into the Imperial House and how many ducal Houses are there? Questions, questions, questions.

Pretty clear that the Atreides misunderstood, miscalculated, or underestimated the threat. Intelligence failure? Strategic error? Naïveté?

Seems like the nuclear option, i.e. the threat to destroy the spice, was Paul’s idea alone. I can’t imagine Leto contemplating such a move.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read the book but I seem to recall that nobody outside the Fremen actually understood the spice/worm lifecycle, so it wasn’t an option for Leto (or anybody else prior to Paul). And again, from memory, I think the Fremen themselves were shocked at the idea.

1 Like

One thing about Leto’s plans - he really had no choice but to go to Arrakis or go renegade. Saying no to the emperor and maintaining his existing position wasn’t an option. And I think in the book he at least momentarily considers going renegade.

In regards to the destruction of the spice the book also has it that no one outside the Spacing Guild and some of the Bene Gesserit really know about the prescient ability of the spice.
The Guild hid their dependency in full view by revealing the geriatric properties of the spice and getting large chunks of the Imperium hooked on it.
The reason it is so valuable to the Imperium as a whole is that most of the nobles will die from withdrawal if they don’t maintain their regimen. If not from withdrawal then from the aging.

So only the Guild could truly understand what Paul was threatening when he said he would destroy the spice. It would destroy the Guild and with it the Imperium. To everyone else it was a major threat, but a personal or economic one.
The threat of it probably would have made Shaddam pause and reconsider, but not the blind panic and obedience the Guild went into.


It seems clear that the attack against Atreides is more or less unprecedented. Duke Leto is an experienced leader, familiar with the conventions and rules of the military and political landscape, and is presumably anticipating maneuvers that fit within his experience. Consider that Thufir Hawat is stunned by the scale of the attack:

He had always expected their enemy to hire an occasional lighter from the guild for probing raids. That was an ordinary enough gambit in this kind of House-to-House warefare.

In comparison, when considering the actual attack, he judges

The entire spice income of Arrakis for fifty years might just cover the cost of such a venture.

Leto definitely anticipates a trap, but misjudges the nature of the trap. He expects the Harkonnens to try to kill his family, but probably through assassination rather than open warefare - the Harkonnens are treacherous and it fits their style. Moreover, he knows they must follow the rules of kanly, so he believes he understands how they will operate.

Though I’ve only read the book once, I didn’t get the impression Leto thought the Emperor would try to destroy his family. He knows the Emperor is laying a trap for him, but he thinks Arrakis is meant to be a white elephant. He can’t refuse the appointment, as that would have apparently dire consequences. On the other hand, Leto knows the Harkonnens will have laid traps and will leave agents behind to conduct sabotage and ferment rebellion.

From the Duke’s perspective, he’s intended to take on management of an expensive operation on an unfamiliar planet with numerous natural and human impediments, as well as sabotage and skirmishes with an entrenched opposition who knows the terrain better. He probably suspects the Emperor plans to sap his resources dealing with problems on Arrakis, letting the Harkonnens harass the Atreides at every turn, while blaming him for diminished spice output. When Leto proves inadequate to the task and the other Landsraad houses become upset at the economic impact, the Emperor will remove Arrakis from Atreides control and give it back to the Harkonnens, having diminished the Atreides’ wealth and reputation.

Which would seem like a very reasonable way for the Emperor to deal with him.


Here’s another question - given that Leto didn’t really have much choice but to accept the move to Arrakis, what was his goal/best case scenario?

Just getting really rich from the spice? Forming the Fremen into a loyal army that could rival the Sardaukar and actually trying to take on House Corrino? Making enough of a success of things that Paul would be a viable marriage candidate for one of Shaddam’s daughters?

Interestingly, Leto outright states to Paul (in the book) that he thinks this will happen, that they will face Harkonnen-disguised Sardaukar when they reach Arrakis; it’s one of his main reasons for wanting to make an alliance with the Fremen as soon as possible as he recognizes that they’ll likely be a match for the Emperor’s troops.


I always suspected that the BG gave him all daughters so that they could put the KW on the throne on Shaddams death, which given the longevity he would have would give them another hundred years to bring the KW to fruition and marry him to one of his daughters.

They don’t state it, but they were frantic during the change, and I suspect they knew it was imminent. I just don’t see why security was as light as it was, obviously for its narrative value, because if the Atriedes have the best troops in the Imperium, how did they not have more security physically station all over the place? Leto is the first person to notice the shields were down.
I guess it could be chalked up to maybe Yueh spiking everyone but hard to say

They expected an attack; they even expected Sardaukar (it’s re-iterated again later in the Atredis council meeting that they do) and relatively soon, hence the desire to have their own Fremen forces in place as soon as possible. What seems to have (understandably) surprised them was the sheer scale of the attack (10 times as many Sardaukar as anticipated on top the Harkonnen troops) and that the Harkonnens were willing or even able to pay the staggering cost to fund it (50 whole years’ worth of Spice profits).

It’s hard to gauge as the timing of those chapters aren’t necessarily in chronological sequence but it does feel like Leto discovers Yueh’s sabotage of the shields just after he’s done it, having neutralized the (single…) guard and the housekeeper then the next thing we know, the Sardaukar and the Baron have effectively taken control of the palace so I can see why it feels like there was barely any security in place. Their forces were presumably stretched thin given they’d been expecting more of a drawn out guerrilla-style conflict prior to a major attack but yeah, I agree that the seeming lack of security around the shield generator and Leto himself is probably something of a narrative convenience.