This month, the newest Netflix original series is a big-budget adaptation of the beloved animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Fans of the franchise were burned by the previous adaption, but the new show appears to be much closer to the spirit of the original.
The series has been a long time coming, and it was first announced by Netflix in 2018. Avatar: The Last Airbender co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were originally supposed to shepherd the franchise to live-action themselves. However, both DiMartino and Konietzko departed the series over creative differences with Netflix. That’s why the new showrunner, Albert Kim, took over in 2021 and maintained that position through the first season. Whether there will be a second season remains to be seen, but Netflix has placed a large bet on this show with a budget that is reportedly $15 million per episode.
Ahead of the show’s premiere later this month, we’re sharing everything we know about Avatar: The Last Airbender.
First, it has to be said that this show has nothing to do with James Cameron’s Avatar movies. The 2005 Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender preceded Cameron’s first Avatar by four years. The show’s dynamic animation and its commitment to a serious serialized storyline across four seasons helped it become a global hit. The popularity of the show also led to a sequel series in 2012 called The Legend of Korra.
In 2010, director M. Night Shyamalan first brought the franchise to live-action in The Last Airbender, a movie that dropped Avatar from its name in order to avoid confusion with Cameron’s films. Shyamalan’s film was rejected by fans of the series for not staying true to the spirit of the show and because it whitewashed several of its leading characters. The upcoming Netflix series is a complete reboot, and it has nothing to do with the previous film.
This isn’t a story that’s set on a world that we would recognize as Earth. Instead, it takes place in a realm where certain humans have the ability to control or “bend” fire, air, Earth, and water to their will. Someone who controls fire is called a Firebender, while those who control water are Waterbenders, and so on.
The titular last Airbender is a kid named Aang, who is the only surviving member of his Airbender tribe. Unlike other benders, Aang’s abilities aren’t limited to just one element. Since he has the potential to bend all four of the primal elements, Aang is the Avatar, the one who is supposed to bring peace and balance between the world and its people.
That’s easier said than done, especially since Aang spent decades on ice before awakening in a world that he doesn’t know. During his years in suspended animation, the Fire Nation has grown powerful enough to conquer the entire world, and its leaders also consider Aang a threat to their ambitions. Fortunately for Aang, his new friends Katara and Sokka have joined him on his quest to control all four of the elements. What they don’t know is that the Fire Nation’s exiled prince, Zuko, is tracking them down in order to redeem himself to his family.
The primary cast includes the following performers:
- Gordon Cormier as Avatar Aang
- Dallas Liu as Prince Zuko
- Kiawentiio as Katara
- Ian Ousley as Sokka
- Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Uncle Iroh
- Elizabeth Yu as Princess Azula
- Daniel Dae Kim as Fire Lord Ozai
There are also several supporting cast members who will appear on a recurring basis in season 1. But to keep things simple, we’ve narrowed those names down to some of the most famous actors and actresses who are involved with the show.
- Ken Leung as Commander Zhao
- Amber Midthunder as Princess Yue
- Yvonne Chapman as Avatar Kyoshi
- Tamlyn Tomita as Yukari
- C. S. Lee as Avatar Roku
- Danny Pudi as The Mechanist
- Arden Cho as June
- George Takei as Koh the Face Stealer
- Randall Duk Kim as Wan Shi Tong
Yes, there is. It’s also a little disorienting if you aren’t familiar with the original show. The trailer does offer some glimpses of the bond between Aang, Katara, and Sokka. But there aren’t many moments with Aang alone and even fewer where he utilizes his power.
The first season of the live-action series is based on Avatar: The Last Airbender Book One: Water, which was comprised of 20 episodes in the first season of the animated series. The live-action series will have longer runtimes but only eight episodes in total. Will that be enough time to tell the entire story from Book One? Possibly, but only in an abridged form. Some material will likely be cut.
All eight episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender will be released on Netflix on Thursday, February 22.
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