Fans have now gotten multiple looks at the upcoming live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender. Revealing only a tantalizing tease, Avatar: The Last Airbender will aim to bring Nickelodeon’s acclaimed animated television series of the same name to live-action in 2024. Properly, this time. Avatar, not to be confused with James Cameron’s film series, is a wonderful world where people can “bend” or manipulate one of the four classical elements – earth, fire, water, air; and even though each has specialized sub-bending sets, a bender cannot use more than one. Only the Avatar possesses the ability to bend all four elements, serving as the “bridge” who can travel between the mortal world and the spirit world.
Update October 29, 2023: This article has been updated with more photos from the upcoming live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender.
After M. Night Shyamalan’s disastrous live-action film adaptation over thirteen years ago, which was hated by audiences, fans have been anxious to see how things will end up this time around, praying desperately that it will go right against all odds and breathe new life into the lauded and beloved franchise. But these photos have a lot to tell us about where this show is going and how it might serve as an adaptation. With the sneak peek featured below and the new Fire Nation photos just released, here’s everything the first-look photos reveal about Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender.
What Do They Reveal?
The first set of photos focused on the main characters of Aang (Gordon Cormier), Katara (Kiawentillo), Sokka (Ian Ousley), and the main villain Zuko (Dallas Liu). Aang has with him his glider staff. Aang is the last living Airbender after the Fire Nation wiped out all the airbenders to prevent the Avatar from stopping their world conquest.
Katara is the last waterbender in the South Pole after the Fire Nation nearly wiped out most of her tribe and Aang’s love interest. Her older brother is Sokka, a young man who can’t bend anything but is charged with leading the Southern Water Tribe.
Finally is a fully-armored Zuko, the banished prince of the Fire Nation whose eye was burned by his father, the Fire Lord. Zuko is a ferocious firebender hunting down Aang so he can bring him back as a ticket home to restore his honor. These first images were an extremely basic first look but were meant to excite audiences with how close they are, sticking to the look of the original source material, something the 2010’s film The Last Airbender did not.
The Fire Nation
A new set of photos depicts all the major characters from the Fire Nation. The main antagonists of the adventure, their destruction of the Air Nomads and unceasing pursuit of the Avatar, give Aang and his friends the biggest threat in the show. Just like the first photos, here we get to see all the characters fully costumed, plus we get a second look at Zuko, this time without a helmet on. Some major live-action casting questions have been answered as well.
First, we finally see Daniel Dae Kim (Lost) as Fire Lord Ozai. He is crowned with the headpiece of the Fire Lord, an ancient artifact that passed along the line of kings farther back than the show’s history has told. Fire Lord Sozin began the Hundred Year War, and this crown was worn by his grandfather many years before Aang became the Avatar.
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Kim’s Convience) has been cast as Uncle Iroh. Many fans might recognize him as Carson Teva in the Disney+ series The Mandalorian and Ahsoka. But this role will be an important one. Uncle Iroh is a fan favorite, and many people watching the show will look to him to deliver a performance worthy of his character from the original series who was known as a man of honor and gave depth to the Fire Nation villains.
Elizabeth Yu will be playing Azula. She is Zuko’s younger sister and one of the most powerful firebenders in the world. Don’t be fooled by her calm smile; she’s an excellent tactician and a fearsome opponent to face in battle and one of the series most dangerous villains. Prince Zuko gets another photo, this time seen without his helmet.
Finally, there is Admiral Zhao, played by Ken Leung. He starred in Lost along with Daniel Dae Kim, and he is known for playing characters that are excellent martial artists. So we can likely expect an excellent performance from him.
Accurate Costuming and Casting
Fans should be relieved when seeing the first-look images, as the most striking thing about these photos is that the show is clearly resolving one of the biggest issues with the film: the poor costuming and bad casting.
The world of Avatar was heavily inspired by various Asian cultures. The Water tribes in the Poles were modeled after the Eskimo tribes while the Air nomads lived like the Buddhist monks in the mountains of Tibet with bright flowing robes. The Earth kingdoms were built in the same way as imperial China with fine jeweled regalia, and the Fire Nation progressed like industrialized Japan with impressive, well-crafted armor. The language and customs are all inspired by places across Asia and the world, and the people, too, by the way they act and dress.
The film decided to cast White actors as Asian characters, with Indian and Iranian actors as the evil world-conquering firebenders. The decision was quite controversial, with many fans calling for boycotts of the movie for whitewashing and disrespecting the source material. These image should relieve all anxiety about costuming and casting, as the actors are accurately cast and well-chosen, each with an impressive repertoire to their name.
Faithful Story Adaptation
To infer more about the casting and costuming, we can see, even without any more knowledge, that the creators are trying very hard to stick to the source material. It is clear that the creators are trying hard not to repeat the mistakes of the 2010 film, which is both a blessing and a curse.
The best part is going for both culturally and age-appropriate performers for these roles. Allowing non-white actors to play non-white characters is a step forward and gives the chance to make these young performers the next big stars they are not often afforded.
The danger is that they will stick too close to the original source material and not change anything. The original series is regarded as a modern masterpiece of animation with a compelling story that still entices audiences to this day. While fans love it, there is a cynical notion of just adapting it into live-action and repeating the exact same story beat for beat. Audiences already know this story, so why adapt it if you aren’t going to do anything different? Do fans really want to watch the same show just with living actors acting out the story? Does that make it better”
This is a lot of speculation, of course. The creators could be taking the series in a new exciting direction, expanding on previous plot points the series hinted at, or even changing some elements entirely. Fans will certainly be waiting in anticipation for the series to premiere in 2024 and based on the name alone will draw in plenty of viewers. The question is will it be able to live up to the original?