Everything to Know About Netflix’s Live-Action Avatar: The Last Airbender Series

3 minute read

The new live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, which premiered on Netflix on Feb. 22, is a remake of the beloved 2005 Nickelodeon animated series. It’s not the first time Avatar has received the live-action treatment: In 2010, writer and director M. Night Shyamalan’s version of the story received backlash after he cast white actors to play Asian characters and was panned by critics, holding a 5% score on Rotten Tomatoes to this day.

Avatar takes place in a world split into four nations—the Fire Nation, the Water Tribe, the Air Nomads, and the Earth Kingdom. There are people from each nation who can manipulate their respective elements, known as “benders.” Only one person, the Avatar, can manipulate all four elements. In the series, that’s Aang (played by Gordon Cormier), who will have to master all the elements in order to save the world. 

What happens in the original Avatar: The Last Airbender

In the 2005 animated series, the Fire Nation has launched a full-on assault against the other nations, completely wiping out the Air Nomads. The world has not seen Avatar for 100 years. When Water Tribe siblings Sokka and Katara find Aang in a frozen sphere with his flying bison Appa, they learn he is the Avatar and that he has to master all four elements to defeat the Fire Nation. The three travel from nation to nation, while being hunted by the Prince of the Fire Kingdom, Zuko.

Set in a fantasy world that pays homage to Asian and Arctic indigenous communities, Avatar endeared fans with carefully crafted storytelling and worldbuilding, and attentive character development. A sequel animated series, The Legend of Korra, premiered in 2012. Avatar saw a resurgence in popularity during the pandemic in 2020, becoming one of Netflix’s most-watched shows. 

The controversial lead-up to the live-action Avatar series

Avatar fans had some worries about the new series after the original creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konieztko departed the show. When the adaptation was announced in 2018, the two were announced as showrunners and executive producers. But in 2020, they released separate statements saying they’d left the project over creative differences.

“When Netflix brought me on board to run this series alongside [DiMartino] two years ago, they made a very public promise to support our vision,” Konieztko wrote on Instagram. “Unfortunately, there was no follow through on that promise.”

DiMartino said that while it was a difficult decision, it was the right one.

TV writer and producer Albert Kim, who took over as showrunner, told Entertainment Weekly in December that adapting the show without the original creators was at first a scary prospect.

"You'd have to be an idiot not to be intimidated a little bit. My first reaction after 'hell year!' was 'holy sh-t,'" he said. “Do I really want to do this? Is there a way to improve upon the original?’ Whenever you tackle something that's already beloved by millions of fans, you have to ask yourself those questions.”

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Write to Moises Mendez II at moises.mendez@time.com