Original reporting by Melissa Miller
It’s been 13 years since Avatar came out and it still remains the highest-grossing movie of all time. Expectations are sky-high for the first of the long-awaited sequels. Here’s everything you need to remember about the world of Pandora before seeing Avatar: The Way of Water.
Avatar’s Main Characters
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington)
Jake is an ex-marine that uses a wheelchair because of a spinal injury. His twin brother, a scientist who signed up to travel to Pandora, was killed just a week before leaving. Jake takes over the job so he can afford surgery to help him walk again.
Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña)
Neytiri is one of the Na’vi indigenous to Pandora. She knows some English and saves Jake when he is lost in the wilderness. Her parents are the chief and spiritual leader of the Omitacaya clan. They task Neytiri with teaching Jake how to hunt, fly, and connect with the world around him.
Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver)
Grace is a botanist who has worked on Pandora for years, studying how the lifeforms are all interconnected. She used to run a school teaching English, but it was closed down when the miners starting having more run-ins with the Na’vi.
Dr. Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore)
Norm arrives with Jake for a six year tour on Pandora. He is a scientist who trained alongside Jake’s brother. Norm is jealous of Jake’s acceptance by the Na’vi, but is dedicated to protecting Pandora.
Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang)
The colonel is former military and works as head of security. Jake is his double agent, reporting on how to entice the Na’vi to leave their home so the mining company can take over.
Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi)
Parker is the head of the RDA (Resources Development Administration) mining operations on Pandora. He does not appreciate the natural beauty of the planet or its importance to the Na’vi.
New Way of Water Characters
Jake and Neytiri have children in the sequel. Kate Winslet also joins the cast as a Na’vi. Humans arriving on Pandora include Jemaine Clement as a marine biologist and Edie Falco as a general.
The World of Pandora, Explained
The Na’vi, the People of Pandora
The Na’vi are deeply connected to the other lifeforms on Pandora through Eywa, a Mother Nature-like deity. They physically bond with trees and animals using their feathery braids. The Na’vi are about twice as tall as humans and have long tails. They use arrows dipped in neurotoxin to hunt prey and defend themselves.
Pandora’s Animals and Creatures
Life on Pandora is beautiful, with many plants and animals glowing colorfully at night. The Na’vi ride creatures similar to dragons and horses, using a physical bond to communicate with them. In the jungle, there’s also diverse animals that resemble bugs, lemurs, rhinos, and lions.
Humans can’t breathe the air on Pandora, which is actually a moon. Though most of the story takes place in the jungle, there are multiple biomes including floating mountains, plains, and vast oceans.
Pandora’s Relationship with Humans
The Na’vi call humans the Sky People. The story takes place in 2154 and humans have known of Pandora for at least a few decades. The scientists work in avatar bodies and try not to interfere with the Na’vi. But the RDA’s quest for unobtanium has taken over, creating more conflicts. The ore, valued at $20 million per kilogram, is about 350 times more valuable than gold.
An Overview of the 2009 Avatar Movie Plot
After nearly six years in cryo sleep, Jake and Norm arrive on Pandora to join Grace’s scientific avatar program. Jake learns that the Na’vi have three months to evacuate their Home Tree before mining operations reach the area, which is rich in unobtanium. He is accepted by the Na’vi and learns their ways, falling in love with Neytiri in the process. But he also provides information that helps the RDA’s attack and is excommunicated by the Na’vi when they find out. The miners imprison Grace, Norm, and Jake when they fight on behalf of the Na’vi. But they escape and Jake rides in on a toruk, a large flying creature, and earns the Na’vi’s respect. Grace is injured and they try to heal her through Eywa, but she dies. The Na’vi round up other clans to fight back.
The Ending of 2009 Avatar Movie
The climatic battle swings in Pandora’s favor thanks to the animals joining the fight against the humans. The colonel tries to kill Jake in both his avatar and human forms, but Neytiri kills him and rescues Jake. The Na’vi send the humans back to Earth, though they allow Norm and some of the other scientists to stay. Jake undergoes a ritual to switch into his avatar body and join the Na’vi for good.
How Many Avatar Movies Will There Be, and What Do We Know About Them?
James Cameron has written scripts for four Avatar sequels, and they’re on Disney’s release calendar through 2027. More recently, he said that they may not pursue the rest if The Way of Water flops. The story may end there or with a third movie to wrap things up. But it seems like the movie will be profitable enough to continue the franchise.
If things go well, as they seem to be, Cameron has implied that there may yet even be an Avatar 6 and 7. Although likely, if the franchise had that many movies, Cameron would not personally oversee them all.
We don’t know too much about what’s next for the franchise, but Cameron has teased that Avatar 3 may see the Na’vi as villains in the narrative. He notes:
I want to reveal the Na’vi from another angle because [so far] I have only shown their good sides. In the early films, there are very negative human examples and very positive Na’vi examples. In Avatar 3, we’ll do the reverse.
He adds, “We will also explore new worlds, while continuing the story of the main characters. I can say that the last parts will be the best. The others were an introduction, a way to set the table before serving the meal.”
These villainous Na’vi will be called “The Ash People.” According to Cameron, Game of Thrones‘ star Oona Chaplin will play Varang, the leader of the firey Ash People who are an “aggressive, volcanic race.”
Avatar 4 and Beyond
Avatar 4, meanwhile, will feature a time jump.
Additionally, if Cameron reaches Avatar 5, than the Na’vi will finally visit Earth. He notes, “We go to it to open people’s eyes, open Neytiri’s eyes, to what exists on Earth.” And offers that “there’s over-population and a depletion of our natural resources that make life harder” on Earth. But the purpose of the movies is not to create a bleak image of the world, but to offer a vision that things can be changed.
Cameron also shared that future movies would have a different narrator attached them. While Jake Sully narrated Avatar and The Way of Water, his son, Lo’ak would soon take up the mantle and there would be “a different narrator for each of the subsequent films.”
Finally, those who have seen The Way of Water can rest easy because Payakan, Avatar‘s whale-like Tulkun creature, will be back in the action. Cameron shares, “We view Payakan as a character, not just as a creature… We will continue to explore his relationship with Lo’ak.”
Avatar 3 is currently slated to release on December 20, 2024.
If you watch Avatar again before seeing the sequel, just remember that it’s 2 hours and 42 minutes long. The Way of Water, which hit theaters December 16, 2022, is 3 hours and 10 minutes.
Originally published November 21, 2022.