After years of anticipation, the sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender has finally arrived. Set seventy years after the original series, The Legend of Korra follows a new avatar, a teenage Water Tribe girl named Korra, as she learns to master airbending and navigate the world’s great metropolis, Republic City. What can fans expect from the show? What are the connections to the old series, and what new surprises are in store? Below the cut, we’ll talk about what’s the same, what’s different, and what to expect this season on The Legend of Korra.
Fans already know the premise. Teenage Avatar Korra has mastered waterbending, earthbending, and firebending, and travels to Republic City to study airbending with Tenzin, the middle-aged son of Avatar Aang and Katara. Most of the characters we knew in The Last Airbender have gone on to that great air temple in the sky, but the beauty of this new show is that, like Korra, who has the compassion of Katara, the strength of Toph, and the rebelliousness of Aang, there are many other characters and situations in Legend of Korra that will be instantly recognizable to fans of The Last Airbender. Here are five:
Gray Hair Loopies — Of the original cast, only Katara makes an appearance. The other heroes from The Last Airbender are gone. Katara has adopted the GranGran role well. Korra looks up to her, and she offers advice and comfort to the new Avatar and Tenzin both. It seems she will play only a small role in the show. Early on, she passes the torch to the new generation.
Aang the Third — Tenzin’s son Meelo has inherited his grandfather’s kooky side. For bald airbender troublemaking, look no further than this mini-Aang clone.
Metalbending is Boss — Toph may be gone, but her daughter Lin Beifong is the chief of the Republic City police force. She commands a squad of intense metalbenders, who use the advanced earthbending techniques invented by Toph in the original series. The tactics and style of these benders is reminiscent of the Dai Li from The Last Airbender, which gives Korra’s interaction with Lin Beifong an off-kilter feel. The police chief feels more like an adversary than an ally.
Those Boys — When Korra arrives in Republic City, she befriends two teenage brothers—the firebender Mako and the earthbender Bolin. Intense, dark, brooding firebender. Hmm . . . does that sound like anyone you remember from the previous series? And then there’s Bolin, the goofy, friendly, passionate ally. Yup. We have our new Sokka.
The Easter Eggs — There are oh so many. Aang and Katara have two children besides Tenzin, Kya (named for Katara’s mother) and Bumi (named for Aang’s childhood best friend, the King of Omashu). When Tenzin first arrives at the South Pole, Katara’s granddaughter says, “GranGran! I’ve been reading all about your old adventures. I’ve been dying to ask you, what happened to Zuko’s mom?” It’s a lampshade moment, but it shows that even the characters in the world of Avatar are aware of the plot holes in the original series. The White Lotus makes an appearance. So do Sky Bison. So does the traditional garb of Earth, Fire, Water, and Airbenders. Korra’s firebending friend Mako is named in honor of the actor who voiced Uncle Iroh in the original series. ::sniff:: Did you spot any shout-outs or throwbacks when you watched the premiere? Feel free to mention them in the comments.
But for every throwback to The Last Airbender, there is something else that is new and surprising. Want examples? Here are five:
No Journeys — Although The Last Airbender was lauded for its dynamic characters and serialized storytelling, it still had a formula. Aang’s task was to walk the earth, in each episode encountering denizens of the Four Nations and righting wrongs. But now we’ve seen the world, and the creators of Avatar don’t intend to re-tread old ground. The Legend of Korra will take place almost entirely inside Republic City. If there is a lesson in the second half of season two of The Last Airbender, which is set almost entirely in the city of Ba Sing Se, it is that in a thriving metropolis, there will be more than enough to keep our heroes busy.
The Equalists — In The Last Airbender, the citizens of the Four Nations seemed to take it in stride that a sizable minority could shoot fireballs from their hands and transmute through walls just by waving their arms. In Legend of Korra, an anti-bending organization, called The Equalists, has come out in protest of bending, which they believe relegates non-benders to the status of second-class citizens. Their leader is Amon, a mysterious masked man played by Steve Blum, known for his voice acting as Wolverine and as Spike Spiegel on Cowboy Bebop. According to early promotional copy, the Equalists use chi-blocking techniques to defeat benders, similar to Ty Lee’s fighting style in The Last Airbender. There were some fantastic non-benders in the original series. It’s scary to think that some of them might become enemies in Legend of Korra. Can you imagine if the Kyoshi Warriors were the BAD guys? Yikes. If there are two predictions I would make at this point in the series, the first is that Tenzin’s pregnant non-bender wife Pema is going to get into trouble with these baddies, and the second is that Amon is actually the descendent of someone we know—Ty Lee, Mai, or (ulp!) Sokka and Suki.
Organized Crime — As soon as Korra arrives in Republic City, she gets mixed up with some criminals who are wearing dapper suits, driving an Avatar-world variation on the Model-T, and using bending to intimidate innocent people. Although thieves and vagrants did exist in The Last Airbender (think about the pirates from “The Water Scroll,” or even Zuko’s alter ego, the Blue Spirit), my guess is that the conflict between these gangsters and Lin Beifong’s police force will be central to the Korra’s story. And speaking of Model-Ts, check out the technology bump the world has gotten in seventy years. Technology seems to have encroached upon the magical world of Avatar. The architecture and innovations of this world resemble that of the 1920s. Old Timey Radio, cars, floodlights, and fedoras.
Let the Games Begin — Pro-bending. Wow. If this doesn’t sell you on Legend of Korra, maybe nothing will. The national pastime of Republic City is this crazy bending-based sport. Part boxing, part dodgeball, part American Gladiators, pro-bending is the sport that Mako and Bolin play in a huge arena on the coast of Republic City. Korra joins their team in a pinch, and proves herself as a great player and a savvy bender. Pro-bending makes Quidditch look like Tiddlywinks.
Young Adult — I have often said, on this website and elsewhere, that Avatar: The Last Airbender is the best middle-grade fantasy in the history of television. Swashbuckling adventure, a coming-of-age story, and just a dash of chaste romance. But Korra, unlike Aang, is NOT twelve years old. She’s seventeen. Her disdain for authority and her arrogance are major character traits, and when she first meets Mako, whoaaaaaaaaa you can cut the sexual tension with a meteor sword. Each season of The Last Airbender grew darker and more mature. Signs indicate that season one of Legend of Korra is on track to be as mature as season four of The Last Airbender would have been.
So get ready. Legend of Korra looks like it’s going to be a worthy successor. Stay tuned.
Matt London is an author and filmmaker who lives in New York City, currently a student in the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU. He is a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop, as well as a columnist for Tor.com, Fantasy Magazine, Lightspeed, and Realms of Fantasy. Follow him on Twitter.