When it rains, it pours! Waterbender or not, the deluge of recent Avatar news is sure to please any fan of The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra. I started drafting this essay a few weeks ago, only for a big announcement to derail my original angle in the best possible way: Three new Avatar movies are on the way, and it’s possible that one of them might be exactly what I pine for in the following paragraphs…
F.C. Yee’s Kyoshi duology expanded the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, giving the titular bender a much-deserved stint in the spotlight. The books are excellent fodder for an adaptation, bringing Kyoshi back to screens to earthbend her way into the larger fandom (especially for those who haven’t read the books yet).
The Story So Far
Lots to unpack here. Let’s start with the novels.
F.C. Yee and Avatar co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino authored The Rise of Kyoshi and The Shadow of Kyoshi, released in July 2019 and July 2020, respectively. Best consumed as two halves of the same story, the Kyoshi sequence offers an unprecedented look into the Earth Kingdom Avatar. Though she was known for great feats of bending and defeating Chin the Conqueror, Kyoshi’s personal history remained murky and mysterious before this point—which is fair, considering the original show had to contend with Aang and Roku already. The books filled many gaps in Avatar lore, and Kyoshi proved a compelling protagonist. (You can read my full review of each book at the two links above for more context.)
Now, let’s talk about the tumultuous journey to more on-screen Avatar content. It’s especially relevant here, because certain rumors indicate a Kyoshi movie could soon be a reality.
Netflix picked up a live-action remake of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and in 2018 the original series creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino signed onto the project as executive producers and showrunners. Barely a whisper about the project was heard for a few years. Then in 2020, DiMartino and Konietzko announced their departure, citing creative differences, with DiMartino stating:
Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Avatar has the potential to be good. It might turn out to be a show many of you end up enjoying. But what I can be certain about is that whatever version ends up on-screen, it will not be what Bryan and I had envisioned or intended to make.
The Netflix remake is still on its way. Personally, as an ATLA fan, I’m hesitant (at best) to feel any excitement for it considering the way things went down.
But then, a glimmer of hope. In 2021, Nickelodeon announced the creation of Avatar Studios with Konietzko and DiMartino appointed as co-Chief Creative Officers. Avatar Studios is slated to produce content for Paramount+, theatrical release, and other platforms. This is what every Avatar fan deserves, and it’s somewhat of a surprise considering Nickelodeon’s poor treatment of The Legend of Korra during the series’ initial run. Still, I’ll take what I can get.
Fast-forward to the most recent announcement: three new Avatar movies are on the way from Avatar Studios. Rumors abound, particularly when it comes to who the protagonists of each film will be. Take all of this speculation with a grain of salt—they’re still unconfirmed rumors, after all—but it’s possible that the movies will focus on Kyoshi, Zuko, and Korra and release in 2024, 2025, and 2026, respectively.
(Quick aside: I desperately hope the Zuko film adapts The Search, but that’s another article entirely).
And that’s where we stand. A Kyoshi movie looks likely (at least, more likely than it did when I started writing this article!), and I hope F.C. Yee’s excellent Avatar stories make their way into the upcoming film.
Rise: A Unique Avatar Yarn
The Kyoshi duology cleverly subverts other stories in The Last Airbender universe by offering an unprecedented premise. Kuruk, the previous Avatar, passed away seven years ago, and his Earth Kingdom successor has been misidentified. The kicker? Kyoshi is a servant to Yun, the incorrectly identified Avatar.
Two of Kuruk’s companions are responsible for mistakenly misidentifying Yun as the avatar: Jianzhu, an Earth Kingdom sage, and Kelsang, an Air nomad. During a fight with some pirates, Kyoshi unleashes a devastating display of bending worthy of an Avatar. Jianzhu seeks the counsel of a spirit named Father Glowworm to confirm that Kyoshi is the Avatar. The spirit does so, then attacks Yun. Kelsang, learning that Jianzhu has taken Kyoshi and Yun to the spirit, follows and soon learns of Kyoshi’s true nature. Kyoshi tells Kelsang that Jianzhu sacrificed Yun to the spirit. The two former companions of Kuruk exchange blows, ending in Kelsang’s death. Kyoshi enters the Avatar State, nearly killing Jianzhu before she regains control of herself. She flees to her home and runs away with her Fire Nation companion (and Yun’s bodyguard), Rangi.
Soon, Kyoshi meets a ragtag gang of outlaws, the Flying Opera Company. She and Rangi fall into their ranks, following in the footsteps of Kyoshi’s late parents, who left the name of the company in a notebook. Here, Kyoshi learns to harness her bending abilities, learning from the members of the troupe as she vows to seek revenge against Jianzhu.
The Rise of Kyoshi builds and shapes a fascinating story on this dramatic premise, showcasing an Avatar coming into her power through unconventional means others might find questionable. Throughout the book, political unrest rises to a fever pitch while a powerful and violent criminal escapes imprisonment. I’ll spare you the spoiler-y details; the story steadily ups the stakes as Kyoshi learns more of her abilities, and it’s a joy to experience. The ending places many of the characters on ready-made sequel arcs, which brings us to…
Shadow: Reigniting the Fire Nation
After a bending-filled climax, a year passes and we pick up Kyoshi’s story in the sequel. One year has passed, and Kyoshi spends a lot of her time taking down small-fry criminals in and around Ba Sing Se.
Soon, she hears a rumor that a friend, presumed dead until now, has resurfaced. Then Fire Lord Zoryu asks for Kyoshi to help settle a political squabble in the Fire Nation.
Kyoshi travels to the Fire Nation, where she discovers that Zoryu’s half-brother Chaejin is plotting to usurp the Fire Lord. Meanwhile, Kyoshi attempts to decipher spiritual messages from her predecessor Kuruk, though she finds her connection to the spirit world needs strengthening before she can use it to her advantage.
The Shadow of Kyoshi gives us the best glimpse into Fire Nation politics since Aang’s propaganda-laced stint as an impostor student during the original ATLA run. Kyoshi exists two lifetimes before Aang, so we see a nation ruled by a somewhat-sensible Zoryu instead of a genocidal maniac. Shadow is worth the read for this alone, as we get a peek into how the Fire Nation operates when it isn’t an aggressively invading, world-threatening force. The political battles feel small-scale compared to what we know of the Fire Nation of later years. While some might yearn for the world-spanning treks of previous Avatar content, I look back at Shadow and appreciate the insight it gives us into the Fire Nation’s past.
Plus, what would an Avatar story be without a deep dive into the protagonist’s connection to the spirit world? Shadow delivers this in spades as Kyoshi pines for a way to seek counsel from her past life.
I’m staying tight-lipped on some of the juicy story details here because much of Shadow spoils Rise. For what it’s worth, I preferred the first installment slightly more than the second, but together they make one hell of an Avatar tale. Shadow offers plenty of amazing source material on which a movie can draw, further cementing Kyoshi’s legacy as a powerful bender and a ruthless harbinger of justice.
Outlook: Very Likely
What’s the next closest thing to a guarantee? Because that’s what I offer here. The dominos are stacked, ready for a little push that sets off the chain reaction.
As mentioned above, Avatar Studios is making three Avatar universe movies, and one of them could potentially focus on Kyoshi. F.C. Yee wrote two full-fledged Kyoshi novels with ATLA co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino. Kyoshi has a full backstory, ripe for the silver screen. It really seems like a no-brainer.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that the rumored Kyoshi movie could revise or reinterpret Yee’s works, cherry-pick certain elements, or choose to tell a different story entirely. That’s why I can’t quite call this a sure thing. Kyoshi founded Kyoshi Island and the Kyoshi Warriors, and we only got a brief glimpse into her battle with Chin the Conqueror in the original series—untapped Kyoshi stories do exist beyond these books, but F.C. Yee’s novels provide such a deep, cohesive introduction to the character and her origins that they now seem essential to our understanding of Kyoshi and her world.
The Earth Kingdom Avatar has a compelling story to tell, and if Avatar Studios does draw on this particular well for a potential Kyoshi movie, fans will have every reason to celebrate.
Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live or on Twitter @ColeRush1. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science-fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are: The Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.