Warning: spoilers ahead for Avatar: The Way of Water.
James Cameron is going to introduce fire Na’vi in Avatar 3, and it is hard to see that as anything but a troll on the discourse between Avatar and Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ever since M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender had to change its title to avoid confusion with James Cameron’s Avatar, there has been a notable rivalry between the two franchises. While Avatar went on to become the highest-grossing film in history, Avatar: The Last Airbender arguably offered far more originality than Cameron’s movie, which has repeatedly been criticized for being derivative and gimmicky.
Weirdly, James Cameron confirming new villains for Avatar 3 takes the franchise rivalry to an entirely new level. While Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender has grown tremendously as a franchise over the years, including a slew of Netflix projects set for the 2020s, the Avatar franchise remained largely dormant before Avatar: The Way of Water. The debate over the “Avatar” name rages on, therefore, but Cameron’s sequel revolving around water Na’vi, just like how Avatar: The Last Airbender features waterbenders, only drew more comparisons between the two. It is highly doubtful this was intentional, but now another parallel is arising with Avatar 3.
The reason that Avatar 3 will draw more comparisons to Avatar: The Last Airbender is because of the “Ash People.” The Ash People in Avatar 3 will be fire-based Na’vi who serve as antagonists, and with the franchise’s existing history of butting heads with Avatar: The Last Airbender, that draws obvious parallels with the antagonistic Fire Nation. Granted, the two are different in the sense that James Cameron wants to show not all Na’vi are good, but the addition still feels very on the nose. Considering the well-known schism between Avatar and Avatar: The Last Airbender, it feels as if James Cameron’s fire Na’vi idea is just trolling the latter at this point.
That said, the parallel is still likely nothing but coincidence. James Cameron has been developing Avatar since 1994, 11 years before Avatar: The Last Airbender premiered in 2005, so it is clear the director was working on his movie long before the cartoon. The many similarities between James Cameron’s Avatar and Avatar: The Last Airbender are certainly noteworthy, even more so because Avatar forced The Last Airbender to change its name, but bound to be unintentional on Cameron’s part.
The similarities between James Cameron’s Avatar and Avatar: The Last Airbender are likely coincidental, but that does not change the fact there are lots of them. In addition to the franchises sharing similar names, both stories contain themes of people sharing spiritual connections with each other and the world around them. Both stories also feature powerful deities who watch over their people, with Avatar‘s Eywa and The Last Airbender‘s Raava. Avatar: The Way of Water makes that comparison even bigger with the implication that Kiri was fathered by Eywa, which can draw parallels to Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra revealing that the Avatar was born from Raava bonding with Wan.
Further parallels between the two franchises can be drawn from the Na’vi themselves. The water-based Metkayina in Avatar 2 and the Ash People in Avatar 3 mirror the waterbenders and firebenders of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the Omaticaya can even be compared to airbenders because of their sky-based culture. The fact that Jake has learned the ways of two different Na’vi cultures is also similar to how the Avatar must learn every type of bending, and it would not be surprising if he eventually has to learn the ways of the Ash People as well. There are many similarities to draw between both franchises, and James Cameron’s Avatar 3 will undoubtedly take that even further.
More: James Cameron’s Fire Na’vi Are Exactly What Avatar 3 Needs