Netflix is currently working on a live action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but there is another interesting story in the Avatar universe waiting to be adapted to the screen: F.C. Yee and Avatar co-creator Michael Dante DiMartino’s novel The Rise of Kyoshi, as well as its sequel, The Shadow of Kyoshi. The two books take place hundreds of years before The Last Airbender and follow Kyoshi, the Earth Avatar who preceded Avatar Roku, as she steps into her role as the Avatar. While a live action remake is arguably redundant, an adaptation of these books would add something new to the Avatar franchise
The announcement that Netflix would be remaking The Last Airbender was first met with excitement, especially since the show’s original creators Bryan Konietzko and DiMartino were to be heavily involved. The duo were not included in the development or production of M. Night Shyamalan’s famously panned film adaptation of the series, so fans considered their involvement in Netflix’s project to be a promising sign. However, DiMartino and Konietzko left the show, saying that their vision for the retelling was not being supported. This greatly lessened any enthusiasm about the upcoming series, still in pre-production.
The Last Airbender is a beloved television series, and it’s doubtful that any remake could live up to the magic of the original. It’s also unlikely that a remake could feel like anything more than a retread of iconic moments, especially without DiMartino and Konietzko’s guidance. With The Rise of Kyoshi, Netflix has the opportunity to create a live action Avatar story that has not yet been committed to the screen. Author Yee worked with DiMartino to create Kyoshi’s journey, so it already has the creative endorsement of one of the co-creators, and the novel is most definitely the thematic successor to both Avatar series, despite taking place in the past. Here are all the reasons why Netflix should adapt The Rise of Kyoshi instead of remaking The Last Airbender.
Aang’s time as the Avatar was defined by the Hundred Year War – both its conclusion and aftermath. Korra had to consider the role of the Avatar in a vastly advancing world fraught with spiritual conflicts and new ideologies. Kyoshi’s world is similarly conflicted, but in vastly different ways. It is fractured: the Earth Kingdom is in disarray, led by feuding, uncaring politicians and beset by roaming groups of outlaws. Even the role of the Avatar is a point of contention; everyone, including Kyoshi, spends years believing that the Avatar is a powerful earthbender named Yun, and there are massive consequences when Kyoshi comes into her true power. The political scramble to control the Avatar has echoes of Korra’s dealings with Tarrlok, Unalaq, and President Raiko, but the politics are explored even further in Kyoshi’s story.
Viewers of The Last Airbender have already seen Aang’s world, brought so vividly to life in the animated series. What they haven’t seen is the Fire Nation before the Hundred Year War, or the Air Nomads in their prime, both of which are crucial to Kyoshi’s development as the Avatar. Adapting Kyoshi’s story instead of remaking Aang’s would allow for a deeper exploration of this world’s history and give fans something new to explore. It’s an entirely different environment, filled with new challenges for the Avatar.
The characters of The Last Airbender are already well-established and beloved, and Netflix’s remake would face the immense challenge of recreating their charms. Instead of relying on previously written characters, they could bring Kyoshi and her companions to life and give viewers a new set of Avatar characters to fall in love with. Kyoshi herself is a very different person from the full-fledged Avatar seen in The Last Airbender; she begins her journey unsure of herself and her bending abilities, and her progression takes her in a different direction than either Aang or Korra. Kyoshi is also not the only Avatar featured in these novels, which provide more information about Avatar Yangchen and Avatar Kuruk. They even introduce a new Avatar to the canon: Avatar Szeto, the Fire Nation Avatar before Avatar Roku. Adapting their stories would deepen the lore surrounding the Avatars instead of going back over what viewers already know.
Furthermore, Kyoshi’s version of Team Avatar is unlike any seen in The Last Airbender or Legend of Korra. She and her firebender friend Rangi join up with a group of charismatic outlaws known as the Flying Opera Company, creating an interesting dynamic as Kyoshi tries to understand what is just and fair. The Rise of Kyoshi also introduces a fascinating villain in Jianzhu, who will stop at nothing to regain control of Kyoshi and unify the Earth Kingdom. With these new benders come new bending techniques, including dust-stepping and mist-stepping. The Shadow of Kyoshi even confirms the possibility of glassbending. Visually adapting these new techniques would be far more interesting than recreating ones already seen in The Last Airbender.
Kyoshi’s story is a worthy successor to Aang’s and especially Korra’s, sharing many of those series’ themes and dealing with mature situations that aren’t seen in either. In The Last Airbender, Kyoshi’s time as the Avatar is associated with her strong sense of justice, but throughout the beginning of her journey she consistently questions what justice truly is. Who deserves the most severe of punishments, and who deserves another change? Both Kyoshi novels deal openly with death, and the fights are much more violent and deadly than those seen in either The Last Airbender. These fights are a natural successor to the more brutal ones seen in Legend of Korra, especially the confrontations with the Red Lotus.
Another similarity between Korra and Kyoshi’s stories is their romantic relationships. Like Korra, Kyoshi is bisexual. She begins a relationship with her friend and bodyguard Rangi that continues throughout the novels. Korra and Asami’s romantic relationship was not given much time in Legend of Korra, although it has been explored further in the sequel comics. An adaptation of The Rise of Kyoshi would be able to place Kyoshi and Rangi’s relationship front and center and pay tribute to Legend of Korra’s groundbreaking ending.
There was a massive resurgence in The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra‘s popularity after both series were released on Netflix in 2020. The Last Airbender broke a major Netflix record, staying in the streaming service’s top 10 TV shows for two months. Both shows garnered new fans, fans who adore this world and these characters. It makes sense to continue the story of the Avatar cycle with Kyoshi’s story: clearly fans want more Avatar-related content – the sequel comics are a success and both Kyoshi novels were bestsellers – and Kyoshi is one of the most intriguing past Avatars.
Another series taking place in the Avatar universe would be wonderful, but a live action remake is not the right way to celebrate the original show’s success, especially not when the story of another interesting Avatar is already ripe for adaptation. A show based on The Rise of Kyoshi has the potential to be just as bold and exciting as The Last Airbender or Legend of Korra. Should Netflix rise to the challenge, Kyoshi’s story would inform the original animated series with its deep lore and history but also be able to stand firmly on its own.