Monday, March 30, 2020

10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Unaired 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Pilot Episode

The unaired Avatar: The Last Airbender pilot has a lot of details and changes from the final pilot you likely didn't know about.

From the beginning, Avatar: The Last Airbender inspired a voracious fandom that poured over every detail of the animated series. From creating awesome cosplay to speculating on endless theories (the pastime of every great fandom), Avatar: The Last Airbender provides endless engagement for fans.

One of the most fascinating bits of trivia about the series, which debuted on Nickelodeon in February 2005, is that the pilot episode was in fact not the first pilot. Another preceded it, a low-budget test reel essentially designed to sell Nickelodeon on the series. A pilot before the actual pilot episode is not unusual - Invader ZIM had one, in which Billy West was the voice of Zim. Let's take a look at some things you may not know about the unaired pilot.

10 - Not Frozen

One of the biggest differences between the aired and unaired pilot is evident from the beginning. In the aired pilot, "The Boy in the Iceberg", Southern Water Tribe members Katara and her brother Sokka discover the Avatar Aang frozen in an iceberg. He's been there over a hundred years with his flying bison steed, Appa. In the unaired pilot, Aang and Appa are already free. Their rescue from the ice has already occurred, and Katara is explaining the history of the Four Nations and bending the elements of water, earth, fire, and air.

9 - Opening Sequence

The opening sequence of the pilot episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender is different from the rest of the series, which lasted three years (or "Books"). The unaired pilot's opening is different again. Katara narrates it as she does the other, but the narration is different. You can tell creators and writers Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino are still finding their footing with the show's elaborate mythology. The biggest difference perhaps is that Katara narrates her and Sokka's discovery of Aang in the ice here, as it's not depicted in the episode as it is in the aired pilot.

8 - Katara / Kya

Another major difference is with Katara herself. She's actually not named Katara in the unaired pilot: she's Kya. Though her name changes for the series, the name of Kya eventually returns, becoming the name of both Katara's mother and her daughter (whom she has with Aang, later revealed in the sequel series The Legend of Korra). Katara's backstory and personality are largely the same. She has a bit of a rivalry going on with Sokka and seeks to improve her waterbending skills through practice. Aang helps her train, as he does in the series.

7 - Zuko In Pursuit

In the aired pilot, Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation is searching for the Avatar so he can regain his place in the royal family. Disgraced and dishonored, he needs to find Aang if he ever wants to go home again. He doesn't locate The Last Airbender until the end of the episode.

In the unaired pilot, Zuko is hot on Team Avatar's trail from the jump. He's already located Aang and is pursuing him and his friends across the sea. Zuko launches fireballs up at Appa, trying to bring them down and capture Aang.

6 - No Hawk

Another unique feature to the unaired pilot is Zuko's pet hawk. Originally intended to be Zuko's constant companion, the hawk was also supposed to be an eventual rival of Momo, a friend of Team Avatar and a flying lemur. The hawk didn't make it into the series when production started, though the concept did later resurface when it came time to introduce Hawky. Hawky was Sokka's pet messenger bird, acquired in Fire Fountain City with the hopes of sending messages back to the South Pole. This didn't really happen, and Hawky eventually flew away, never to return. Not cool.

5 - Fire Nation Design

One of the biggest design changes from the unaired pilot is the look of the Fire Nation. In the series, the standard Fire Nation soldier has a menacing design featuring a terrifying skull-like mask. The armor is mostly black with red accents. Two sets of horns grow out of the helmet. The soldiers from the unaired pilot are less Stormtrooper and more Cobra. The skull mask is missing, and they wear a simple mouthguard. The armor is mostly red, with black accents. The helmet has only one set of horns.

4 - Appa / Naga

There are few things cooler than a flying bison with six legs. Appa is more than just Team Avatar's private transportation, he's an integral part of the team. The creators did want a sense Appa being big enough to carry the team around, so they took inspiration from the flying Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro. Before the team looked to Studio Ghibli for inspiration, Appa was more of a fusion of a polar bear and a big dog. This concept showed up later in the series in the form of Naga.

3 - The Serpent

Another sequence missing from the aired pilot, but present in the unaired one, is the serpent attack. As Team Avatar flees from Zuko and his Fire Nation cronies aboard their ship, they run headlong into a giant sea serpent. Aang and Appa give the serpent the slip, and then it sets its sights on Zuko's ship.

He and his men start hurling fire at it. Though the gigantic creature didn't make into the aired pilot, the serpent did eventually manifest in the series down the line, in two different episodes: "The Serpent's Pass" and "The Awakening."

2 - Bend It Like... Nobody, Actually

As the concept of the series was still evolving, the unaired pilot features some things that don't quite gel with the show that followed. Some of those are cosmetic things like names and design elements. Others are pretty big deals like the concept of bending itself. Since the skill of bending elements and how and who uses it was still in flux (as we'll see in a moment), the unaired pilot features unusual but awesome, displays like the group fireball that Prince Zuko and his cadre of Fire Nation henchman produce against the serpent.

1 - Avatar State

In the series, whenever he was in extreme danger, Aang entered the Avatar State, where he had little to no control over his powers. This threw a major wildcard into things for friends and allies alike. You just didn't know what was going to happen (and neither did he). In the unaired pilot, there's a significant difference in how this power functions. Zuko tracks and corners Aang atop a giant statue, thinking he's won. Instead, Aang flings himself off of it, wilfully putting himself in danger and thus entering the Avatar State. Needless to say, Zuko wasn't happy.

The Avatar Pilot Episode, complete with with Audio Commentary, is available to watch on the Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Complete Series Blu-ray set.

More Nick: Netflix to Host Open Casting Call for Live-Action 'Avatar: The Last Airbender' Series!

Based on an article published on
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