What is an Avatar? Na’vi and Pandora explained

A still from Avatar of Neytiri, Jake Sully, and Pandora20th Century Studios

The Way of Water is upon us – Avatar 2 is nearly here, so we’re going to catch you up on the basics of the franchise: what’s an Avatar, who are the Na’vi, and where is Pandora?

If you look at the list of the highest-grossing movies of all time, you’ll find scores of franchises, whether it’s Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Fast and Furious, or most of all, the MCU.

Yet, the number one spot has been steadfastly held by Avatar, James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi epic. After 13 years, we’re finally getting a sequel with Avatar: The Way of Water.

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While comparisons have been made to Pocahontas and FernGully, Avatar is an original franchise with lots of names, places, and creatures you won’t find in comics – so, let’s do a quick breakdown on what you need to know.

Avatar 2: What is an Avatar?

An Avatar is a human whose consciousness has been transferred to a Na’vi hybrid body.

In the world of the film, the Avatar Program was commissioned by the Resources Development Administration (RDA) following immense pressure from the general public, who believed it was vital humans learned to communicate with Pandora’s native species.

Jake Sully in Avatar 220th Century Studios
Jake Sully was once an Avatar, but is now full Na’vi.

While humans are “far more closely related genetically to garden slugs than to Na’vi”, as per Avatar: The Game, the program created viable hybrids that allowed humans to safely explore Pandora, study the atmosphere and environment, collect samples, and even communicate with the Na’vi.

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While in control of an Avatar, humans are referred to as “drivers”, using a “whole-body remote neural interface to control and animate the avatar body,” as per the Avatar Wiki.

In the first Avatar movie, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) decides to abandon his human body in favor of a permanent life in his Avatar, made possible via a ritual with the Tree of Souls and surrounding Na’vi. While he still has the quirks of an Avatar (five fingers instead of four, for example), he’s now fully part of the Na’vi.

Who are the Na’vi?

The Na’vi are a race of extraterrestrial beings native to Pandora. They are blue in appearance, with humanoid features.

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Unlike humans, they have tails and are generally between 2.5-3.9 metres in height, and have superior physiology in terms of strength and endurance.

“Despite their thin proportions, their musculature is sharply defined and they have roughly four times the strength of a human in peak physical condition,” the wiki states.

A still from Avatar 220th Century Studios
Avatar 2 will introduce Jake and Neytiri’s Na’vi family.

“The Na’vi use their superior strength, agility, and uncanny sense of balance to scale trees, rocks, and other obstacles with ease.

“In the unlikely case of a fall, they usually escape unharmed, as their bones are reinforced with a type of naturally occurring carbon fiber. Distinctly separating them from humans, native Na’vi possess only four digits on each hand and foot, including an opposable thumb and thumb toe.”

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In the first Avatar movie, we mostly see the Na’vi based in Hometree, while other clans are glimpsed towards the climactic battle of the film. In Avatar 2, titled The Way of Water, we’ll see the oceanic Metkayina clan, who have adapted to a life in the water more than any other Na’vi clan.

There are several known clans on Pandora, many of which haven’t been seen: the Anurai clan, Hulanta clan, Kekunan clan, Mangkwan clan, Metkayina clan, Olangi clan, Omaticaya clan, Rey’tanu clan, Tawkami clan, Tayrangi clan, and Tipani clan.

Where is Pandora?

Pandora isn’t a planet – it’s a moon in the Alpha Centauri System, the closest star system to our own Solar System.

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It’s one of 13 moons around Polyphemus, a gas giant much like Jupiter but similar to Neptune in appearance, which orbits Alpha Centauri A.

Pandora was first discovered by astrologists on Earth between 2050 and 2077. While it’s Earth-like in its land and appearance from space, it’s uninhabitable to humans unless they’re wearing masks due to the high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which can kill a person in just four minutes.

Avatar: The Way of Water hits cinemas on December 16. You can find out more about the movie here, and the best way to watch Avatar 2 here.