How Avatar Roku Could Play a Key Role Even Sooner in Netflix’s Avatar

Aang’s direct predecessor has a dark history in the original Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Avatar: The Last Airbender builds its world on one of the most interesting fantasy premises... maybe ever. In a fictional realm divided into four regions — the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads — a chosen few have the ability to “bend” a natural element. They’re united by the Avatar, a reincarnated being who has the power to master water, earth, fire, and air.

When one Avatar dies, the next is reborn to a corresponding nation, following a natural cycle. An Avatar from the Water Tribes will precede an Avatar from the Earth Kingdom; next comes fire, followed by air. And each Avatar has the ability to connect with his past lives, seeking guidance from those that came before.

Avatar follows the adventures of an airbender, Aang, as he works to master all four elements and stop the Fire Nation from taking over the world. It’s no different in Netflix’s live-action remake, though the new series is a bit more eager to introduce Aang’s past lives. Across Avatar’s first season, Aang (Gordon Cormier) connects with three previous Avatars: Kyoshi (Yvonne Chapman), Roku (C.S. Lee), and Kuruk (Meegwun Fairbrother). But which of these incarnations directly preceded Aang — and how can their tenure as Avatar help Aang on his journey?

Who was the Avatar before Aang?

C.S. Lee is Avatar Roku in the Netflix live-action remake.


Roku of the Fire Nation was Aang’s direct predecessor. While we don’t get to spend much time with him in the Netflix remake, he served as one of Aang’s biggest mentors in the original series, and his time as the Avatar directly shaped the world that Aang inherited.

Roku appears in Avatar’s sixth episode, “Masks,” to impart some cryptic wisdom on his successor. After Aang’s run-in with Kyoshi in “Warriors,” the new Avatar is clearly conflicted about his responsibilities. Kyoshi instructed Aang to be merciless; to take no prisoners. But Roku encourages Aang to embrace other forms of resolution. “In addition to being a warrior, the Avatar must also be a diplomat,” Roku explains.

As the Avatar, Aang has the power to solve conflicts without the need for violence. That said, people can still get hurt if he fails, something that Roku understands all too well.

Roku’s biggest regret

Avatar Roku’s personal connection to Fire Lord Sozin was introduced in “The Avatar and the Fire Lord.”


Roku is intimately familiar with the war that now plagues the world. Before becoming the Avatar, he was actually best friends with a soon-to-be Fire Lord, Prince Sozin. When Roku was named the Avatar, he spent 12 long years mastering the four elements abroad. By the time he returned to the Fire Nation capitol, Sozin had become Fire Lord, with plans for global domination already taking shape.

Though Roku tried to stop the Fire Nation from taking over neighboring kingdoms, his fondness for Sozin was ultimately his biggest weakness. He spared the Fire Lord time and again, hoping that he would eventually heed his warnings. Unfortunately, Sozin only grew more resolute as the years passed. He basically killed Roku in order to launch his devastating attack on the Air Nomads without any obstacles, using the power of a once-in-a-century comet to enhance his army’s power.

Roku’s inaction ultimately caused the annihilation of the Air Nomads, a fact that obviously affects Aang personally. Of course, Aang is still unaware of this connection: in the original series, Roku doesn’t come clean until the third and final season. But with Aang’s most immediate predecessors taking on bigger roles in the Netflix remake, there’s a chance that Roku could share his backstory a bit earlier in the series.

Roku could impart some much-needed wisdom to Aang much earlier in Netflix’s Avatar.


Netflix’s Avatar has the benefit of the full story, and with that, it has the power to tease elements of later seasons much sooner. We’ve already seen that play out a bit in the arc of Prince Zuko (Dallas Liu) — who, notably, is Sozin’s great-grandson. The parallels between Zuko and Aang, and Sozin and Roku, are pretty palpable already. Aang will need Roku’s guidance the further he gets into his journey as the Avatar: otherwise, history could be doomed to repeat itself. Will Roku be a more hands-on mentor in Netflix’s Avatar, or will the series save its biggest reveal for a future season? Time will tell, but this likely won’t be the last we see of Roku, or any of the previous Avatar incarnations.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is now streaming on Netflix.

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