By Stacy Lambe‍ , ETOnline.com.

Following the groundbreaking release of “Avatar” in 2009, James Cameron’s epic sci-fi franchise about a humanoid species called the Na’vi is finally back with the first of several sequels. After a 13-year gap, the saga will pick up with “Avatar: The Way of Water” in December before continuing on with what are currently being dubbed “Avatar 3”, “Avatar 4” and “Avatar 5” in 2024, 2026 and 2028, respectively.

Stars Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver and others look back on the original while teasing what’s to come as “The Way of Water” picks up on their story over a decade later.

“It’s been about 10 years,” Weaver tells ET of the time she’s committed to the franchise since starring in the first one. “And then, in the meantime, Jim Cameron has written four amazing stories about what is now a family, the Sully family. And so, the stakes are higher. There are more amazing characters. And, of course, a whole new world underwater to experience.”


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“Avatar”

The original film, which starred Worthington as a former disabled soldier named Jake Sully, Saldaña as Na’vi clan member Neytiri, Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch, the leader of the human forces colonizing the planet Pandora, and Giovanni Ribisi as corporate administrator Parker Selfridge, was set in 2154 during a time when humans turned to mining various planets to replenish Earth’s depleted resources.

Additionally, Weaver appeared as Dr. Grace Augustine, an exobiologist and head of the avatar program that transformed humans into Na’vi-human hybrids so they could explore Pandora, and Michelle Rodriguez as combat pilot Trudy Chacón.

While the humans and Na’vi clashed, Jake and Neytiri fell in love. And by the end of the first film, the people of Earth are banished from the poisonous blue planet while Jake is permanently transferred into his avatar and allowed to stay behind alongside Dr. Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore) and a few others.

A massive box office success at the time, the first film is being re-released in theaters on Sept. 23, so new and returning fans can catch up on the first installment in the saga ahead of the anticipated sequel.

“Jim’s idea was to transport you to a place and suddenly, you know, reflect a bit of your own human nature back at you,” Worthington says of the eco-themed franchise, adding that “when you get to ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ and the others, it’s the continuation of this planet being built and this world with unique characters. You’re going to see way more of it.”


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“Avatar: The Way of Water”

In the new film, Cameron “is going to transport us to Pandora, to the 80 percent of Pandora that we never got to see in ‘Avatar’,” Saldaña says. “’The Way of Water’ is impressive and absolutely magnificent and this is a film that also stands on its own.”

She adds, “It’ll just be an experience. It will be completely unforgettable.”

According to 20th Century Studios, the first sequel, which will debut in theaters on Dec. 16, is set more than a decade after the events of the 2009 film as it “begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure.”

Worthington, Saldaña, Lang, Ribisi and Moore reprise their roles in the first sequel, while Dileep Rao, Matt Gerald and CCH Pounder return as Dr. Max Patel, Corporal Lyle Wainfleet and Mo’at, respectively. Weaver is back as a new character named Kiri.

Joining the franchise are Cliff Curtis as Tonowari, Edie Falco as General Ardmore, Brendan Cowell as Captain Mick Scoresby, Michelle Yeoh as Dr. Karina Mogue, Jemaine Clement as Dr. Ian Garvin, Oona Chaplin as Varang, Jack Champion as Javier “Spider” Socorro, Jamie Flatters as Neteyam, Britain Dalton as Lo’ak, Trinity Bliss as Tuk, Bailey Bass as Reya, Filip Geljo as Aonung and Duane Evans Jr. as Rotxo with Kate Winslet as Ronal.

Additionally, Vin Diesel and CJ Jones have undisclosed roles in the film, With the former revealing that after working with Saldaña on “Guardians of the Galaxy”, he wanted to reunite with her on the “Avatar” franchise. “Probably my favourite in the whole cast [and] the closest in my family is Zoe Saldaña,” he previously shared. “Hence why I’m doing ‘Avatar’.”

(L-R): Lo’ak and a tulkun in 20th Century Studios’ AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Lo’ak and a tulkun in 20th Century Studios’ AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
— Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios

As two of the youngest newcomers to the franchise, Bass and Bliss play the young Na’vi, Reya and Tuk. Reya is “part of the Metkayina clan,” Bass says, revealing “she’s similar to Neytiri, Zoe Saldaña’s character in the first film. And in preparation, I watched the original film to really get an idea of what Pandora is.” Tuk, meanwhile, is “the youngest of the Sullys,” Bliss shares, explaining that “she might be small in size, but she’s mighty in courage and she has a big heart. Her family is the most important thing to her, she’ll do anything for them.”

Meanwhile, Champion, who plays a teenager born on the human base on Pandora that was eventually reduced by the Sullys, describes the surreal feeling of being on set. “I would be like, ‘Oh, hey, Jim,’ or ‘You know, we’re gonna go 30 feet underwater today. You know, just another Wednesday,’” he shares.

“Pretty much, we’re in our suits night and day. We did so much underwater work,” Weaver says of working on the new water-themed film, which made headlines when a “proud” Winslet set a new record for holding her breath underwater.

Ronal in 20th Century Studios’ AVATAR 2. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Ronal in 20th Century Studios’ AVATAR 2. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
— Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios

When it comes to the new film, “people are going to be on the edge of their seats when they are watching,” Bass teases, with Bliss gushing that she is “so lucky to be a part of this amazing film and cast.”

“’Avatar’ is like a dream, and the weird thing is we got to play in that for a while,” Worthington says of the production process, which took several years to shoot, while excited to share the new films with audiences. “We’re hoping that feeling takes over them as well and that what they experienced in the first one, they are going to experience. That and then some.”

“Avatar 3-5”

While little is known about the three following films, they are scheduled for theatrical release on Dec. 20, 2024, Dec. 18, 2026 and Dec. 22, 2028.

According to BBC News, the films will be called “Avatar: The Seed Bearer”, “Avatar: The Tulkun Rider” and “Avatar: The Quest for Eywa”But when ET spoke with Cameron about the leaked titles in 2019, he would “neither confirm nor deny” those were the official names of the sequels. “Here’s what I’ll tell ya: Those titles are among titles that are in consideration. And no final decisions have been made yet.”


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Once again, Worthington, Saldaña, Lang, Ribisi, Moore, Rao, Gerald and Pounder will reprise their roles from the first two films in “Avatar 3”, with Worthington slated to appear in the final two films. “I’ve already done two and three,” Pounder previously told ET about returning as Neytiri’s mother and the Omaticaya’s spiritual leader, teasing that Cameron “didn’t want to reprise the [original] story” with the sequels. “It’s amazing, and just the imagination of the artists on ‘Avatar’ will blow you out of the water.”

Meanwhile Curtis, Falco, Cowell, Yeoh, Clement, and Chaplin are also slated to return, but no other cast members introduced in “The Way of Water” have been confirmed for the third movie at this time. David Thewlis will make his franchise debut in 3 in an undisclosed role.

“We’ve done all of two, quite a bit of three, some scenes of four ‘cause some kids were aging out and we know what’s happening in five,” Worthington says of the sequels, while Saldaña adds that “[James] writes beautiful stories that are very moving but with great characters that we can sink our teeth into.”

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Ellen Bullock