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Why Avatar: The Last Airbender Is Still Relevant And Rewarding For Older Audiences, According To One Star

avatar the last airbender jet episode screenshot team avatar sokka appa

Avatar: The Last Airbender ended its run back in 2008, but the show found a whole new audience more recently when all three seasons debuted on Netflix to tell the story of Avatar Aang working to master all four elements and defeat Fire Lord Ozai with the help of his friends. Now available on multiple streaming services, A:TLA is a hit with kids and adults alike even though the animated series was originally produced for Nickelodeon. According to voice actor Jack DeSena, there are some reasons why the show has remained so relevant and rewarding all these years later.

I spoke with Jack DeSena, who voiced fan-favorite Sokka for all three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender, ahead of his guest appearance on Dante Basco and Janet Varney's Avatar rewatch podcast, Braving the Elements. Sokka's character development throughout A: TLA started early, when he learned some key lessons from Suki and the Kyoshi Warriors that are as valuable today as they were back in 2005. DeSena weighed in on the importance of Sokka's growth for viewers, saying:

I love that [creators] Mike [Dante DiMartino] and Bryan [Konietzko] built in that blind spot of Sokka's. And then very quickly addressing that he comes from this warrior culture, believes certain things about his role as the oldest male there, and has certain judgments about his sister, and introduce all of that right away, make that all clear on the pilot. But... pretty immediately as they set off into the world, this is clearly something this kid will have to learn about, and adjust his perspective in a major way. So I think they handled that really well. And it was relevant then and it's just as relevant now. I love that storyline.

The first handful of episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender make it clear that it's not going to be the kind of animated series targeted at a younger audience that resets every week and sticks to lighter kinds of stories. The characters had multiple layers early on, and genocide wasn't exactly a common plot point on Nickelodeon!

By the end of the series, everybody had evolved a great deal from where they began, and Sokka in particular had to overcome a lot of challenges as the only non-bender of Team Avatar who was still an essential member of the group. Jack DeSena shared his thoughts on Sokka as a character who was never static:

I think that's something that was a really pleasant surprise throughout the process for me. It became clear early on, like, 'Cool, I'm this major sort of comedic release role. And we've got this big major arc of Aang sort of learning everything and going on this epic journey.' It was certainly possible that Sokka would be more static and would be more there to keep cracking jokes, he keeps some plot stuff moving. But they really continued to build beautiful arcs and growth for Sokka, and for all the characters. They didn't silo little character growth just on to Aang, or Aang and Zuko. They built beautiful stories for all of them. And it was just a joy to crack a new script, and see what we were being gifted that week to explore in these characters.

Sokka was definitely the source of a lot of the comedy of Avatar: The Last Airbender, whether thanks to slapstick moments or discovering the effects of the quenchiest cactus juice or any of the other times that he delivered some laughs to what could be a very serious storyline. At the same time, he was much more than just slapstick and received just as much development as the other characters.

Admittedly, Zuko had farther to go from just wanting to regain his honor to fighting with the heroes, but Sokka came a long way over the seasons. When I noted that the character development was a reason why A: TLA has such appeal to older viewers as well as kids, Jack DeSena continued:

And that they're doing that for every character. You get more information, more backstory, more depth, for you know, Ty Lee than you ever would have expected, right? It's not just like some pop-up little villain of the week... 'Okay, we're gonna spend some time with her and see what her deal is.' That they did that and took that level of care with, you know, dozens of characters, I think is what makes it rewatchable. What gives it depth, what makes it rewarding for an older audience. I think it's just a great accomplishment to be that thorough in the world building and the character building.

How many shows that were produced for a younger demographic and aired on Nickelodeon could have broad appeal, offer so many rewatchable episodes, deliver so much development, and inspire a podcast bringing back the stars well over a decade after the series finale aired? Avatar: The Last Airbender truly was a one-of-a-kind series that continues to build on its legacy as more and more people continue discovering it thanks to streaming.

That said, The Last Airbender isn't the only series set in the shared universe, as sequel series Avatar: The Legend of Korra premiered in 2012. Plus, an extended Avatar universe is on the way with creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko on board. Throw in the Netflix series that just announced the actors who will bring the beloved characters to live action, and the show that launched on Nickelodeon in 2005 has a much broader reach than anybody could have guessed back then.

You can revisit Avatar: The Last Airbender with the full series streaming on both Netflix and Paramount+, along with the full run of Avatar: The Legend of Korra. To revisit The Last Airbender along with the stars, you can check out the Avatar: Braving the Elements podcast hosted by Zuko voice actor Dante Basco and Korra leading lady Janet Varney. The show has already featured guests like Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, Suki voice actress Jennie Kwan, and even more as well as Jack DeSena.

If you're in the market for some upcoming viewing options beyond the Avatarverse, be sure to check out our 2021 fall TV premiere schedule to find out what to watch and when to watch it!

Laura Hurley

Resident of One Chicago, Bachelor Nation, and Cleveland. Has opinions about crossovers, Star Wars, and superheroes. Will not time travel.