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One of the things that seems to be coming into focus about the three sequels James Cameron is currently preparing to shoot for "Avatar" is that death does not seem to be a permanent condition on Pandora.
For at least a year now, Sigourney Weaver has been talking about how she plans to return for the films as well, hinting that once you are part of Pandora, you are not conventionally "dead," and there's plenty of groundwork for that in the first movie. One of the major ideas that Cameron emphasized in the first film is that all energy is only borrowed, and one day you have to give it back. All of Pandora is one giant network, storing memories and energy, and all of the Na'vi who have ever lived before are stored in that network, accessible by their descendants.
Today, word broke that Stephen Lang will be returning for a major role in all three of the sequels. Deadline quotes Cameron saying, "I'm not going to say exactly how we're bringing him back, but it's a science-fiction story, after all. His character will evolve into really unexpected places across the arc of our new three-film saga."
Since Col. Miles Quaritch was human in the first film, it'll be interesting to see how Pandora processes him. I can't imagine it will be as simple as Quaritch remaining the exact same intractable bad guy, but in a Na'vi body. He's going to be cycled through a deeply spiritual process that will transform him in every way, so what comes out the other side of that? Michael Fleming, who broke the story, refers to him as "Darth Vader" and "The Terminator," so is he hinting that there's going to be some sort of biomechanical element to Quaritch's resurrection?
I've seen some people already complaining that there are no stakes in the world of "Avatar," but I don't think that's what this means at all. Instead, I think Cameron really loves this larger world of Pandora and wants to explore various facets of how things work, and he's not going to ignore the characters he already created for the first film. The sequels, currently being scripted by Josh Friedman, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, and Shane Salerno, offer Cameron the single biggest canvass of his career, and I get the feeling he's going to introduce some very big new elements in each of the films.
December 2016 seems like a long way off, and production isn't even supposed to start on these films until a year from now, but it sounds like Cameron's moving forward and making his plans.