In Avatar, Jake Sully is the paraplegic marine brother of a scientist who had been working on the Avatar program. Jake was needed as his brother had died, and only a similar genetic match would work with his brother's Avatar.

My question is, how long did it take for the message to go out to Jake, and for him to respond and arrive? It seems reasonable to assume that because Jake needed to go into stasis, the trip (presumably from Earth) to Pandora would have taken many months to years. How could they afford to wait? Weren't the research team pressed for time to move the Avatar program forward, and evacuate the natives? Did Jake's arrival hold everyone up? If they could wait for him to arrive, couldn't they do without him?

I guess the way I see it, either:

  • They can wait for him as he isn't needed, he doesn't need to arrive.
  • They can't wait for him, and so the military/mining goes on without him.

My impression was that the plot followed the later of those two, but never addressed waiting months or years for him to arrive.

Have I missed something, or made a mistake, or was this just glossed over?

  • 4
    I'm sure there's a reasonable [cough]Bad writing[cough] explanation for this.
    – John O
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 13:29
  • @JohnO could be, or I could be missing something.
    – AncientSwordRage
    Commented Oct 11, 2012 at 13:37

4 Answers 4


As I recall, Jake's brother died on Earth before he was scheduled to leave for Pandora. Jake was also on Earth, so the time it would take to move him from one place to another on Earth is all that would be required. Neither was Jake's group the first to arrive with avatars. There were already scientists with avatars on Pandora, who had been trying to work with the natives for years. Jake's brother was not one of the original team and was one of the more recent recruits.


Regarding the question of how long the message took to go out to Jake - according to the Avatar sourcebook (which they were literally giving away at Borders, and which I seem to have misplaced, so no specific citations, unfortunately), the Avatar universe has (stupendously expensive*) instantaneous communication across interstellar distances. It seems reasonable that Jake arrived at Pandora on the same ship that his deceased brother would have arrived on, had he remained alive. As such, Pandora was not waiting on Jake but for his brother (as well as all the other personnel and materiel aboard the ship).

An interpretation:

Jake's brother was a scientist, and would have gone to Pandora with the expectation of being part of the science program, which the film implies was looking somewhat rosier in the past, with better relations between the humans and the Na'vi and the probable expectation that the humans would have been able to continue mining without major problems. The movie makes it clear that diplomacy is only part of the science program's purpose, with the avatar program being used for forays to study the flora and fauna of Pandora as well as for anthropological purposes. Jake's brother was probably not going to be sent for the express purpose of getting the Na'vi to move. By the time Jake arrives, the situation has deteriorated significantly and Quaritch and Selfridge opportunistically use Jake as a mole.

* I think the book said 1 million dollars per bit. What that is in future money, not sure. But if it's economical to mine on another planet for $20M/kg, it's probably a lot.


The film's original treatment makes the order of event slightly clearer.

When Tom Sully died on Earth (in this version as a result of a subway fire, in the final version as the result of a botched mugging), this apparently triggered a chain of events. His brother was notified, as were his colleagues at the Interplanetary Commerce Administration. They come to see Josh Jake Sully at the crematorium in order to pay their respects to Tom and make Jake an offer he can't refuse, to take over his brother's contract and travel to Pandora.

Several weeks later he's stuffed into a hibernation pod on the ISV Prometheus where he and his avatar will be spending the next 3-5 years traveling from Earth to Alpha Centauri

So Tom was going to be one of these controller guys? That's right, they tell him. His embryo has been growing in vitro at the lab for several months. This is significant since only one in a hundred volunteers actually produces a viable composite. Each viable embryo represents an investment of over 20 million dollars. So they are offering Josh the same contract they gave his brother. Since he is genetically identical, he can step into his brother's shoes, and become a controller. The next mission leaves in three weeks, so he will have to go through a crash training course, but it's still better than wasting a good avatar.


There are a couple of possible explanations (apart from John O's highly plausible one).

  1. The official plan is to move the natives away from the mine site peacefully, and that for this the research team is needed. The military doesn't have the political clout to use force while there is still a reasonable likelihood of the peaceful solution working, so they wait for Sully. When it becomes clear that Sully isn't going to make the peaceful solution work, then they go with force.
  2. There is actually essential equipment or personnel coming in on the same ship as Sully. They would have to wait for it anyway, so they may as well wait for him.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.