Now that five years have passed since moviegoers last took a trip to the ultimate holiday destination of Pandora in James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar, it can be easy to forget that there are three sequels currently in the works, set to be shot back-to-back beginning this fall. It’s lucky that there’s still plenty of planet left to explore.

There aren’t many filmmakers who could wrangle a studio green light for three big-budget sequels so far in advance, but since Avatar remains the highest-grossing movie of all time and the #2 spot is held by another Cameron movie, Twentieth Century Fox is understandably being quite accommodating.

Avatar famously took 14 years from its original conception to its release, as Cameron waited for technology to catch up with his ambition, and expanding the movie universe for the sequels has also been a lengthy process as Cameron oversees creature design and the further construction of Pandora’s fictional ecosystem.

Speaking in a recent Reddit AMA, Cameron gave an update on the scripts for Avatar 2, Avatar 3 and Avatar 4, assuring fans that pre-production for all of them is in full swing.

“The second, third and fourth films all go into production simultaneously. They’re essentially all in preproduction now, because we are designing creatures, settings, and characters that span all three films. And we should be finished with all three scripts within the next, I would say, six weeks.

“There’s always pressure, whether it’s a new film or whether it’s a sequel, to entertain and amaze an audience. I’ve felt that pressure my entire career, so there’s nothing new there. The biggest pressure I feel right now is cutting out things I love to get the film down to a length that is affordable. There hasn’t been a problem finding new and wonderful things to include in the movie.”

The way Cameron describes the shooting schedule for the sequels implies that he plans to film scenes for Avatar 3 and Avatar 4 at the same time as Avatar 2, rather than producing each movie in strict sequence, which could make for a strong tie between the plots of the three sequels. Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington and Stephen Lang will all reprise their roles in all three of the sequels, which suggests that Avatar 2-4 will have one huge over-arching story rather than being a series of standalone tales set on Pandora.

Those who have been following Avatar developments closely may remember the rumor that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the face of Cameron’s Terminator franchise, would be playing the villain in Avatar 2. Fox denied the rumors at the time, and Cameron has now chimed in to say that there isn’t really a Schwarzenegger-shaped hole in the scripts.

“As of right now, he and I have not discussed it, and I don’t see a role as the scripts are coming together that would be appropriate for him, so I would say probably not.”

Aside from the return of former characters (both confirmed and rumored), there have yet to be any new casting announcements for the Avatar sequels. Any of the actors from Avatar could feasibly reprise their roles, since Cameron has said that he never really considers a character to be permanently dead in a sci-fi franchise, and this is especially true on a planet where it’s possible to shift someone’s consciousness from one body to another.

With the scripts nearly complete it looks like Avatar 2 and the other sequels are still on track to begin filming this fall, and the next movie is set to take place largely underwater. But will humans continue to play the villains, or are there other threats on the horizon?

Avatar 2 is expected to reach theaters in December 2016, followed by Avatar 3 in 2017 and Avatar 4 in 2018.

Source: Reddit (via THR)