After years of radio silence, the Avatar sequels are finally underway. Announcements about the cast and shooting schedule have become more and more common, but the latest news has sparked speculation and discussion moreso than the others. James Cameron confirmed that Miles Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang in the original film, will be the villain of all four sequels as well. This is the first time that we've heard about this particular character's exact role in the series. — previous announcements centered on Jake Worthington's and Zoe Saldana's returns as protagonists Jake and Neyteri respectively; though in all fairness, Lang's involvement with the sequels has long been reported.
Quaritch did die at the end of the original film, making his return somewhat more surprising. While there is a great deal of fantastical science fiction going on in the world of Pandora, resurrection from the dead has yet to be explored. To recap: Quaritch was obsessed with destroying the Na'vi, but was killed by Saldana's Neyteri before he could destroy the sacred Tree of Souls or kill Worthington's Jake. This seems like a good end for the character, but like the rest of the saga, Cameron would not let him rest, instead saying he would be the villain of the entire saga.
Cameron's entire quote is below:
“The interesting conceit of the Avatar sequels is it’s pretty much the same characters. There are new characters and a lot of new settings and creatures, so I’m taking characters you know and putting them in unfamiliar places and moving them on this greater journey. But it’s not a whole bunch of new characters every time. There’s not a new villain every time, which is interesting. Same guy. Same motherfucker through all four movies. He is so good and he just gets better. I know Stephen Lang is gonna knock this out of the park.”
Not much is known about the plot of the sequels, so this reveal comes as a bit of a surprise. Given that most of the characters had a complete arc in the film, stretching their stories out to fit four more films might be a reach, but Cameron has proved he's more than ready to imagine new worlds and stories. But most of these returning characters weren't dead at the end of their film, which means Cameron will have to imagine a whole new way for Quaritch to cheat death.
Cameron has written himself into a bit of a corner with the character, since it's likely that he was not planning to make him the primary antagonist of five films. But what's done is done, and now Cameron will have to invent a way to bring his villain back from the dead. Luckily for him, he's playing in a sandbox which involves a lot of transferring of consciousnesses. Quaritch's consciousness could easily be transferred into a new avatar of some kind, thus allowing him to return. Similarly, it could give Quaritch a new face, even if Lang is doing the mo-cap. The promise of Lang's return specifically means they won't recast the character, but the visuals of the world do allow for him to return with a new look.
Quaritch being transferred into a new body before his own demise is an interesting reversal of Jake's own final actions where he is transferred into his new body to live his best life. Quaritch will be sent to a new form in order to essentially live his worst life — to be a man hellbent on revenge on one specific family. This sets them up as a more interesting protagonist-antagonist duo, with their lives becoming opposites of one another instead of just existing as "nice soldier" and "mean soldier."
If readers will bear with me a moment, then we can explore exactly how Quaritch's consciousness might have been transferred prior to his own death, despite not being near any equipment or tech that would have preserved him. Eywa, the mysterious force that binds all living things together on Pandora, is proven to exist multiple times throughout the film, most notably when Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) dies before she can be transferred into her avatar and says she can see "her" right before she passes. If Cameron is going the mystical route, then Eywa might have had a reason to save Quaritch. Is this a hint at a possible redemption arc similar to Darth Vader's, since Cameron's epic very frequently pays homage to other sci-fi franchises?
The Eywa theory does lend more evidence to how Augustine will return, as Weaver is also slated to be rejoining the franchise. However, it is less likely that the benevolent power guarding Pandora would save the man hellbent on destroying the planet. Maybe there's a flip side to Eywa, a darker power that saves him for the purpose of causing mayhem? Again, we know too little about the film to fully speculate on how characters will be returning, but a possible dark side to Eywa could be what saves Quaritch for malevolent purpose.
Now there could be a simpler explanation — someone got him to the right technology to save his life and as a result he survived his encounter with Neyteri. There could be an in-universe scientific answer to his survival that wouldn't rely too heavily on mysticism and nebulous powers that be. That does open up a mystery of who saved him, and why, which could make for an interesting subplot in one of the films. It could be a way to introduce a villains lineup for the films to provide Quaritch with backup, since he can't be up to evil all alone. The Avatar universe's rogues gallery needs to expand in order to keep the franchise interesting. After all, Quaritch did have a complete arc in the first film. He'll need some help staying relevant for future installments.
The element of resurrection was one toyed with in the first film, but now is being explored outright. It could be a very interesting direction to take the franchise. The first film had a distinct subplot of science vs. faith, and now that faith has won to a degree it could be fun to take that in a fresh direction and explore the idea of resurrections. Jake has already died and been born anew, and now we know that both his better angel Augustine and the villainous Quaritch will be rising from the dead as well. Cameron's series might become a strange sci-fi religious allegory, particular with his frequent emphasis on how the future films will center on family and emotion against an elaborate backdrop. We know so little about these films, but that will surely change once filming starts this September. Maybe then the mystery of Quaritch's survival will be answered.