- This article is about the character in The Last Airbender. For other similar uses, see Zuko (disambiguation).
Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation was banished from his country by his father when he was thirteen, and is the brother of Azula. The only way for him to return is to capture the current Avatar, Aang. With the help of his uncle, Iroh, he must find him before his rival, Commander Zhao.
When he was thirteen, Zuko had spoken out of turn to a general in defense of some of his friends who were going to sacrificed in battle, so he was sentenced to an Agni kī Duel (अग्नि की डूएल - "Duel of Fire"). When he showed up, it was his father he was to fight, but he would not fight his father. His father mocked him, saying, "I should bring your sister up here to beat you." The father burned his son in the face to teach him a lesson. Seeking to restore his honor, Zuko began searching for the Avatar. Three years later, one day on his warship, he witnessed a column of bright light (the Avatar being freed from the iceberg), and he realized it must have been caused by the Avatar. Zuko ordered the course of his warship be set for the light, determined to capture the Avatar, and restore his honor.
Face of the enemy
Zuko entered the village with his men, and told the villagers who he was, the son of Fire Lord Ozai and heir to the throne of the Fire Nation. He had his men round up all the elderlies. One of the soldiers found the boy in the igloo with some children. Upon noticing his tattoos, the boy was brought to Zuko. Zuko was astonished to find the tattoos that he seemingly recognized its significance and demanded to know who the boy was. The boy defiantly refused to give his name. Zuko threatened to burn down the village with his firebenders if the boy did not come along with him on his ship, so the boy complied.
On the ship, Zuko's uncle, Iroh, conducted a few tests on the boy, after assuring the boy the tests would be painless; once complete, the boy would be free to go. The test involved a candle flame that seemed to be drawn toward the boy, water poured on the table that formed a circle on the table, and a smooth rock that stood on an unstable position. However, when Zuko declared the boy to be Zuko's prisoner, Iroh apologetically explained to the boy that he had not failed the tests as all others did, because it meant that the boy was the Avatar. Iroh added that he was honored to be in the presence of the boy. When the boy escaped from Zuko and his men, Zuko watched with despair, saying that he almost had his honor back, but Iroh assured him that his destiny was tied with the Avatar.
A bitter rivalry
Zuko soon found himself coming face to face with his enemy, Commander Zhao. Commander Zhao spotted Zuko on Zuko's ship out in the sea and offered him lunch on Zhao's ship. Zuko and Iroh sat with Zhao on the main table. Zhao made a toast in the mess hall that seemingly mocked Zuko in front of his soldiers. Zhao reminded them how Ozai banished the Fire Lord's son Zuko, and Zuko could not return until he found the Avatar. Zuko confronted Zhao and told him that, once Zuko's father took him back, Zhao would bow before Zuko. Back on his ship, Zuko gazed at his family picture (his mother, his father, his sister and himself) before began his training of firebending and hand-to-hand combat. Iroh observed from the deck above while drinking his tea.
Following The Trail
Zuko and two soldiers, disguised as travelers of the Earth Kingdom, visited the first village Aang liberated. They also entered the former prison camp and looked around. It was implied that Zuko might have found Katara's necklace there. At the Fire Nation Colony Fifteen, located in the Northern Earth Kingdom, Zuko sat with his uncle Iroh in a tea shop, with Zuko's face hidden by the hood of his cloak to avoid being recognized. Zuko mentioned that they were catching up with the Avatar and the Avatar's friends. Iroh pointed out that were lots of pretty girls in the town and pleaded with Zuko to settle down here and abandon the search for the Avatar. However, Zuko was determined catch the Avatar first and think about the pretty girls later. To convey his point, he asked a local boy about the banished prince.
The Blue Spirit
Later, Zuko dressed up as the Blue Spirit to spy on Zhao. He slipped underneath a Fire Nation tank and grabbed its undercarriage, hitching a ride. While Zhao addressed his assembly of soldiers, Zuko headed toward the prayer room, stealthily taking down the soldiers posted there along the way. He used his dual dao swords to break Aang free from the chains. Zuko entered the temple courtyard with Aang, where they were surrounded by many Fire Nation soldiers. A fire attack from behind forced them to evade and split up, fighting the soldiers on the opposite sides on the courtyard. Aang was about to fly out using his glider, but after seeing the Blue Spirit still fending off the soldiers by himself Aang flew back to fight alongside him. Zhao ordered his soldiers not to kill the Avatar, as the Avatar would just be reborn again. The Blue Spirit quickly grabbed Aang and threateningly held his sword at Aang's throat. Zhao had no choice but to let them go. The soldiers remained at the courtyard while the Blue Spirit led Aang across the bridge. At the end of the bridge, Zhao's archer shot down the Blue Spirit with single arrow. The soldiers rushed across the bridge to capture them. Aang discovered the unconscious Blue Spirit was Prince Zuko. He used his airbending to pull in the fog and mask their getaway. The next morning, he left Zuko still unconscious by the campfire in the forest, leaping from tree to tree before Zuko awoke.
Meanwhile, back in the Northern Earth Kingdom, Iroh was relaxing and receiving a foot message from an earth villager woman when Zuko walked past him. He informed Zuko that Zhao's men had been searching for him, but Iroh had told them Zuko was on vacation with a girl. Seemingly unaware of Zuko's misadventure at the temple, Iroh asked where Zuko had been for the last four days. Zuko replied "nowhere" and that they should keep moving because the Avatar was traveling again. Iroh told Zuko to rest first, as Zuko looked like he had went through a great deal. As Zuko lie down on his bed in his ship, he noticed something hissing near the torch on his wall. Zuko dashed out just before the ship exploded into a huge, orange fireball. Iroh moved into to protect the woman from the blast as he cried out to Zuko.
Siege of the North
While the Fire Nation flagship that was leading the rest of the fleet to the Northern Water Tribe city, Iroh went below deck and met with Zuko, who was still alive. Iroh was sure that Zhao ordered the attack on Zuko. He informed Zuko that they had arrived at the Water Tribe stronghold but was concerned that Zhao had no sacredness. Zuko was determined to continue, as he would not be allowed to live in peace until he has found the Avatar and has brought him to Ozai.
At the rear of the flagship, Zuko wearing a white camouflage suit stepped into a small boat. Iroh reminded Zuko to keep his uniform closed up to his neck, and that his chi could warm him in the icy water. Iroh wished him to be safe as Zuko headed out near the shore of the stronghold and dove in. He found a spot underneath the city with thin layer of ice, which he opened by generating heat from his chi to melt the spot and broke through the surface, into an unoccupied room.
As he entered the Northern Water Tribe city, Zuko noticed Aang, Katara, Sokka, and Princess Yue, and followed them to an entrance into the side of an icy hill. He entered the Spirit Oasis, where he set his torch down to set the grass on fire. Katara took a defensive stance. Zuko sent out a fire blast, which she took out with two large streams of water from the pond. Katara took out the second blast with a single stream. Impressed with her waterbending ability, Zuko asked who she was. Katara told him her name and revealed she was the last waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe. Zuko firebent a curved blast and a straight blast. Overwhelmed with the complexity of Zuko's attack, she deflected the curved blast but was knocked hard against the tree with the other blast. Zuko rested her unconscious body next the tree and checked her condition. He explained to her that he was not allowed to return to the Fire Nation without the Avatar.
Zuko placed Aang, who had been meditating and failed to notice the fight, down in a storage room in the stronghold, binding Aang's hands to a rope. Zuko peered out the window, looking down the battle taking place below. His plan was to wait until "everyone is fighting everyone" before slipping out into the night. While Aang was in the Avatar State, Zuko talked about his sister, Azula, while he was still looking out the window. Zuko's father favored her over Zuko, because she was a firebending prodigy and their father thought Zuko was like his mother. Aang suddenly took off, leaping over barrels with Zuko chasing right behind him. Zuko firebent the flames from the torches to take Aang down, also blasting away items in the room in the process.
Zuko searched for Aang hiding in the storage room. His hands now free, Aang used waterbending to distract Zuko and tried to escape. The situation escalated to a fight, later with firebending and airbending. As the fight turned into a standoff, they noticed that room was rumbling. The water in the barrels began to shake, spiraled to Zuko, encasing him in ice. Aang turned to see Katara, who saw the flames illuminating from the window of the storage room from the city below. Aang told Katara that the Dragon Spirit told him what to do. Katara left the room with Sokka and Yue. Before leaving the room, Aang melted the ice around Zuko's head so Zuko could breathe. Aang suggested for Zuko to stay hidden here for Zuko's safety, and that they could be friends. Later, Zuko used his chi-heat to melt all of the ice and free himself.
Meanwhile, Zhao stood on a bridge, seemingly in despair of his failure of killing the Moon. Zuko stepped out from the mist, walking toward him. Zhao said he had him killed. Zuko prepared to duel Zhao until Iroh appeared and told Zuko to walk away. The Fire Nation soldiers had overrun the city – there was no way Zuko could take the Avatar now. Iroh pointed out that fighting Zhao would lead to Zuko being captured instead, presumably so Zhao would have someone to blame should the siege fail, instead of going back empty-handed. As Zuko turned away, the enraged Zhao bent a large double-spiral fire attack to them. Iroh redirected the flames to sides, shielding him and Zuko. They left Zhao standing alone on the bridge.
While initially the main antagonist, over time Zuko's development has shown him to be more of a bitter and complex young man than a truly evil character; he was initially more akin to a tragic villain in opposition to Aang. Zuko wanted, more than anything, to have his place as heir to the Fire Nation throne and his father's love. Zuko believed, or perhaps forced himself to believe, that capturing the Avatar would make these wishes come true, which made him one of Aang's most determined enemies. This determination stands in contrast with other pursuers such as Zhao or Azula who are motivated mostly by political ambition or cruelty.
In the movie, Zuko is played by Dev Patel. The role was originally given to Jesse McCartney, but the pop singer dropped out when his tour dates conflicted with a boot camp scheduled for the cast to train in martial arts. Before Slumdog Millionaire was released, Patel auditioned for the role of Zuko by submitting a tape to the studio. Shyamalan called Patel personally to inform him that he got the part. Training for the film was intense, as he had to learn Wushu and different martial arts. Patel's first fight scene filmed called for him to be in a tub of water on a ship; he was to look at a picture of his family, which would give him the urge to fight. Patel recalled fighting, punching, and throwing, saying it was truly amazing. While he was filming Slumdog in India, he would finish a take and turn one of the channels over to the animated series. Even though it is based on a cartoon, he wanted to bring as much of himself as possible to the character he was portraying.
- Zuko's anti-hero status was done with less subtlety in the film, rather than gradually revealed throughout the original animated series, which highlighted the moment this status was confirmed when Zuko turned against his father and joined Aang.
- Zuko was shown as feeling remorse for others, something his animated counterpart was blind to as of season one in the series. This was shown when he apologized to an unconscious Katara after he defeated her in the movie, whereas in the series he smugly rubbed in his victory over her.
- Zuko no longer has a ponytail like his animated counterpart, which may suggest another story element to be dropped in the sequel, where Zuko cut off his hair as a symbol of severance from his family and the Fire Nation in season two.
- The story of Fire Lord Ozai burning the face of his son Prince Zuko (who was banished) was well known among Fire Nation people, including colonials in the Northern Earth Kingdom. Ashamed, Zuko remained hooded to avoid being recognized by the locals at Fire Nation Colony in the Northern Earth Kingdom. In the animated series, most Fire Nation people (including Lieutenant Jee) thought the scar was a result of a training accident.
- M. Night Shyamalan considered choosing Jesse McCartney to portray Zuko before Dev Patel.
- Zuko was sixteen in the show, but eighteen in the movie.
- Zuko's alter ego of the Blue Spirit was based on a legend he heard as a child.