“Masters of the Air,” a World War II miniseries more than 20 years in the making, finally has both a trailer and a premiere date: January 26, 2024. Developed by director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks, the show has been in the works since 2013, when HBO announced it as a follow-up to the duo’s award-winning series, “Band of Brothers” (2001) and “The Pacific” (2010). But production stalled, with “Masters of the Air” moving from HBO to Apple TV+ in 2019. Filming began in England in 2021, pausing several times due to outbreaks of Covid-19.
Based on Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany, a 2006 book by historian Donald L. Miller, the highly anticipated series dramatizes the exploits of the 100th Bombardment Group, an Air Force unit nicknamed the “Bloody Hundredth” due to the heavy losses it incurred. Austin Butler, best known for playing Elvis in Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 biopic, stars as Major Gale Winston Cleven; Callum Turner plays Cleven’s close friend Major John Egan. Barry Keoghan, Anthony Boyle, Rafferty Law and Ncuti Gatwa round out the cast of American airmen.
The newly released trailer opens with Cleven watching airstrikes light up the night sky from afar. “When you look at it and don’t pay any attention to what’s really going on, it’s kind of beautiful,” he observes. Later, when discussing daytime missions with Egan, Cleven deems such raids suicide but pledges to “lead our boys through it.” The preview concludes with the major encouraging his men to “rack ’em up and knock ’em down.”
Apple has kept most details of the production under wraps, sparsely describing the show on its website as the tale of a “brotherhood forged by courage, loss and triumph.” The series will consist of nine episodes directed by such luminaries as Cary Joji Fukunaga, the brain behind the 2021 James Bond movie No Time to Die, and Dee Rees of Pariah and Mudbound fame. The first two episodes will drop on January 26, with the rest airing weekly through March 15.
“Masters of the Air” marks the fourth World War II-focused collaboration between Spielberg and Hanks. In 1998, Hanks starred in Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg’s fictional account of an Army battalion tasked with bringing home a soldier who is the only survivor of four brothers stationed overseas. Three years later, the pair brought “Band of Brothers” to HBO, dramatizing historian Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1992 book on Easy Company, a paratrooper unit in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. The miniseries won six Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe, earning praise for its emphasis on everyday heroism.
“The key word of the title is ‘brothers,’” Hanks told Deadline’s Dominic Patten in 2021. “The resonance of the series comes from the sense of ‘us,’ that we are all in this together and the primary, instinctive duty is to look after our brothers. A unit—like Easy Company—stands alone, together.”
Nine years after “Band of Brothers” premiered, Spielberg and Hanks revisited the war from a different perspective: that of the Marines stationed in the Pacific theater. While “Band of Brothers” focused on a single unit, “The Pacific” followed three separate regiments battling both an inhospitable environment and an enemy that viewed surrender as shameful. The sheer brutality chronicled in the series led Empire’s William Thomas to conclude, “‘Band of Brothers’ was a hymn to comradeship; ‘The Pacific’ is a moving lament to lost innocence.”
How the tone of “Masters of the Air” will compare with the show’s predecessors remains to be seen. But if the source material is any indication, viewers are in for a visceral experience. As Miller wrote in 2006, “Every position in the plane was vulnerable; there were no foxholes in the sky. Along with … submarine crews and the Luftwaffe pilots they met in combat, American and British bomber boys had the most dangerous job in the war.” By the end of the conflict, the Eighth Air Force had sustained more fatal casualties—26,000—than the entire Marine Corps.