There are certain images that are seared onto my subconscious from way back in my childhood. In the movie Inside Out these were called “Core Memories.” One of these that I have never forgotten is the sight of a giant robot made up of different colored lion robots. How could someone forget that?! It’s only the weirdest and coolest thing on Earth. It was later that I’d learn that robot was called Voltron and he was the defender of the universe. The prospect of bringing Voltron back for a new audience seemed a dubious one, but it was handled by the creative team behind The Legend of Korra, among many other amazing shows. Now Voltron Legendary Defender is here, and it more than lives up to that memory of amazing adventures.
The series, coming to Netflix on Friday, June 10, consists of an hour-long origin movie (really three 22-minute episodes put together) followed up by 10 more episodes. I was lucky enough to get to see the origin movie at a screening, so this will be a review of that, but know this—as far as origins go, it ticks all the boxes. It introduces the pertinent characters, sets up the plight they face, becomes a quest to unlock the eventual power of Voltron, and sets the scene for the episodes to follow. And it does a damn good job of all of it.
In the way-too-distant future, an expedition to an alien planet by Earth forces gets intercepted by the evil invading forces led by Emperor Zarkon. One of the Earthlings is captured by the aliens and interrogated. The action shifts to a cadet training base where prospective pilot Lance (Jeremy Shada), engineer Hunk (Tyler Labine), and tech specialist Pidge (Bex Taylor-Klaus) are not doing the best, and about to wash out—they just don’t work well as a team. One night, they spy something strange happening in the desert surrounding the base and investigate, where they find Shiro (Josh Keaton)—the pilot kidnapped by the aliens—has been returned somehow. Through a few circumstances, Lance, Huck, and Pidge all try to rescue Shiro, but so does Lance’s rival Keith (Steven Yuen). They all have to try to find a way to warn Earth of the incoming invasion.
Then begins a journey to find five giant lion robots that join together to create Voltron, which Zarkon’s forces want to retrieve themselves. Each lion chooses one of the five Earth pilots, with the Blue Lion choosing Lance, and the rest of the team flying with him to the long dormant planet that birthed Voltron. Princess Allura (Kimberly Brooks) and her adviser Coran (Rhys Darby) awaken from hibernation to find they are the only two souls remaining. They need to help the others find their respective lions, which will be easier said than done.
The first major takeaway for me when I watched the pilot was just how well defined each of the major characters were. Everyone has a personality and an ethos all their own, and each one could be the main character of their own show. And it helps anchor the series: very strong characterization across the board makes them working together more than just a bunch of side characters revolving around a central hero. It seems like Lance is going to be our main character, but with each subsequent introduction, we rethink that—and not in a bad or confusing way at all.
The next big thing is just how long we spend with the search for the lions, and in fact how much time is spent to differentiate each lion’s specialty. The Blue Lion is fast, the Yellow Lion is incredibly strong, the Black Lion is the most powerful, etc. It isn’t just a show where you’re waiting around twiddling your thumbs until Voltron shows up, though that is a highlight of the episode for sure. It feels much more to me like a space anime of the past, like Space Battleship Yamato or Macross, than it does something like Power Rangers where it follows the same path every time, always culminating in the Megazord fighting a giant monster. This will be a serial with a story arc clearly defined.
And I think my favorite thing about it is is that it’s just fun! It’s a good time seeing these characters you very quickly grow to like having adventures in space. It’s funny, it’s exciting, the action is superb, and it’s a show any age can watch and enjoy for different reasons. It sparked that little nostalgia center in my brain that loved the original show and other ’80s titles like ThunderCats and Transformers. I couldn’t recommend it enough, and I can’t wait to see the other episodes.
4 out of 5 very legendary burritos.
The first season of Voltron Legendary Defender hits Netflix in its entirety Friday June 10. Check out my interview with the show’s creators here!
Images: DreamWorks Animation/Netflix