© February 2013 Heralde8
Redemption. It’s what every villain hopes for, right?
....Well maybe not, but it’s certainly what many fans hope for their villains! I can still remember sharing Luke Skywalker’s surprise and happiness at seeing his father return to the good side. Or watching the Grinch’s eyes change to a serene blue. Not to mention relishing in Skeletor’s temporary case of The Christmas Spirit! Going all the way back to the hopeful Parable of the Lost Sheep, we have a need to believe that lost souls can find their way home. That the bully who torments you might someday be persuaded to take your side. It’s not about good conquering the evil. It’s about evil welcoming the good, willingly.
Today I’d like to discuss one particular baddie, that frisky little fighter jet from the Transformers franchise – Starscream the Decepticon- who’s had not one, but four distinct and unique chances at redemption.
First a little back story. As any fan will be happy/obsessed to tell you, Starscream is Second in Command of the evil Decepticon forces in the Transformers saga, with the not-so-secret desire to over throw Megatron as leader. To say Starscream’s enthusiasm gets in the way of his mutinous plans is an understatement. Cartoon characters from the ’80s were well-known for their signature catchphrases and quirks. And in Starscream’s case it was to (unwisely) proclaim “One day I will be leader!” whenever Megatron was in ear shot! Needless to say his not so subtle attempts at subterfuge usually fail miserably. Luckily Starscream is not above a bit of groveling and always quickly finds a way back into Megatron’s good graces. These have been Starscream’s defining traits throughout the various Transformers continuities.
Now you may wonder why such a seemingly pathetic, sniveling creature would inspire such fan fondness, let alone hopes of redemption.
Well as it was for so many fans back in the day, for me it started with that absurdly unique voice. Starscream’s shrill yet delicate cadence gives him an almost Peter Lorre-esque quality that inspires sympathy despite the evil he does. We all know we should hate Starscream (the guy has tried to blow up the world several times) but we can’t help but feel sorry for him because he seems so vulnerable and put upon.
For Starscream is not your typical blindly subservient Decepticon. He’s fully aware Megatron loses to the good guys every week and is not afraid to gleefully rub it in his face! We admire Starcream for his ability to recognize weakness in authority. Not that Starscream’s eager to play hero. His rebellious spirit quickly evaporates when he remembers his leader transforms into a gun, not a suggestion box! Starscream’s daily “about-faces” are a source of much humor on the show because they are so transparent and clumsy. He seems oblivious as to how amateur his methods are and it is his exasperating innocence that makes him so endearing.
In its complete form, my essay will focus on four stories from the Transformers universe that offered Starscream insights into his life and the potential for redemption. For now, I present Part I of my analysis, beginning with an episode of the original animated series.
Also included will be song suggestions (in italics
) that echo the mood of each story (preferably ’80s of course to honor the original G1 Transformers
).1. “Fire in the Sky” – The Transformers, Episode 7, by Alfred A. Pegal (1984)Summary:
Starscream’s miraculous reunion with old friend Skyfire is cut short as the two friends find themselves on opposite sides of the Transformers’ conflict.’80s song suggestions
1. “Separate Ways” (Journey)
2. “Do You Remember?” (Phil Collins)
3. “Somewhere Out There” (Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram)
1984 – The year the heroic Autobots and dastardly Decepticons awoke on planet Earth and began an epic war (and toy line!) that would last three decades and counting. Despite its reputation as a glorified toy commercial, the original Transformers cartoon series did manage to sneak in the occasional social message. One recurring theme was the destructive effects of war on friendship. Many episodes focused on close friends and loved ones torn apart by differing ideologies or sinister influences. Such stories took simplistic dialogue and limited animation and managed to tell truly poignant, thought-provoking tales of friendship lost. And the one that started it all was Episode 7, “Fire in the Sky.”
So far in the series we’ve only really gotten to know the basics of Starscream’s character. He’s discontent with Megatron’s leadership, but will fall in line in order to protect himself and fight another day (“Time makes all things possible. I can wait.”). He has no love for the valiant Autobots and shows no remorse for terrorizing the innocent inhabitants of Earth. Still…he seems happy enough (“I am invincible! No one can stand against me!”), in his own twisted way.
Little did Starscream know on that fateful December morning (going by broadcast dates) that his past was about to catch up with him. It is in this episode that Starscream and the Decepticons unexpectedly uncover a fellow robot on Earth, frozen in the Arctic Circle. Even more unexpected, said robot turns out to have been a friend of Starscream’s. Some equally treacherous partner in crime, perhaps? Nope, rather a loyal partner in science,
named Skyfire, long assumed dead following a botched exploratory mission on Earth many years before. Starscream had frantically searched “half the globe” for his lost friend and partner those many years ago, but to no avail.
That’s right, there was a time when Starscream actually cared for someone, and had someone who cared about him. His fondness for his old partner is evident as he takes the lead in reviving Skyfire (“I knew him once…a long time ago…”). An obvious change comes upon Starscream, particularly in his voice, which has lost its shrillness and has taken on a noticeably more mature and pensive cadence, perhaps an echo of the scientist he once was ("One night will remind you"
). His guilt is palpable as he bitterly recalls the day he and Skyfire were separated. His relief and happiness are contagious as he watches Skyfire finally awaken and fondly speak his name (“Starscream, it’s you. You have…rescued me.”).
It’s certainly a far cry from the treacherous, loner Starscream we know today. This brings up an intriguing question about the nature of evil. What makes a decent creature go so very wrong? Well put yourself in Starscream’s position for a second: Your best friend is lost in a dreadful accident, you use everything in your circuits to try to find him, but in the end it’s just not good enough. You
were not good enough. Who knows how long he spent on that cold, empty world, his gears freezing up, each hour decreasing the chances of finding his friend alive. Things that get lost in the snow have a tragic way of staying lost. Then there’s the lonely, guilt ridden trip back home to Cybertron afterward. This is what Starscream has had to live with for Primus knows how many years. Perhaps moving on was simply not an option. Maybe abandoning science to become a Decepticon soldier was his way of forgetting the past. If true, it means we have a villain who is evil…because he lost a friend. Suddenly the concept of evil hits uncomfortably close to home.
In any case, the friends’ touching reunion doesn’t last long. Starscream’s sentimental mood is quickly overcome by his usual desire to overthrow Megatron, this time with Skyfire as his intended Second in Command. But Skyfire can’t quite reconcile the Decepticons’ aggressive ways and ends up staying true to his gentle nature. First by innocently saving some humans and then resolutely refusing to execute the Autobots (“I’m a scientist; not an executioner!”). Starscream doesn’t take kindly to disobedience from a subordinate officer, even if he is an old friend. Misconstruing Skyfire’s pleas for justice as an underhanded betrayal, Starscream finally ends up shooting his friend and leaving him for dead ("You could've tried to see the difference between us but it seemed too far for you to go"
). Skyfire survived ("Worlds apart..."
) but the friendship did not ("...hearts broken in two"
I’m not ashamed to admit this episode left me quite heart-broken for several days after. How did it all go wrong so quickly? How did Starscream go from valiantly rescuing Skyfire to cruelly striking him down?
Well honestly it’s hard to discern because the second half of the story is largely told from poor Skyfire’s point of view and thus we’re just as confused as he is. However, upon further examination several things start to come into focus.
The first missing piece of the puzzle is that of Megatron, the calculating Decepticon leader. In every moment between the old friends, Megs is there, a looming, dominating presence:
Starscream is noticeably always at Megatron’s side, away from Skyfire. Almost to emphasize the point, in one scene Megatron literally pushes him further away!
When Skyfire naively assures some humans the Decepticons won’t hurt them, both Megatron and Starscream gang up on him for his presumption. The ways their lines are written and delivered (“Then you over stepped your authority....Who are you to offer safety to our enemies?!”), they might as well be the same person (er, robot).
Granted, Star and Sky have their first violent confrontation alone. But who does Starscream immediately run to after turning on his friend? You guessed it–Megatron. Not that Megatron’s happy to see him; he callously clonks Starscream on the head for being too distracted to destroy the Autobots himself.
What’s the point of highlighting all this? I think it shows that despite all his talk of rebellion and mutiny, Starscream is very much under the thrall of Megatron, much more than he’d care to admit. Consider the moment when a concerned Skyfire asks him if he’s truly happier being a warrior than a scientist. Starscream’s reply of, “Yes! It is far more exciting!” is almost too
insistent, especially with all the abuse we know he suffers under Megatron. Think about it, here Starscream is given the opportunity to remember and embrace the robot he once was, and escape what is truly a miserable existence, and he casually insists everything’s just fine. The whole scene has the vibe of a cult member trying to justify his captivity. Or a person in an abusive situation not wanting to admit how bad things truly are ("You know people are funny sometimes cause they just can't wait to get hurt again"
See, this is how I’ve always pictured Starscream as he was presented in the cartoon: An intelligent but insecure kid who fell in with the wrong crowd at a vulnerable time (after losing Skyfire). Megatron’s an extremely charismatic leader, with the ability to turn robots’ heads and make his will their own. Now Starscream’s stuck in a bad situation (i.e. his boss is a psycho who always loses) but his pride won’t let him admit he’s made a mistake. So he goes out of his way to be the perfect Decepticon, arguably more hateful of the Autobots than even Megatron (“Ruining Autobots is my life!”).
Most importantly, he clings to his delusional dreams of leadership that tell him one day things will get better. It’s this dream that keeps him going and perhaps fills the hole left by the loss of Skyfire. To the point where even Skyfire himself cannot compete and becomes the unfortunate victim of Starscream’s misguided passions.
In a single episode, our perception of Starscream is changed forever. He has gone from comic relief villain to broken heartened friend and tragic pawn. He is offered redemption, but soundly turns it down, unable to escape from, or even acknowledge, his demons. Still, perhaps there is hope for our confused scientist turned warrior. Not long after “Fire in the Sky,” Starscream’s criticisms of Megatron became noticeably more methodical and precise, much to Megatron’s chagrin (“Scientific gobbledegook, Starscream! Do as I say!”). Perhaps Skyfire’s return had an influence on Starscream after all! And perhaps one day the old friends can find each other again ("Break those chains that bind you"
Rather frustratingly, no other official incarnation of Transformers has attempted to continue Starscream and Skyfire's story, at least not the one told in "Fire in the Sky." Thankfully, we've had plenty of Fan Fic writers over the years willing to take up the task ("Someone's saying a prayer that we'll find one another in that big somewhere, out there"
And in the end, it's the truly fans that make sure these characters and their stories live on.Check out Part II and III (A) of Starscream's Redemption(s) here: