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Netflix's Voltron Legendary Defender Updates The Lions For A New Generation

by Mike Futter on Jun 06, 2016 at 11:54 AM

Voltron Legendary Defender is out on Netflix this Friday, and we had a chance to check out the pilot. If all you’re looking for is a quick, spoiler-free take, here you go: It’s good, but if you’re a long-time fan, some changes are going to take some getting used to.

For those who have never heard of Voltron, it’s a cartoon from way back in the '80s. It featured five galaxy explorers who find themselves in the midst of a fight between the peaceful people of planet Arus and the evil Drule empire.

The only hope is the giant robot Voltron. Unfortunately, it was split into five different components in the form of lions. The five find and reunify the lions in order to take on giant “robeasts” every week.

Like most cartoons in the 1980s, it was designed to sell toys, and boy were they cool. I’ve always had a soft spot for gestalt figures.

And while I missed out on both Transformers’ Devastator and the original die-cast Voltron, I made up for it in my adult life (and then some). When Cartoon Network’s Toonami brought Voltron (and Thundercats) back in 1996, I cranked up my TV in my freshman dorm as Peter Cullen (the voice of Transformers’ Optimus Prime) delivered the gravelly introduction to Voltron, the defender of the Universe.

Much has changed in 20 years since that re-airing. There have been two more attempts at Voltron shows, including a reboot-style computer graphics attempt and the more recent Voltron Force.

Voltron Legendary Defender is a complete reboot, rewriting some of what Voltron fans hold dear while keeping other things unchanged. The cast includes Josh Keaton (Transformers Prime), Tyler Labine (Reaper), Jeremy Shada (Adventure Time’s Finn), Bex Taylor-Klaus (Arrow), Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), and Kimberly Brooks (Justice League: War). Executive producer Joaquim Dos Santos has impressive credits to his name, including both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra.

The original five galaxy rangers are back, but their roles have changed a bit. Lance is still a hot shot, Hunk is as lovable a goof as ever, and Pidge hasn’t lost his intellect. All three are Galaxy Garrison cadets instead of full members.

Keith is a washout gone rogue and Shiro (known to Americans as Sven in the original series) is captured by the Galra Empire. When he’s finally rescued, he mysteriously has a cybernetic arm and a shock of white hair.

The team locates one of the lion robots on Earth, before making an interstellar journey to Arus. Once there, they find the elf-like Princes Allura and the overly enthusiastic Coran, who have been in suspended animation for eons. The original series’ space mice also make a return, helping out where they can.

There are plenty of touchstones that make this Voltron series familiar to fans of the original or the more recent sequel run, Voltron Force. And while the changes were a bit jarring at first to my nostalgia-clouded mind, a quick reminder of the original series’ jumbled, patchwork history was enough to open my mind.

An extensive recap on Birth Movies Death paints a picture of just why some of the original Voltron’s scenes felt so off. It was actually a mixture of scenes from two different Japanese cartoons: Golion and Armored Fleet Dairugger Xv. Eventually there was no more Golion footage to repurpose, which is when things suddenly shifted from Lion Voltron to the decidedly less cool Vehicle Voltron.

It’s a fascinating story (and one you should read if you have any nostalgia for the original show). But it also helped me appreciate Voltron Legendary Defender’s take on the lore that much more. 

Hopefully when the series launches in full this Friday, June 10, we’ll have a cohesive tale both rooted in after-school memories and wholly its own.