Category Archives: Optimus Prime

How the Death of Optimus Prime did not Affect Me at all (until it did)

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The Death of Optimus Prime is a major moment in the history of The Transformers.

For marketers and toy merchandisers, it was the excuse to introduce new toys.

For young kids, it may have been an upsetting experience to see their favourite hero die in a theatrical film The Transformers Movie (1986) that was more serious in tone than the TV series and toy commercials that spawned it.

Personally I was not affected by the death of Prime as a kid. I don’t know exactly what age I was when I saw the film, but it was somewhere in the range of age 7-9 on VHS / video rental at home rather than in a cinema.

I’d watched the odd horror film here and there when I was young, and did not really find them scary, finding them more interesting for the practical special effects than the stories. If a realistic violent human death did not affect me, what chance did an animated robot have?

The main reason Prime’s death did not affect me was not I didn’t like the character, but I did not relate to him in any meaningful way. Prime was the father figure and leader of the Autobots in the cartoon. Their combined wisdom and strength, the embodiment of their team spirit.

But Optimus Prime he was never my favourite Transformers character, Grimlock was my favourite, now then and forever. If it had been Grimlock dying in that infamous scene in the 1986 animated movie, I probably would have cried.

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Prime was popular, cool, the leader, the guy other Autobots came to for advice.
Grimlock was the outsider, the loner, the rebel, the guy who breaks the rules and who polite society will never truly accept.

I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life. I’ve been an outsider in many ways most of my life, more by circumstance than choice. It’s part of the reason I love character’s like Batman, Hellboy, Wolverine, The Incredible Hulk and Grimlock. They are the characters who are the flawed loners, who we basically are afraid of. I relate more to them than the Superman’s, Prime and Captain’s America’s of the world.

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As a kid I was shy, socially awkward and introverted, an outsider. Not one of the “in” crowd. So characters like Grimlock, or Marvel’s Incredible Hulk make more sense to me on that level. They are both characters with a very child like selfish demanding manner, and relatable to many kids.

I was not popular, outgoing or confident as a kid, I was shy, awkward and introverted. I’m still shy, socially awkward and introverted now, it’s part of who I am, and I am okay with that. But I am also bold, confident and outgoing when I want to be, but it took a lot of practice, and I’m thankful to inspiring characters like Optimus Prime, the epitome of self-confidence, modesty and respect

 

There is something very primal and yet empowering to the average eight year old boy about a kick-ass rule breaking robot who transforms into a giant t-Rex.

Grimlock is the leader of his own team of misfit rule breakers – the Dinobots, who mostly follow his lead, when they are not busy fighting each other. The Dinobots are their own sub-faction and family within the Transformers franchise and media. To kids like me who grew up loving anything to do with Dinosaurs, and had no interest in cars or trucks, Grimlock will always be King.

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Watching Transformers: The Movie  again this week, and I can say that the scene where Optimus Prime died did bring a tear to my eye, and any time I watch that movie as an adult it has the same effect. It may not be a graphic death, but it is an emotionally powerful death, that is both literal and symbolic. Prime’s death is the physical death of a genre defining super-robot icon.

Optimus Prime’s death is also the symbolic death of the old generations of Autobots, making way for the new guard. For new adventures in later seasons of the Transformers TV show that were not exclusively focused around earth, but other planets including Cybertron. Prime’s death is also the invitation for the collapse of the toy line and its subsequent reinvention many years later. All toy lines must end, and all things must come to an end.

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Prime’s death on the one hand was a mishandling of an iconic character mandated by a  toy company that did not appreciate how popular he had grown. Prime’s death was also a catharsis that all iconic characters go through. Batman and Superman have died multiple times in their respective fictions, you could even say that the death of a major literary character is merely part of their path to true iconic status.

Iconic characters may die in a particular story but are reborn in new media, in new stories, in new ideas. Reaching the status of pop cultural icon, or mythic archetype means permeating the mass consciousness of society, it means Prime exist for most people primarily as an idea, an idea is much harder to kill than even a fictional character. Death then can be seen as a prerequisite for rebirth in new media that may follow immediately, or many years or decades later.

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The IDEA of Optimus Prime transcends his medium and genre, Prime stands  for hope, for unity, for forgiveness, for unselfish leadership, for learning from ones mistakes, for living the true and the good of ones values in our own lifetimes.

…And yet when he died, I truly did not care.

But a few decades went by…

And now I do care for Prime the character, for Prime the idea and the values he represents. I feel deeply the pain of his literary death any time I watch that iconic film, but at the same time I know his new incarnations, new media, new TV shows, live action films and toys are always just around the corner. I know that you can’t keep a good Bot down for long.

Prime’s death then is a rebirth and re-invigoration of the Transformers characters and media.

The old dies and makes space for the new and the young. But the old also permeate the new world, the ideas and values of Transformers are not just silly stories, crass commercial marketing of plastic toys to children. They are modern mythologies and dramas and ideas and real emotions. The story tellers who work in modern day comic books and children’s animation know this, to me it’s part of what elevates the Transformers fiction above other similar TV shows from the era.

Super-Robot anime shows are a dime a dozen, and most of them have rather weak generic stories with the focus on the action. Transformers had the action AND some good stories, and some silly ones too.

Transformers the brand, the culture, the fiction and lore in all their manifestations are infused with the values and ideas that made it great to begin with, at that original conception. They went from being cold lifeless lumps of plastic, to engaging characters.

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Optimus Prime is the lynchpin of the franchise, some of his co-creator’s didn’t realize it when they killed him in 1986. But they sure know it now. As a character, he’s worth billions of dollars. He is also rather an inspiring figure to me and many other fans. Prime is the quintessential selfless hero, he’s also a soldier, alien and a sentient robot. So much more than a lump of plastic I think. So very much more than meets the eye.

So here’s to the Death and ongoing Life of Optimus Prime.

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*And yes Grimlock is STILL my favourite Transformers character.

Prime Time – Optimus Prime: the Eternal Hero and Father Figure to the Autobots

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Optimus Prime is a beloved hero and partriarch to the Autobot family. He started out as a humble toy tie in, from piloted diaclone mecha to free thinking american mythic icon, he rose up from humble beginnings and slowly grew into a generation defining hero of the 80’s, whose popularity shows no signs of slowing down. He’s starred in live action modern movies, a string of follow up animated shows to the original Transformers cartoon and more new toys of Optimus Prime are made every year. Optimus is not just a great toy, or product, but a great character.

A great character is only as good as the storyteller. In the right hands Prime is a compelling hero, leader and father figure to the Autobots. In the wrong hands he’s just a boring soldier in a mindless war. The Prime most fans love belongs to no specific continuity, he is the IDEA of Prime, the Archetype of Prime that transcends any one form or medium.

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Prime is the morally strong political, military and spiritual leader of the Autobots, he never intended to be in that role, but fate put him there when he received The Matrix.

Prime has the toughness, bravery and resilience of a soldier fighting a civil war millions of years old tempered with the compassion of a wise spiritual leader. He is a humanitarian, but extends that care for life to all types of sentient species including robotic and organic life. Where the Decepticons care only for their own values and their own tribe, Prime is simultaneously an unwilling agent of war, and embassador of peace who stands in bold contrast to the dark agenda of the Decepticons.

If there is a way to end a conflict without violence, Prime will choose that option. The Decepticons in contrast will cling to their code of might makes right, that the strong CAN and SHOULD dominate the weak, take what they please and use the weak as slaves to suit their own end. This value system finds parallels in our own world history, and is not an uncommon value for self-righteous conquerors to hold.

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LEADER AND MYTHIC CHAMPION

As an autobot, Optimus Prime can live and die like any other sentient automaton. But as an Idea, Prime’s story and the struggle of the Autobots vs the Decepticons is told over and over again.

Stories told over and over become myths and fables. And mythic characters can never truly die. They may die in any given version of a story such as in his most famous death scene in Transfromers: The Movie (1986) but as long as somebody, somewhere is telling their story, a mythic character lives on, they are immortal as long as even one person cares enough to tell that story.

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As new generations of story tellers tell their own version, the mythic archetype grows stronger, Prime’s details may differ in one story to the next, but the core values of what he represents remain essentially the same, his tale is the basic story of all timeless Heroes. Mythic characters can experience death but seemingly only grow stronger from it, the death of the character is never the death of the parent IDEA, and so keeps being reborn in new forms for new generations to enjoy.

 

LEADERS ARE BORN, NOT MADE?

Are true leaders chosen by destiny rather than voted for? There are 101 maxims about Leaders and Leadership, and most of them are garbage designed to sell cheap paperback books on leadership that simply don’t reflect the real world. Whatever your view on leaders, Optimus Prime (formerly Orion Pax) never asked nor expected to be a leader.

Nobody could really expect Prime to live up to the presssures of leadership. Most leaders fulfill their role for only a short period of time, before stepping down. The Autobot / Decepticon war raged for millions of years, so every mistake to be made, every lesson to be learned in Leadership Prime embodies simply as he has no other real moral choice to make. As dutiful citizen of Cybertron, his compassion causes him to not only care for others, but along with his humility, question himself and his actions, rather than blindly making decisions in a dictatorial style such as the ruthless Megatron.

A former civil servant Orion Pax became Optimus Prime when the “Matrix of Leadership” was bestowed upon him. What other choice did he have when a wise mentor figure handed him a technological semi-msytical object with the “Matrix of LEADERSHIP” title attached to it? Prime didn’t receive the Matrix of Tacos or the Matrix of Horse Thievery – the lore laid down however clumsily in Transformers is that it was specifically the Matrix of LEADERSHIP. Whether it was fate, chance or just circumstance that thrust Prime into that role is debatable, but once embraced, he was clearly the right Bot for the job.

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FATHER FIGURE

Optimus Prime, never chose nor expected to be leader of the Autobots. He never expected to leave his home planet of Cyberton and to crash land on planet Earth. But once the Matrix was part of him, at some point he had to say to himself, from the deepest part of his spark, “YES” to being the Autobot leader, to do any less would be to leave his compatriots rudderless in a war that would inevitably cost them their lives.

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Thrust into the role of father figure, mentor, military and spiritual leader to the  Autobots, Optimus Prime is the emotional and spiritual glue that holds the Autobots together. More than a faction, the Autobots are a family, and Prime their elder Patriarch. He is their leader, mentor and friend. More compassionate, level headed and capable of thriving under combat than most Transformers, Prime is uniquely qualified to lead. Prime respects all types of life, metal and organic, and unlike many other Transformers, is unwilling to let the Autobots war with the Decepticons take human or other sentient lives.

 

FROM THE ORDINARY TO THE EXTRAORDINARY

When Orion Pax became Optimus Prime, the bearer of the Autobot Matrix, inheritor to the “key” of Cybertron he left behind the world of the ordinary and mundane, and moved into the world of the extraordinary. fulfilling the part of his life’s journey that all true Hero’s must. Most classical Heroes start off fairly ordinary, (think of Luke Skywalker before Ben Kenobi came around, and Bruce Wayne before the death of his parents) before undergoing a process of inner and outer transformation from the every day being they were, to a semi-mythic champion, to one who acts on he behalf of and in service to others, as their voice, their will and their champion for the greater good.

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Batman had his years of training, and deep psychological journey, and of course the wealth gadgets and costume. Spider-Man had his radioactive Spider-Bite, later the costume, and accepting the call to be a Hero, the dying words of his Uncle motivating him to action.

Superman was a regular baby on Krypton. Under earths sun, his powers manifested making him a living demi-god, he didn’t become a hero until he put on the costume, accepted the call and dedicated himself to the service of humanity.

 

We want our heroes to be infallible bastions of moral virtue.

 

So all good and true heroes must make their own choice. They must not only have the ability, the good fate and incredible circumstance to be a hero, a MacGuffin plot point of magical object – they must also accept internally the role they have to play in life for better or worse.

Optimus Prime’s outer transformation was from Orion Pax to Optimus Prime, but his inner transformation was perhaps slower, there were  few opportunities for Optimus to sit down and study histories greatest Cybertronian leaders during the middle of a civil war. Prime was forced to learn most of life’s lessons the hard way, making plenty of mistakes along the way. He became a great leader through making mistakes, never giving up on his cause and his compatriots, and rising to whatever challenged in lief came his way.

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Prime is not infallible – but his ethics, his values, charisma, and uncompromising vision and compassion for all Autobots, all Cybertronians and all Life elevate him to being a natural Leader, with or without the Matrix. Above all else, Optimus Prime is a bearer of Hope and Compassion, tempered with Humility and incredible Courage and Determination -it’s what elevates him above other Primes, other Cybertronian leaders.

Though he is a sentient alien robotic lifeform, his VALUES are what make him appealing to humans both in fiction and in the real world. Other robots in cartoons are  a dime a dozen, but Prime is the bearer of the Matrix, the tireless champion of free will and the right of all sentient beings to live their own life free of tyranny. He’s the best parts of the great Heroes of myth and legend. And he also turns into a really cool truck.

Prime the Autobot may live and die, but Optimus Prime the heroic ideal and archetype lives on, having reached his own form of immortality through popular culture.

 

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