Even though they’re sometimes disappointing, I’m always excited when I see a cartoon I love adapted to the big screen. Inspired by my fellow Retro Network contributors, the retired SequelQuest POD, I thought I’d try my own movie pitches by finding the episode in a series that would make the best film. It’s a series I’m calling Cel to Silver and in the first entry I’m trying to pitch a better Transformers movie than the ones we’ve already gotten.
Released on Christmas Day in 1985, War Dawn starred the Aerialbots, the Autobot’s answer to the Decepticon’s air superiority. Created earlier in the series on Cybertron, the Aerialbots were the newest group of soldiers. Similar to the Dinobots before them, they didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the Autobots or like taking orders from Optimus.
A time machine called the Kronosphere dumps the Aerialbots on Cybertron before the Great War where they meet a dock worker named Orion Pax and his gal-pal Ariel. They get to see the splendor of their home planet, unblemished by war with the Decepticons. Megatron, in the original timeline, impressed Orion Pax and his friends with his ability to fly. Orion invites Megatron to tour the Energon shipping warehouse he works in when Megatron orders his Decepticons to attack. In the scuffle, Orion and Ariel die. The Aerialbots take the two corpses to a young Alpha Trion, who repairs them, upgrading them into Optimus Prime and Elita-1.
Having seen the Decepticons’ brutality, the Aerialbots are more convinced than ever of the Aubobot cause. They return to the present time and form Superion to defeat the Decepticons. Optimus spontaneously remembers the Aerialbots are the ones that saved him and tells the Autobots the story of his origin.
There are a lot of great beats in this episode, the biggest being Megatron’s and Optimus’s first interaction. We see a Cybertron before the war, in its Golden Age, bright and full of energy. We get some of the mythology behind the factions, with Optimus being built into the world’s first protector before the Autobots even existed. It even ties into another episode, with Elita-1 becoming the leader of the Autobot resistance left on Cybertron.
The Main Character
Before this episode can be adapted into a movie, some changes need to be made. First off, the main characters. To keep it simple and not bog the cast down with five new characters, I think we could replace them with that popular yellow ‘Bot everybody loves: Sunstreaker!
Sunstreaker’s long been considered an Autobot with less than admirable qualities. He’s way too eager to fight and only cares about his looks. In IDW’s All Hail Megatron comic, he even betrayed the Autobots, allowing the Decepticons to take over Earth. To widen that divide between him and the Autobots, he could be a recent addition, summoned from a colony planet. Velocitron is the most well-known colony, showing up in the comics and two different Transformers cartoons through the years, Cybertron and Cyberverse. Speed rules on Velocitron, racetracks covering the whole planet. Velocitron gives us another separation between Sunstreaker and the Autobots. Many in this movie have boxier, more utilitarian alternate modes like trucks or vans, or smaller car modes used for recon. In contrast, Sunstreaker and his ever-present Jet Judo partner, Sideswipe, have fast and sleek vehicle modes with no obvious purpose in war.
Sunstreaker’s doesn’t know what he’s doing there, reluctant to get involved in the fight and risk his life for a cause he doesn’t believe in. The war never touched Velocitron, so the summons from Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, makes no sense to him. Not to mention, he hates the dirt on Earth, always ruining his paint job. Sideswipe, who feels more committed to the Autobots, tries to change Sunstreaker’s mind, but he’s not as outspoken and can’t convince him to fight. To top it off, Sunstreaker even has doubts as to Optimus’s role in starting the war, resisting the idea that the Decepticons are at fault alone.
The movie begins in the middle of a battle. We zoom through the battlefield, seeing the Autobots and Decepticons face off against each other. The camera settles on a fight between Optimus and Megatron as they duke it out. This time, it looks like Megatron’s going to win, powering up his fusion cannon for a killing shot. Off to the side of the battle, Sunstreaker and Sideswipe watch, the former taking a couple of pot-shots from their safe position. Opposed to Hot Rod in the original Transformers movie, Sunstreaker doesn’t think he’s “got to save Prime”. Sideswipe takes a shot at Megatron, distracting him long enough for Prime to get a good hit in. Sent flying, Megatron calls a retreat.
Back at Autobot base, Sunstreaker’s about to get his ass handed to him by Ironhide for not saving Prime, when Optimus stops the fight. He tells Sunstreaker how important it is for them to win the war and end Megatron’s tyranny. Prime takes him into the repair bay so Sunstreaker can see Huffer, heavily damaged and being repaired by Ratchet. However, the lesson falls on deaf ears. Now, Sunstreaker is determined to leave and willing to break into Decepticon territory to hijack their Spacebridge. Sideswipe goes along with him, hoping to talk him out of his desertion. Bumblebee, Sunstreaker’s little admirer because he’s another yellow Autobot and has some serious speed, follows them, hoping to see the speed planet he’s heard all about.
Sunstreaker and Sideswipe sneak their way to the Spacebridge, but as they activate it, Bumblebee trips some kind of sensor and alerts the Decepticons. The Seekers guarding it capture Bumblebee, but Sunstreaker abandons him and steps through the portal, dragging Sideswipe along. However, an errant shot from Dirge hits the Spacebridge, and it malfunctions.
Sunstreaker and Sideswipe hurdle through space, arriving in a cramped lab. They meet an older-looking robot with a mustache, who’s astounded someone just showed up in his prototype portal machine. Sunstreaker asks if they’re on Velocitron. The robot introduces himself as Alpha Trion and says they’ve arrived on Cybertron. Instead of finding the dead planet they know, Cybertron is bright and full of energy. The pair says this must be the Golden Age. Alpha Trion says it’s not as great as they think, looking at a screen displaying Megatron’s latest gladiatorial victory, before glancing at some prototype weaponry on his workbench.
The two Autobots explore the planet, seeing Transformers enjoying life even more than they did on Velocitron. Sideswipe’s amazed by the surroundings, but Sunstreaker’s not as impressed: there are no races like on their home colony. But just then, the Galactic Grand Prix is announced far and wide. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe win after sneaking into the starting line, defeating Easter Egg characters like Blurr and Wheelie.
Congratulating them are Orion Pax, an unassuming red, white, and blue robot, and his girlfriend, Ariel. They’re so impressed with Sunstreaker’s speed that he asks if he’s one of those fancy Seekers he’s seen flying through the sky. “Seekers?” Sideswipe asks. “You mean like Starscream?” and like the devil, Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp drop from the sky, transforming right in front of them. And with them, Megatron lands last.
Sideswipe’s freaking out about the Decepticons that just appeared before them, but Sunstreaker calms him down, telling him, “Look around, bro! There’s no war here. These are just ordinary bots.” To prove it to him, Sunstreaker butts into the conversation they’re having with Orion, bantering aggressively with Megatron and Starscream. Put off by his behavior, the future Decepticons leave. Sideswipe asks Orion what they wanted, and he explains he’s friends with the fliers and they wanted him to meet Megatron, but he didn’t know why.
Sunstreaker wants to see more of the nightlife on Cybertron with Orion, but Sideswipe, still concerned with the Decepticons, wants to follow them. It causes a fight between the two, and they part ways. Sunstreaker goes to an Energon pub with Orion and Ariel and finds out from their friend Dion that things aren’t so great on Cybertron. Energon levels are running low and, because of that, a group of criminals has been raiding storage warehouses. Orion waves the rumors off as he works at the largest warehouse in the city and it’s packed full of Energon cubes.
Elsewhere, Sideswipe follows Megatron to a small warehouse and watches as the Decepticons kill the guards. He records the attack, including Megatron telling Starscream they will try again with Orion and kill the yellow one if he gets in their way again. Sideswipe meets up with Sunstreaker again, telling him what he witnessed, but Sunstreaker blows him off until he watches the video. They transform and rush off to warn Orion.
They arrive right before Megatron and the Seekers show up. Orion greets his friends as normal, but when Sunstreaker and Sideswipe try to intervene, the Seekers restrain them. Megatron tells Orion to let them into the warehouse or he’ll kill his new friends. Orion, shocked at Megatron’s threat, takes too long to respond. Megatron blasts him out of the way before laying waste to the rest of the workers. The Seekers holding Sunstreaker and Sideswipe force them to watch the massacre.
Stricken by their friend’s brutal murders, the Autobots can’t bring themselves to fight back. Sunstreaker realizes that any doubt he had about Megatron’s villainy being the sole cause of the war was wrong. Megatron and his troops disappear with the Energon, leaving Sunstreaker and Sideswipe alone to deal with the carnage. They take Orion and Ariel back to Alpha Trion, begging for him to repair their friends. On the screen in the background is Megatron again, but instead of touting victory in the arena like last time, now he’s declaring war on Cybertron. Alpha Trion says he’ll do what he can for the bots, while Sunstreaker and Sideswipe jump through the Spacebridge to save Bumblebee from a similar fate.
Act III starts back in the present. Bumblebee is about to be executed. Megatron even gloats that his fellow Autobots wouldn’t waste their time trying to save him. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe race through the still-open Spacebridge in vehicle form, circling Megatron and knocking over the other Decepticons. Sunstreaker charges at Megatron, transforms, and clocks him, making him stagger backward.
Megatron rubs his chin. “That’s for Orion!” Sunstreaker shouts. “Orion?” Megatron asks, then realization crosses his face. “You’re that cowardly Autobot at the warehouse. I should have killed you when I had the chance.” They face-off, Sunstreaker clearly outmatched, but his speed keeps him safe for a while. Megatron lands a blow on Sunstreaker, stunning him. He gloats about how much satisfaction he got from killing Orion, saying history, just like the dock worker, will leave behind Sunstreaker.
Before he can kill Sunstreaker, a blast to his back knocks aside Megatron. He turns to find Optimus. “Think again, Megatron. Your nefarious actions created your greatest foe!” His attention on Prime gives Sunstreaker the chance to fire the missile he stole from Alpha Trion, damaging Megatron enough to call a retreat. Before departing, Megatron fires into the Spacebridge, which threatens to kill all the Autobots in a chain reaction. At least until it all shuts down, Bumblebee crawling out from under it, holding a disconnected power cord.
The movie ends with Sunstreaker devoted to the Autobot cause. He gives Bumblebee the acknowledgment that the smaller ‘Bot’s been trying to get, even letting him win a race back to Autobot base. Optimus reveals that he’s always known Sunstreaker saved him long ago on Cybertron, unlike in the cartoon where Prime just remembers what happened. Prime even admits that was why he recruited Sunstreaker from Velocitron.
Behind the Scenes
I know this movie creates a huge paradox, which of course was present in the original episode. If you expected me to fix it, sorry to disappoint, but I love this paradox. Gargoyles, probably one of the best-written cartoons from my childhood, had two of these–Xanatos gaining his fortune by going back in time, but only being able to go back in time because he had his fortune is one of them.
I admit this doesn’t change much of the material from the cartoon besides the main characters. Changing the Aerialbots to the Velocitron recruits still gives us new Autobots to work with that have their doubts about their cause. They both see the deaths of their new friends on Cybertron and learn the Decepticons are the bad guys we all know. But I think the change to more established characters, showing how they’re brought into the Autobot fold, without the complications of the Aerialbots’ origin on Cybertron, helps show that not all the Autobots are the same. Some are angry, some have doubts, and some want nothing to do with the war.
We also get to see what Cybertron used to be like and what the Autobots are fighting to return. Optimus being a rebuilt Orion Pax can be a surprise reveal, instead of seeing him fight Megatron in the past right after he died. Sure, we miss out on Superion fighting a headless Sentinel robot, but I think a flashy hand-to-hand fight between Sunstreaker and Megatron makes up for it. I do feel bad about removing the Aerialbots’ sacrifice, their willingness to let themselves die to keep the Energon from falling into the Decepticons’ hands. I think the best way to replicate that is having Sunstreaker and Sideswipe acknowledge their certain doom in saving Bumblebee and still return to Earth.
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