Across all the known geek mythologies, some are easier to understand than others. A billionaire orphan devotes his life to fighting crime? Easy. Four turtles become mutant ninjas to save New York City? Less easy, but it clearly worked. And then, there’s Voltron: Defender of the Universe, the ‘80s cartoon about a giant robot and ushered Japanese anime to mainstream western audiences, capturing the imagination of a generation — and not the one after.
Unlike Batman and the Ninja Turtles, Voltron’s vague premise has made it static with time, even after revivals like 1998’s Voltron: The Third Dimension (which fans hate) and 2011’s Voltron Force (which fans didn’t watch). There’s the basic premise — five robots combine into one to fight evil — but that was overridden by the ‘90s phenomenon Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, leaving millennials unacquainted with Voltron.
With the OG mecha set to make his return to nostalgic gen-Xers (and their kids) on Netflix in Voltron Legendary Defender coming June 10, here’s a brief primer on all things Voltron so you don’t have to feel embarrassed asking.
From days long ago…
Originally airing on September 10, 1984, Voltron: Defender of the Universe was the first Voltron series, heavily edited from the more gruesome Beast King GoLion from Japan. In the distant future, five pilots are chosen to command Lion Force Voltron, a robot made up of five separate robotic lions created by the planet Arus to defend the galaxy from evil. Their biggest enemy is King Zarkon of the Planet Doom. He’s big, he’s blue, and he means business.
It also later adapted the completely different Armored Fleet Dairugger XV to make up another robot, but no one gives a shit about Vehicle Voltron.
So what is Voltron?
Strictly speaking, Voltron is the combined robot of all the different Lions. The most recognized Voltron is Lion Force Voltron, but there was also Vehicle Voltron in the second season and Gladiator Voltron, from the anime Lightspeed Electroid Albegas. But the failure of Vehicle Voltron didn’t allow the series to continue with Gladiator Voltron, and was only released as a toy.
Who are the Voltron pilots?
Each Lion is controlled by an individual pilot. Commander Keith leads the team as the fearless leader, dressed in red and pilots the Black Lion. (Oh, yeah. Get ready. This is about to get complicated.)
Lance, the second-in-command, is the tall, wily jokester of the group and sometimes a ladies man, or whatever ‘80s anime thought womanizers were supposed to be. He’s dressed in blue and pilots the Red Lion. (Still keeping up?)
Pidge is the youngest one of the bunch, and is a total nerd. He’s a brilliant child prodigy dressed in green and pilots the Green Lion. (That one is easy.)
Hunk is the big man with a soft heart, especially with puppies. He’s supposed to be fat and everyone makes jokes about it, but in the original he was actually muscular. Still, y’know, fat jokes work. He wears an orange uniform and pilots the Yellow Lion. (What is up with this.)
Sven was the first second-in-command until he was “badly injured” in the sixth episode (he died in GoLion). He was Norwegian, for some reason, and was more quiet than the others. Oh, get ready for this: Sven wore a black uniform but piloted the Blue Lion.
Princess Allura of Arus filled in for Sven, but her position as Commander-in-Chief after her father King Alfor’s death technically made her a superior to Keith. With the limitations on ‘80s Saturday morning TV, she was pretty much Princess Leia-Lite. She wore a pink uniform nd took over Sven’s Blue Lion.
Wow, their color coordination is all over the place.
Thankfully, this was fixed in the new series, Voltron Legendary Defender.
Who’s King Zarkon?
He’s the king of Planet Doom of the Drule Empire, and wants to take over the galaxy. Sometimes, things can be that simple. His son, Prince Lotor, is obsessed with making Allura his bride.
Any important episodes or storylines?
Not to discredit the original show’s writers, but not really. Maybe episode six, “The Right Arm of Voltron” where Sven “dies” is pretty important, but there are no major arcs in Voltron worth keeping stored in your memory bank. Executive producers Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery admitted this allowed them freedom to do what they wanted in the new series.
So what’s new in Voltron Legendary Defender?
You mean besides a sleek new robot? Voltron Legendary Defender is a total reboot, and it’s taken a lot of liberties: Sven is now Shiro (his *GoLion name) and the leader of Voltron, while Keith has become a bit of a rogue. Lance is Keith’s academic rival, and his skills with women are less like Barney Stinson and more like a guy who wants to be Barney Stinson. Pidge is unchanged, and Hunk’s character is definitely “goofy fat guy.” Zarkon is Donald Trump.
Princess Allura is also pretty unchanged, aside from (awesome) superficial diversity. She isn’t a full-fledged pilot in the series, but the showrunners as well as voice actress Kimberly Brooks have hinted she has something up her sleeve.