"Secret Legacy, Part 1" History Lesson/Flashback Analysis
SPOILER ALERT: This article contains major spoilers for the first episode of Transformers EarthSpark. Turn back now if you do not wish to be spoiled. Trailer embedded below for your entertainment and to create SPOILER SPACE. Special thanks once again to my friends Steve K. and Leslie D. who helped take photos and compose my thoughts for this article.
In the first episode of the Transformers EarthSpark series, Alex Malto (Jon Jon Briones), father of Robby (Sydney Mikayla) and Mo (Zion Broadnax) sits down with his kids (and unbeknownst to him, Thrash and Twitch) to tell them the story of the Transformers and their arrival on Earth. Suddenly, the animation style of the show changes dramatically from the modern CG style to a classic, 1980’s 2D style based on the Sunbow and Marvel models of the original G1 series! What follows is a brief history of the Transformers War (what Old Skool fans may call the “Great War”) leading up to the end of the conflict on Earth.
Yesterday after the panel I Tweeted some photos I took during the panel of this sequence, and it generated significant interest among Transformers fans, and significant confusion. Here, I hope to go into detail on what this sequence was, what it means and what the showrunners have to say about it.
A history lesson
The entire G1 inspired sequence is told from the point of view of Alex Malto who voices some of the parts (along with the kids) so calling this a “flashback” is a good shorthand, but not entirely accurate. It is clear Alex is oversimplifying the story for brevity (a fact that one of the kids points out in the sequence). This allows for some nuance and wiggle room should the writers ever want to refer back to these past events again.
In very broad strokes here is what happens in the history as Alex tells it:
- On Cybertron, the Autobots and Decepticons were engaged in the “Transformers War” (instead of the “Great War”)
- At a critical point in the war, it appears the Decepticons used the Space Bridge to come to Earth.
- With Bumblebee covering their travel, Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Jazz and Elita-1 (and later other Autobots including Grimlock) used the Space Bridge to come to Earth.
- The date of arrival for the Transformers on Earth is quoted as September 17, 1984 (this is the date “More than Meets the Eye” aired in the United States in real life).
- Autobots and humans teamed up to fight the Decepticons. Dot Malto is shown in military garb (and is later referred to by Elita-1 as “Lieutenant”).
- Bumblebee eventually joins the Autobots on Earth and Spike Witwicky also appears to have been involved in the conflict (he sits on Bumblebee’s shoulder in the history lesson/flashback).
- The war continued to rage on Earth, and Optimus decided to cut off Cybertron from Earth to save the planet.
- Optimus, Ironhide, Ratchet, Prowl, Cliffjumper, Gears and Jazz all combined their firepower to destroy the Space Bridge.
- With the Transformers on Earth essentially stranded, the war ended and some Decepticons essentially “retired” while others remain doing their own thing. A final shot shows the Autobots helping humans to rebuild.
G1 Canon (or not?)
Reading through the timeline of events above, you’ll note that the “history lesson/flashback” differs quite a bit from the original G1 series (no matter which continuity you choose). Whether it’s the G1 U.S. cartoon or its Japanese spin-offs, none of those shows had this sequence of events. Among the significant differences are:
- There is no Ark or Nemesis. The Autobots and Decepticons all come to Earth via Space Bridge.
- Grimlock exists on Cybertron before the Autobots arrive on Earth.
- Elita-1 comes to Earth with Optimus Prime instead of staying on Cybertron as she did in G1.
- While the Autobots would eventually team up with Earth Defense Command in G1, in the 80’s their association with the military was loose at best.
- The war in G1 continued well past the 80’s, with the Decepticons eventually conquering Cybertron and the Autobots taking up residence on the Moons of Cybertron to prepare to retake the planet.
Producer Ant Ward stated at New York Comic-Con 2022 that this series was set after a continuity he referred to as “G1.5”. Now, fans have used that phrase for years for that weird period where G1 transitioned to Generation 2. During that time, Europe had a ton of exclusive toys including the Rescue Force and Lightformers. Generally it was a time for a lot of weird and fun toys to come out.
That is not what Ward is referring to.
It is important to keep in mind that panels are very fast and furious affairs. Questions come flying at panelists and they need to answer off the cuff and quickly to keep things moving forward. When Ward said “G1.5” he was not thinking about Turbomasters and Predators. He was trying to express that the history shown in the history lesson/flashback was basically a continuity adjacent to the one many fans grew up with in the 80’s. After decades of cartoons, books and more Transformers fans are more than familiar with the concept of a multiverse. This universe is clearly meant to be another G1 adjacent timeline we have never seen before.
From a writing standpoint, Producers Dale Malinowski and Ant Ward both said they are fans of older shows such as G1 and Beast Wars. They wanted to pay homage to what came before and this sequence does that beautifully.
The history lesson/flashback utilizes the G1 animation models as reference. The animation style mirrors the 80’s down to some of the exaggerated proportions of characters and what could appear to be “animation errors” (though here I think it’s deliberate). One example is Optimus Prime’s rifle looking super narrow with weird proportions in the scene where he blasts the Space Bridge.
This sequence not only utilizes G1 animation models, but it also directly references key scenes or elements G1 fans will remember from the cartoons. A few examples:
- As the history lesson/flashback sequence begins, the sides of the screen narrow, a fun callback to the different aspect ratios of older entertainment.
- The establishing shot of Cybertron looks exactly like the Cybertron seen in the original Transformers series down to a chunk of the planet being missing towards the bottom.
- On Cybertron, there are explosions and fire erupting in the background. This happened in the original series debut as a narrator introduced us to the planet.
- As Alex introduced Optimus Prime and Megatron, the camera angles and dialogue come right out of Transformers: The Movie from the scene right before they fight. Megatron even makes a fist in the air!
- The Autobots enter an elevator like tube structure to enter the Space Bridge.
- The Space Bridge is shown as a circular structure with lights on the top. The energy that brings the Autobots to Earth looks very similar to the effect used in the G1 cartoon.
- In one scene Starscream, Megatron and Soundwave are shown running into battle. This is a homage to a similar scene in the “series opening” for the original G1 series where Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, Thundercracker and Skywarp are all running towards the Autobots in battle.
- In the sequence where the Autobots destroy the Space Bridge, Ironhide is seen holding the cannon originally used by Cliffjumper (but he did use it later in “Transport to Oblivion”).
- At the end of the history lesson/flashback, Optimus Prime is kneeling down in the same position he would often use to talk to humans.
The actual animation is very minimal. There are lots of scenes of (what appears to be) a 2D rendering with the camera panning up or down across a still image while narration plays over it. In other scenes however a character mostly remains static except say, a head turn. The most animated sequences are parts like Megatron, Starscream and Soundwave running toward the viewer. This does not feature the most spectacular animation ever put on film, but it does enough to tell the story and get the point across and provide a significant nostalgia hit to boot!
The Transformers brand has used G1 animation models and/or animation as fun Easter Egg references before. In the Transformers: Animated series Optimus is watching footage from the episodes “More than Meets the Eye” and “War Dawn” as a history documentary. In Armada, several G1 animation models were used as “background” characters on Cybertron including Crosshairs and Beachcomber. These acted as a fun nod to the past while taking the audience into something new and different. Granted, this “G1.5” continuity goes a bit deeper than those Easter Egg scenes but it shows that sometimes we have to take such sequences in the spirit of homage and respect for the past.
I was extremely happy to see this scene. It filled me with nostalgia and gave me some laughs and the same time. My recommendation? Don’t take this too seriously (it certainly makes fun of itself) and just enjoy it for the homage and nostalgia hit the sequence represents and most of all – enjoy yourself!
EarthSpark debuts November 11th, 2022 on Paramount+!