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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Loose Canon: Starscream

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Okay, so this week we are going to do something a little bit different.

Welcome to Loose Canon,

where I go through different iterations of characters or franchises

that I know a lot about or like for some reason.

This week we're starting with the duplicitous, shrill-voiced, eternal second-in-command of the Decepticons,

Starscream.

I'm an adult.

"You're either lying or you're stupid."

"I'm stupid, I'm stupid!"

One of the most popular of all of the Transformers.

This is not to say that he is the BEST Transformer by any stretch.

That is obviously any of them BUT Starscream.

But, he has remained one of the most well-known, in large part because he's one of the very few

Transformers that people outside of super-fans ever remember.

So today, we're going to talk about the many different iterations of Starscream

since he was first modelled and painted over thirty years ago.

"Why should you be the supreme guard? I'm a much better choice!"

And because there are a finite number of hours in the day,

I will not be discussing every depiction of Starscream ever.

My big blind spots are the comics and the video games

and the toys which... shut up.

You want to discuss those versions? Be my guest in the comments.

Talk about Kiss Players all you want because...

[George Takei impression] Oh my.

No, no, this retrospective will be only the cartoons, and of course, my bae.

Starscream.

Starscream's most prominent characteristic is that he is duplicitous.

"The Decepticon who plans his escape is hardly a failure!"

He pretends to be faithful to Megatron, but really wants to be the leader of the Decepticons.

"Hah! He's been trying to dethrone Megatron for years."

He's also really bad at hiding this.

"Megatron is dead. I'm the leader now!"

"Megatron is no more. I now lead the Decepticons!"

[Megatron speaking gibberish]

[Starscream] "Too bad, he's blown his vocal components,

I guess that makes me the new leader!"

Like in this ep- [laughs]

Like in this episode, where the Decepticons get stuck in a time portal and decide, hey, while we're here,

let's take over Camelot, because it's there, and finally Starscream will have something to rule over.

"This is my world to conquer. Mine!"

Yeah.

"...leaving lord Starscream to stand invincible in this primitive world!"

So with all of this in mind, Starscream was and continues to be one of the most popular Transformers

especially with the ladies.

This makes some sense if you consider that the ladies also love Loki.

"I said..."

KNEEL!"

"Now, Megatron, who is the new Decepticon leader?"

So Starscream is like baby's first Loki, if you're into that.

G1 Starscream is about as shallow as a puddle.

But one episode, Fire in the Sky, could be argued that it gave him a little bit of depth.

"Starscream, why are you so concerned about this creature?"

"Because I knew him once."

You know, like, an inch, and that might explain the fangirl army. ...Part of it.

We find out that Starscream has something of a pre-war history with this guy, Skyfire.

And he's also the only person-former in the entire series that he ever remotely seems to be concerned about

besides himself.

"I circled half the globe searching for him."

Of course when Skyfire inevitably defects to the Autobots, Starscream's like whatever, take that!

And then their past and tragic-ish back story is never spoken of again. Ever.

"But Skyfire is... is gone."

"He won't be forgotten, Spike."

Yeah, thanks for digging him out, assholes.

And here's the wonderful thing about Starscream

for those first two seasons that are burned into the stone of eternity.

He basically had the dumbest dynamic with his lord and ruler Megatron.

...Even, you know, for an 80s cartoon.

Pretty much every time the nigh-indestructible Megatron gets like a scratch,

Starscream's all like welp, he's dead! Guess I'm in charge now.

"Megatron has fallen! I, Starscream, am now your leader!"

And... then he was fired? Nope.

"I am now the leader of all Decepticons!"

And then they killed hi- nope.

[Megatron] "You disgust me."

So one of the great mysteries of the ages is why Megatron even has career-backstabber Starscream

as his second-in-command in the first place.

¯\_(ツ)_

Although if you go into this series expecting anything to make sense, you're probably in the wrong place.

"Wait a minute, since when do ghosts tumble out of control from space?"

So then came the movie.

...Called Transformers: the Movie.

Starscream finally gets to be the leader of the Decepticons after Megatron gets a little... not dead,

but dead enough, basically, and he gets a fabulous crown and everything and then is immediately killed.

...along with basically the rest of the cast. But, unlike the rest of the cast, Starscream came back.

A lot.

Starscream's ghost came back and possessed Cyclonus in an episode in season 3 called, uh...

well, Starscream's Ghost.

We learn that he did indeed have something of the special, as he's the only dead one who ever comes back,

and he possesses other Transformers.

Twice.

Then, ten years later,

we've got Beast Wars, and he's back again in basically the same way.

They extended the whole ghost thing, and,

oh, he's got the special, too, like, he's got this mutant indestructible spark,

so, you know, somehow he... time travel...

[stutters] into the fu- future/past because...

Beast Wars is weird.

So he possesses Waspinator

(yeah)

for one episode,

and so, now he's like a...

time-traveling mutant alien robot ghost.

"I am commander Starscream of the Decepticon battle fleet!"

[thunder claps]

Which is weird, because the last time we see him, he's uh...

"I live again!"

Uh, so he gets a new body, and the last time we see him he's floating around out there in space.

Galvatron shot him, but he's still got his body so he's fine. So the whole Beast Wars thing...

I don't even know.

Sadly, Chris Latta, who voiced the iconic original Starscream, died a couple of years

before the Beast Wars version came out.

And it's not the best Beast Wars episode by any stretch, but hey,

at least it's a pretty good impression.

Next.

Why do the ladies love Starscream?

I've heard it's argued that it might be because of Transformers: Armada.

[Starscream star-screaming]

This is one of the few animated series that was not made on the American side, instead

born and raised in Japan, which might explain why they tried to give Starscream some depth,

and, you know, internal conflict and a friend in the form of

unreasonably tolerant and accepting anime girl of infinite patience and trust and kindness.

"I'm fine you guys, but I don't think Starscream is."

[Lindsay as anime girl] "He's an asshole, I just need to try harder!"

Starscream is disillusioned with Megatron in this version,

but instead of wanting to just be the leader of all of the things, he wants Megatron to DIE.

...But he also kind of wants friends.

...But he wants Megatron to die,

so he spends basically the whole run of the series like, I don't know what I want!

I don't know who I am!

He's basically the Jesus of this series in that he dies for everyone else,

which is weird, because it's Starscream.

So, while one could argue that this version of Starscream is a little more engaging than the others

because he's got something of an arc over the course of the series,

and I feel like going down that road COULD have worked...

yeah, this is what we ended up with.

"Leave me alone."

"Leave me alone!"

"I want to be left alone now."

"I want to be left alone."

"They don't understand what it's like to be a Decepticon."

It really doesn't help that his voice sounds like an angsty Krusty the Clown.

"You can't possibly understand the humiliation that I've suffered."

"Will you just leave me alone?!"

"What the hell was that?"

"I don't need your sympathy, now leave me alone!"

[Minicons beeping]

"Even the Minicons have abandoned me now."

Transformers: Animated, or as I like to remember it, Transformers: Chins.

"You interrupted my speech!"

You like chins? We got your chins.

Chins!

Mmm!

So this was the first American animated version of Transformers since Beast Machines,

made to coincide with the first live-action movie.

(We'll get to that.)

Unlike with Beast Wars where they had an entirely new cast and premise, this one is more of a return to

basics for a younger set, with basically the same but much smaller cast as the G1 cartoon.

"Now let's try this again."

This version of Starscream is voiced by Tom Kenny, who would also go on the following year to voice another...

beloved... Transformer...

"What are we gonna do with this shrimp taco?"

"Why don't we just pop a cap in his ass, throw away the truck,

and then ain't nobody gonna know nothin', na'mean?"

"Reading?"

"Uh, no, we don't really do much reading."

"Aw, look who came sashaying back."

"Hair growin' like a chia pet, lookit."

[Shia LaBoeuf] "I had a bit of a mild panic attack earlier, alright?"

"That's cause you a pussy."

This show, unlike the G1 cartoon, also featured effort, which right off kind of reveals the problem with writing

Starscream as his original little shitheel self and maintaining any kind of internal logic to the show.

Which this one, you know, tries to.

The result is that he's going to do his thing and

inevitably gets booted from the

Decepticons almost immediately because he is the way he is

and then he spends the rest of the series trying to take over from the outside.

It's either going to be that or have Megatron be an idiot and you know we can't have that.

You know, he's gotta be at least a little threatening.

He's not Gargamel.

This version of Starscream is also noteworthy for giving us a female version of Starscream... clone,

where the clones represent like aspects to his personality.

[female Starscream] "He's a coward, he's an egomaniac, he's a suck-up, he's a liar!"

"I am not!"

[original Starscream] "So, which part of me did you come from?"

"Don't ask."

Okay then.

Alright, NOW let's talk about the movies!

"Sometimes, cowards do survive."

I'd argue that there aren't really "characters" in the Bay movies, really, there are

events that happen around action set-pieces and occasionally an actor will scream.

"OPTIMUS!!"

But you know, we'll make do with what we got.

So, this version of Starscream looks like a pointy dorito on roids.

[long, frustrated sigh]

So in the first movie,

he doesn't show up until basically the third act, and one must presume he's been off-screen chillin' somewhere.

So when I found out that they cast voice actor Charlie Adler at Starscream,

I was like hey, I know that guy! He's perfect!

You might know him as Ickis or the Bigheads, if you're my age, as well as a zillion other things.

So I was kind of surprised that this is what we ended up with in the first movie.

[Starscream] "I live to serve you, Lord Megatron."

[Megatron] "Where is the cube?!"

"The humans have taken it!"

He only had like one line that ended up sounding really generic,

and I'm guessing he had to sound like a toy-selling badass.

One line.

"The humans have taken it!"

And then Megatron's like,

"You fail me yet again, Starscream."

See, I guess it's supposed to be like a little fan moment, like, wink-wink nudge-nudge!

[G1 Megatron] "You have failed again, Starscream!"

But it's like... what?

Who is this guy? Why did he fail you? Because the thing-y got away? I mean, he just showed up.

He just showed up. We don't know who he is.

They don't even mention that he's Megatron's second-in-command in the movies, or that he's been in charge

these last, oh, however many thousand years they said it was.

"So impressive!"

In fairness to Mr. Adler's voice work, it got better,

by which I mean, he was allowed to be more interesting in the next two movies.

"Lord Megatron, I was so relieved to hear of your resurrection."

Which is one of the very few things you can say was an improvement on the first one.

"Someone had to take command..."

He also gets a little more screen time, which I presume is why, but the movies kind of quietly omit the whole

Starscream-trying-to-supplant-Megatron thing. They did maintain that

sadomasochistic dynamic, but at no point does Starscream ever try to take over the Decepticons.

So the result is just that Megatron's kind of an asshole.

[Megatron] "I can't even rely on you to swat a simple insect!"

Again like every other character in these movies.

"No, Optimus!"

So with Starscream barely in all three movies, and when he is, he's just kind of there...

"Ah, my master, such a brilliant scheme!"

Basically at no point is he interesting or memorable. If you don't know Transformers,

you'll be bored and confused. And if you do know he is, you'll be disappointed, so... I don't know who this is for.

"Come here, boy!"

At some rare point, they'll play him like he's this badass,

but in the end he gets taken out by actual cannibal Shia LaBeouf.

[explosions]

...And that's all she wrote. Next.

"All hail Starscream."

Oh hell mother-whining yes! This Starscream is FABULOUS~!

[Starscream laughs evilly]

He's also the best one.

See, G1 Starscream is always going to be my favorite because the silliness of him

just fills me with such a glee. You know, and also, nostalgia, hello.

"I've had enough of this chivalrous nonsense!"

Transformers Prime Starscream is just the best package.

He's the best written, most engaging, best designed, best acted, most watchable,

most FABULOUS~!

A+ Starscream. And it only took us 20 some tries to get to this point.

But once I finally hunkered down and watched it, this series, honestly, in my opinion,

rivals Beast Wars in terms of just being the best one.

But I always had a hard time with Beast Wars anyway for a number of reasons.

Although Beast Wars does win on one count: no annoying kids. That's a discussion for another day.

"We're supposed to be at a rock concert. Do you know how long I've waited to see Slash Monkey?"

"Uhh..."

"Forever!"

So Transformers: Animated shows us the problem with having a character like Starscream

in a show with a storyline that goes for any number of

episodes and actually changes things to week.

Unless Megatron's a moron, or the show doesn't make any sense,

he's going to get booted and spend the rest of the series in a subplot.

And the Megatron in this show is a stone-cold badass.

"...your treachery, I've allowed you to carry on this long because I took a certain delight

in following your string of failures. But you've finally become tiresome."

And somehow they manage to more-or-less stay on the same team for almost a whole season

before he inevitably gets booted.

"Starscream...

aligned with no side."

Then he spends a good chunk of the series in a subplot before eventually rejoining with the Decepticons.

He's probably the most competent version of Starscream to date,

finally striking a balance of cowardly and kind of badass,

and plus he has those fabulous heels!

You go, girl.

So while I do think it's kind of a stretch to consider the concept fresh at this point, at least they

effort-ed enough to the point where it was actually a pretty good show

and a pretty good interpretation of the characters.

And for the based-on-toys thing which a lot of kids' shows are now...

Eh, I guess as good as you can hope for.

"Robots in disguise!"

See, there's this idea that the toys really are carte blanche and the characters don't matter at all,

which I agree with on some level, but not entirely. Not with this franchise.

Otherwise we wouldn't keep seeing the same story over and over.

Is the story of the Autobots versus the Decepticons,

with basically the same characters each time, worthy of telling over and over again?

Probably not.

But, that's what we got. And it's all rooted in a deeply, DEEPLY silly 30-year-old cartoon.

"Nobody turns his back on me!"

When you watch the original Transformers cartoon in all its bizarre cracked-out glory,

there is a subtle cleverness to the way that it might have resonated with really young kids,

more than other similar series that came later, is the fact that the Transformers'

interactions with each other so mirror that of little children.

[Lindsay doing a child-like voice] "No, I'm the leader!"

"No, me!"

And then no real consequences ever.

As an adult, that's pretty dumb, but as a kid, it resonates.

So when it gets adapted into different media, be it more...

"""""adult"""""

or just more sophisticated, it's almost like a challenge. How can you take an admittedly

pretty limited character, and rehash it over and over and yet make it still work,

especially if you're trying to go for a more sophisticated audience, which kids are nowadays.

Sorry, gen Y-ers and millennials.

So what is the continued appeal of Starscream?

The key word here, I would argue, is "motivation,"

and this is an integral aspect for any compelling character.

Walter White, Tony Soprano, Mistique, Loki.

Whether they're good guys or bad guys, they're deeply motivated,

therefore compelling, therefore you kind of like them.

[Loki] "You were made to be ruled."

"I give the orders now. And this is MY castle!"

Your character can have the most convoluted, deep, meaningful, intricate backstory

of all of the characters that have ever existed,

but if they don't want something,

in a narrative, that makes them a bit tougher to grasp onto and identify with.

So next to pretty much every other character on the show,

not only does Starscream show the clearest and most consistent character motivation,

but also the most well-defined personality.

Therefore, as a character, Starscream is probably the most memorable.

And adults tend to conflate remembering something with liking something.

"You'll regret that you did not destroy me, Megatron! I shall have my revenge!"

Baby's first Loki.

The Description of Loose Canon: Starscream