wise man once called Optimus Prime “the greatest leader of his time,” and by wise man, I mean an 80s toy commercial announcer with the angelic voice of a hair metal singer. But that quote always stuck with me. What was it about Optimus Prime that made him such a great leader and such an icon for over 30 years across multiple generations of fans? Was it his design? His voice, provided by the great Peter Cullen? His amazing ability to summon his trailer from out of nowhere?
No, it was the values he embodied and seeing those values passionately pursued and refined through repeated trials and tribulations.
Optimus Prime began life as Orion Pax, a lowly factory worker who did his day-to-day work and took pride in it, but dreamed of something more. He encountered a group of robots one day who had done the impossible: they had gained the ability to fly.
Orion was awestruck by these robots, and wanted to be like them. However, their leader saw him and his friends as nothing more than pawns to make an example out of. Orion befriended the leader, Megatron, and showed him the energy plant he worked for, but Megatron betrayed him. He stormed their factory and brutally murdered Orion and his friends, taking the energy from its machines and leaving the innocent for dead.
This would have been the end of Orion, had it not been for the intervention of a group of time-travelling Aerialbots, who took young Pax to the wise one, who upgraded him into the mighty warrior, Optimus Prime.
Optimus wasted no time in propelling Megatron’s forces back and gaining the upper hand in what would become a much larger war.
Surprisingly, Optimus is actually a pacifist. Granted he did lead the Autobots in a war against the Decepticons, but that was never his intention. Optimus was meant to end Megatron’s campaign of terror in their first battle, but the Decepticon leader has a habit of cheating death, and so the battle dragged on. What was once a prosperous planet became a ravaged wasteland, and Optimus found himself the leader of a group of reluctant soldiers.
Optimus has never been fond of having to fight, preferring diplomacy over violence. He’s even tried to reason with Megatron, offering him the chance to surrender. He doesn’t want to drag the war on, but he recognizes that Megatron won’t stop, and he must protect the people of Cybertron. Which brings me to my next point. Optimus’ whole reason for fighting is so that others never have to suffer the fate he did.
“Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.”
There is a piece of crucial wisdom passed onto Optimus by his mentor. It’s one of the core Autobot beliefs, and it’s why they risk their lives time and time again to protect a race that is significantly less advanced than they are.
RATCHET: Why should we protect the humans, Prime? They are a primitive, violent race.
OPTIMUS: Were we any different?
— 2007 Transformers Film
That small line of dialogue shows that Optimus doesn’t see the humans as worthless. Humankind is his equal, both capable of mistakes, and capable of learning from them. This, to him, is what makes them worth saving.
MEGATRON: Is the future of our race not worth a single human life?
OPTIMUS: You’ll never stop at one!
— 2009 Transformers Film – Revenge of the Fallen
All life is sacred to him, and no one has any right to take it from another. This makes the ensuing battle where Optimus singlehandedly defeats Starscream and Grindor before taking Megatron all the more heartwarming.
Optimus’ love doesn’t just extend to humans, though. He cares for his fellow Autobots not just as allies and teammates, but as his own family. He is a father to his men, as demonstrated by the episode of the original 1984 cartoon, entitled “Prime Target.” In it, a British hunter grows bored of his collection of deadly animals so he sets his sights on the ultimate target: Optimus Prime. To accomplish his goal, he captures several of the Autobots as bait to lure Prime to his castle, but when Prime arrives he smashes through the wall and declares the hunter hand the Autobots over or eat hot plasma.
The 2003 Transformers: Armada series contains another great virtue of Optimus: forgiveness. When Starscream is thrown out by Megatron, he ends up joining with the Autobots, a move that irks many of them. But Optimus is willing to give Starscream a second chance, despite his past as a Decepticon.
Optimus’ caring for his men rubs off on Starscream, who begins to form a friendship with the show’s child protagonists. And the final arc demonstrates the effect Optimus has on Starscream beautifully, to the point where it made me cry when I watched it as a child. Seriously, you need to see the series in full to truly appreciate it.
When I was five years old, my father ran out on our family, leaving my mother to raise me and my brothers single-handedly.
Now my mother did an amazing job raising me, don’t get me wrong, but all children do need some sort of father figure in their lives. The role of a father is not easily replaced, and since mine couldn’t be bothered, I turned to comics and cartoons for guidance.
Optimus Prime was a perfect role model for a young geek like me. He taught me that violence is never the final answer to a problem, that you should never treat others as if they’re lesser than you, and most importantly, and to be a force of good in this chaotic world of ours.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the passion of Prime. ♦