In the stories we’re drawn to, we gravitate toward characters we like, even when we don’t want to admit it. I can’t discuss the upcoming Transformers film without a confession about the other character I strangely identified with as a child: that nefarious backstabber, usurper, and generally inept fool that was “Starscream“.
“My time will come.” – Starscream, Decepticon Air Commander
As previously mentioned, I always looked up to Optimus Prime, as father figure and perhaps Savior, like millions of other American boys in the 80s. Part of me desired to be one of Prime’s entourage, and I identified with his little sidekick Bumblebee.
However, I can’t let it go without saying that there was another part in me that didn’t so readily identify with the wholesome side of this show. As there has always been something alluring about evil since a deceitful snake coiled around a piece of forbidden fruit, the power-hungry and seemingly “conscience-free” Decepticons provided a tempting alternative to the morals and faith my parents espoused. Worse, even amongst his own kind, Starscream was the lowest of the low… at a place I think we all hate to admit we’ve sunk to time and again.
The Decepticons were undeniably the black hats of the Transformers story. Still – even within their ranks – most of these warriors had unyielding allegiance to their evil, war-mongering leader Megatron. By contrast, the conniving, sniveling Starscream, with a serpentine voice that sounded just like Cobra Commander from the cartoon’s cousin program G.I. Joe, was clearly out for his own power and glory. Always looking to manipulate the situation for his betterment, deceiving “friend” and “foe” alike, he embodied the classic snake in the grass; for 30 pieces of energon, he’d sell out his own motherboard.
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” – Mark 7
Although more machine than man, Starscream nailed most of these in his day, save perhaps the items that were sexual in nature (there were female transformers, but let’s be thankful the cartoon never went that direction). Always scheming, this mechanical maniac stole whatever he desired, attempted to murder those that stood in his way, coveted authority and power, deceived his comrades, envied Megatron’s position of fame and leadership, and perceived himself to be without equal. His desire was to be feared and honored by all, with no accompanying inclination to be a role model to others.
“I don’t want to be a hero.” Starscream
Whereas Bumblebee was one of the most recognizable members of Optimus Prime’s robotic clan, Starscream has endured as the most memorable villain, short of his “master” Megatron. I can’t help but think this is due to at least two distinct variables:
- One is the fact that we enjoy seeing wicked characters in fiction enacting our base desires.
- The other is the way honest assessments of our own failings are hilarious. when they’re detached and externalized.
Like a classic, middle-management suck-up, Starscream will “yes sir, good idea sir” until the boss’ back is turned. An opportunist, purely self-seeking, he’s the classic sociopath who treats people like ladder rungs on his way to the top, or as obstructions to be removed on his upward climb. When I was younger (and even now, in admitted moments of weakness) this resonated with me in wickedly gleeful ways. It’s fair to say that this caricature obviously strikes a chord in the deviant part of us we hate to admit coils in our hearts… the sinful part that wants to be our own god, honoring no master and receiving obeisance from others.
You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’
“Who DARES disturb my coronation?” – Starscream
“Coronation, Starscream? This is bad comedy.” – Galvatron
The other part of this character’s story is a wondrous form of externalized self-mockery for the viewer. Like Starscream like the devil himself we deceive ourselves, overestimating our worth, value, and entitlement. Believing the sun rises and sets to shine on our magnificence, we set about engineering a culture around us that venerates our splendor. We abuse others for our own sake. However, watching the Decepticon jet fighter acting on our worst impulses, we witness that his narrative arc ends with a crash and burn.
The cowardly Starscream’s plans are short-sighted and foolhardy, and his actions to elevate himself end in embarrassment and pain… for himself and others. Ultimately, his machinations culminate in his destruction. It’s a cartoonish exposure of our own dark inclinations and where that path leads us.
One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless. – Proverbs 14
We see a reflection of our own hubris in Starscream, a blinding self-worship that ends in pitiful failure and inglorious death.
In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly.
– Proverbs 13
In closing, I’m thankful that this character ultimately takes flight with both integral character parallels in play; his wicked appeal is denounced by his concurrent incompetence, and reminds us that our hearts are in equal (desperate) need of transformation.