This article contains Lightyear spoilers.
After years and decades of providing endings that were final and conclusive to their stories, and then sheepishly having to claim they simply thought of a fun new idea when the sequel invariably came around, Pixar has broken the cycle with Lightyear. The new Toy Story spinoff which sees Chris Evans vocally step into the spaceman’s boots is, by design, a departure for the house that Buzz and Woody built. In addition to replacing Tim Allen with Evans’ cadence as the hero of Star Command, the film is an honest to goodness science fiction action movie in the traditional Hollywood mold.
There are action set pieces where Buzz Lightyear must fend off attacks from tentacled aliens, a la the trash compactor scene in Star Wars, and face the cold reality of the theory of relativity when it comes to space travel, just like Matthew McConaughey in Interstellar. As Lightyear director Angus MacLane told Den of Geek earlier this year, the plan has always been for this to be the movie Toy Story’s Andy saw in theaters in 1995, causing him to want to own a Buzz Lightyear action figure.
And like a lot of ‘90s action movies, this means Lightyear needs to set up a sequel, which the movie most certainly does. When the credits roll, Buzz is only beginning his career as a space ranger for Star Command, even becoming the leader of its off-shoot after his space colony accepts it is never getting off the world they crash landed on. Whereas each Toy Story movie ends with a note of finality, and as if we’re saying goodbye to old friends, Lightyear looks to the digital stars, hinting at a whole galaxy’s worth of adventures left untold.
All of which makes the movie’s post-credits scene a bit of a surprise…
The Lightyear Post-Credits Scene
Yes, Lightyear has a post-credits moment. Several, in fact. Although the first two are mid-credits scenes if we want to get technical. But rather than set up a sequel or tease the possible return of “Zurg,” Buzz Lightyear’s greatest nemesis who barely had time to make impression in this movie, Lightyear uses its mid-credits moment to call back an old joke in classic Pixar fashion.
In case you do not recall, earlier in the movie during Buzz Lightyear’s “Interstellar” montage, the hero has failed in his latest attempt to achieve hyperspeed for the umpteenth time. Once again this has cost him years of living amongst his community. When he returns to the space colony, he learns that his best friend and C.O. Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) has passed away, and she’s been replaced by a new generation of leadership who cannot remember a life off of this rock. Hence why the new Commander Burnside (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) shrugs off Buzz’s dedication for achieving hyperspeed and leading this colony off-world. Instead Burnside is content with the new technology they’ve developed on their own via the “laser shield.”
As Burnside explains it, whenever a threat on this hostile world rears its head, the colony will simply activate a laser dome that will cast a giant bubble over their community, protecting them from menace. It honestly seems like a short-term and shortsighted solution, however Lightyear ultimately commends it. Because when Buzz returns again to this world after achieving hyperspeed, he discovers the laser shield is up and evil alien robots obeying Zurg cannot get in.
When Zurg is finally defeated, and Burnside and this community can lower the shield, he and Buzz come to an understanding: the space colony will stay here and Buzz will lead their new Star Command into the heavens. It’s an odd choice but sets up the first cheeky mid-credits scene.
Indeed, midway through the credits we come back to Commander Burnside who is enjoying what appears to be a nice mid afternoon tea, snack, and nap. Outside his window, the laser dome is up and a bug intending to pester him flies straight into it, vaporizing itself in an instant.
Burnside smirks to himself and repeats his catch phrase, “Laser shield.”
It’s a funny moment, even as it surprises on multiple levels. First, Burnside’s decision to settle for diminished expectations for the community he leads is justified and even rewarded when the laser shield proves effective enough to stave off (or ignore) existential threats. And secondly… it doesn’t set up a Pixar sequel even though this is the first one that is clearly begging for one.
But that’s why the FINAL post-credits scene (this one at the actual tail end of the credits) is the real departure for Pixar. For out in the deep vacuum of space, poor Old Buzz is floating through the abyss. Only then does his suit’s lights come back on and seemingly bring Zurg back to life. There, there(!), is the classic sequel tease from 1980s flicks (or modern Marvel movies) we expect. Clearly this war with Emperor Zurg has only just begun!
Ergo, we suspect this is not the last time we’ve seen Buzz go to infinity… and beyond.
Lightyear is in theaters now.