This Steven Universe review contains spoilers.
It’s perhaps best to start with what Steven Universe: The Movie isn’t, since that’s what many will be focusing on.
The end of Steven Universe season 5 was largely well received but certain aspects left some fans cold. The biggest sticking point was how the Diamonds were treated. The series painted them as fascist conquerors of the universe yet Steven just talked about love and now everyone is cool with them??? It all felt pretty rushed and there was some hope this movie would address that and give the Diamonds the consequences they deserved.
Steven Universe: The Movie only lightly touches on this and mostly focuses, as the series did, on the main characters emotional journeys. Some lip service is paid to the Diamonds changing their ways but for some it won’t be enough. As someone who had those same complaints about the Diamonds at the end of last season, I get it.
However, over the past few months I’ve come to realize that holding the Diamonds accountable for their actions wasn’t the point of the show. Steven wasn’t going to turn his back on them nor decide they needed to be destroyed. He was going to extend his hand out in friendship and love once they stopped hurting others because that’s who Steven is.
That’s frustrating for some who have spent a lot of time thinking about the wider universe of the show but as this movie reminds us, the emotional arcs were always the most important things to it. Where these characters emotional journeys took them was far more important than space politics.
Thankfully there is some mention of what’s happened with the Diamonds during the time skip. Their colonies were all freed and, even if they’re not perfect, the Diamonds have changed. Steven has chosen to forgiven them but crucially, it’s not a blanket feeling. It’s not as if we see Garnet being really stoked about the idea of hanging out with the Diamonds. Enough time has passed we can reasonably assume the Diamonds had to answer for their actions in some ways, and that’s enough for me. Plus, even Steven wasn’t feeling the idea of the Diamonds hanging out on Earth. He doesn’t love them unconditionally.
The ultimate resolution of Spinel’s plot ties into all this as well and is arguably better handled than the Diamonds redemption. While Steven is more than willing to forgive her, Spinel realizes she has to work at friendship. She already messed up with Steven and decides it be better if she found someone new to be around, someone she can have a clean slate with.
I can’t understate how effective this is and how it’s a great subtle lesson. Sometimes when looking for forgiveness in others, we want things to go back to the way they were. We want everything to be normal… but when you hurt someone reconciliation might not always be possible. Sometimes the consequences of hurting someone are that, even if you have their forgiveness, they won’t be in your life any more. By coming to that realization almost immediately, Spinel has taken her first step down the path of recovery. Maybe it’s rooted in her being alone for so long but it’s a great first step for someone who, mere moments before, was about to murder the crap out of Steven.
Let’s back up. As I discussed in our spoiler-free review of the film, this feels like a coda to the entire series (even if it might not be the end.) It gives us what could very well be the last word on these characters arcs and it’s reminding us just how far they’ve come. The narrative drive of Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl forgetting who they are may seem like an easy way to catch new viewers up on their stories but it’s so much more.
It finally lets us see what all of them were like before Steven or Rose were in their lives. We’d seen how other Pearl’s acted but we never got a good idea of just what our Pearl was like in her base state. We didn’t know what Amethyst was like right when she left the Kindergarten. We had seen Garnet’s backstoryso she appropriately gets the least amount of focus in her amnesiac state. Still, I loved the absolutely gorgeous sequence of her fusing into Garnet for the first time so that made it all worth it.
By doing this we’re reminded of all the challenges overcome. All the personal hardships they’ve worked through to become the well-rounded characters we know and love. Even Peridot, Lapis, and Bismuth get to joke about how they all used to want to kill Steven.
However the crux of this film, as seen through Steven, is what happens when you’ve seemingly solved all your issues? What happens when all the external problems fall away? What happens when you think you’ve solved all your issues? At first, Steven believes it’s happily ever after. He’ll never have to worry about anything ever again, which is of course the exact moment when everything is threatened.
If you want to look at this cynically, it could be read as a message that you’ll never be happy for very long. That no matter what peace you find it’ll always be broken. That isn’t it at all.
What we saw at the end of Steven Universe season 5 was what a normal series finale looks like. The main conflicts are wrapped up and everyone is happy… but life doesn’t work that way. There is no magical moment when everything is solved and you get to go home and never worry or have problems again. Life goes on. New problems will arise. Your old issues will come back to the fore.
That happens literally for Steven, as he notes that he’s basically getting a greatest hits version of every bad thing he’s had to face. Something trying to destroy the planet, having to deal with issues his mom caused, etc. But the moment he’s able to overpower Spinel is the moment when he accepts that and says, “I’ll always have more work to do.”
That is another incredibly well done lesson that sounds so simple but is perhaps the most important one the series has ever done. You never stop learning. You never stop facing adversity. So what do you do? You learn to adapt. Grow. Change.
As long as you can do that, you’ll be okay. The most dangerous thing you can do is being static. Unmoving. Stuck in your ways. Blaming others. Hurting them instead of working on yourself. This is of course what happens with Spinel and it makes perfect sense. Pink Diamond/Rose hurt her and the moment she realized what had happened she flipped out. She went with her anger and Steven was able to understand that and try to help.
At first Spinel seems to be on the path of recovery but her trauma rears its head after she stops the drill for the first time. Not everything is so easily solved and, in perhaps a meta moment for the series, she declares, “just singing a song doesn’t work.” She looks to anyone else to help her change but in an exchange that brilliantly sums up the lesson of the film?
“You can’t change the way I feel!”
“That’s right, only you can!”
It’s on you. No one else. Just like Steven had to deal with the feelings about his mom. Just like Pearl had to get over Rose. Just like Lapis had to work with her trauma. This is a tough realization for Spinel, who believes that, “when I change, I change for the worst.”
It makes perfect sense for a victim of trauma. That no matter what you do you’ll never get better and only get worse. It’s an easy out to want to just forget it all. Spinel could have done that and had a happily ever after… But there’s no such thing. Forgetting what you went through isn’t possible. You have to face it head on, as all the main characters did in the movie. It may have hurt but in the long run it’s for the better.
Being able to change is more powerful than anything else in the universe. Right alongside that is having belief that others can change as well. That’s what makes Steven the most powerful Crystal Gem. Not because of his raw strength or weapons. It’s because he believes in others.
Love is the answer and change is where you start to find it. That’s the show and this movie. As long as you’re willing to love and change? That’s what matters. You also don’t have to be perfect because, lest us forget, if all pork chops were perfect we wouldn’t have hot dogs.
You’ll face hard things in the future but you can change to deal with them. You have the power, especially with the people you love at your side. Love and change. The most powerful combo and a fusion we could all use in our lives.
Steven Universe: The Movie is a triumph. It may not be what fans expected. It doesn’t continue the plotline of the series but instead devotes its time to the emotions of the characters. I adore that decision. It would have been so easy to have a giant space war or fill it with galactic politics but with this film we now can be sure that wasn’t what it was all about. It was about Steven and the other Crystal’s Gem’s journeys.
I applaud Rebecca Sugar and everyone involved in this film for sticking to that. For having a vision and seeing it through. For doing it with such gorgeous art and music. For the actors bringing their A game and delivering the best performances of the franchise.
Who knows if this is the end of Steven Universe, but if it is? This was the perfect way to end it. It reminded me of everything I love about the show and pulled all of its emotional arcs into clear focus.
Thank you, Rebecca Sugar and everyone who had a hand in making this. You’ve made a piece of art that not only will stand the test of time but will truly help make the world a better place.