Voltron Season 3 Review: Legendary Defender Opens Up Its Universe
Even with a shorter run, Voltron Season 3 does more world and universe building than most series do in their whole runs.
This Voltron Legendary Defender review contains spoilers. We have a spoiler free version here.
So as a TV reviewer I should start a review super dignified right? Maybe begin this one like my last few reviews where I talk about Voltron: Legendary Defender’s realation to the original series or how it’s one of the best things on TV.
I won’t be doing that this time.
Because Voltron: Legendary Defender has transcended anything I ever thought possible. It has crossed a new plateau. Reached beyond the heavens and returned to us something that we thought lost forever. Him.
As he once said when he returned to the Voltron orce in a different time and universe….
“It’s me. I’m back.”
That’s right, people. Sven, the original Blue Lion pilot. The guy who was in a black flight suit even though he didn’t fly the Black Lion. The guy who had a hilarious Norwegian accent for no reason.
Sven is now an official part of the Voltron: Legendary Defender canon. Oh my god. OH MY GOD. I was grinning like an idiot. I may have cheered a little bit. Perhaps shed a tear? HOW CAN VOLTRON POSSIBLY TOP THIS FLAWLESS MOMEN-
Okay, I guess I should back up and review this like an actual reviewer, eh?
The biggest challenge of any series is to survive a status quo change. Up until now Voltron: Legendary Defender had certainly raised the stakes but the status quo was fairly set in stone. With the loss of Shiro and the introduction of Lotor, could the series make the new status quo work?
Of course it could, this is Voltron: Legendary Defender. There are a few small problems but overall this season is another triumph.
This season, short as it is, is packed to the brim. In fact it might be too overstuffed. Lotor. Keith takes over Black Lion. Lance in Red. Allura in Blue. Alternate realities. Shiro’s alive! BACKSTORY OF EVERYTHING! While all of these plots are fantastic, I wish we had some breather episodes to let the new status quo sink in for a little while.
Shiro especially comes back way too soon. We can’t miss you if you aren’t gone! I have no doubt something is wrong with him, since we heard whispers of the word clone and his headache after returning to the Castle, but I still wish we’d had more time with Keith as the sole leader.
The first four episodes were finding a nice rhythm of him learning to take over the team. The first three especially demonstrated how much trouble he was having with it and that he was slowly figuring it out. When Shiro came back it felt a little jarring. Part of this may be that the season wasn’t originally supposed to be split up and the pacing will feel better once we see the next six episodes. I’ll reserve judgment until then.
Let’s talk about Allura in Blue Lion. We all sort of knew it was coming, especially if you’d seen the original series, but man was it wonderful to see. The third episode was a nice callback to the original Allura having to learn to fly Blue Lion but, obviously, handled with a lot more class and about ten billion times less sexism. She struggles, yes, but ultimately is able to bond with her Lion and become her own fighter and not just copy Lance’s fighting style. Although her trying to flirt with the Blue Lion was pretty great.
I want to give a special shout to her actually having a reason why she wears the pink flight suit and not blue. In the original series they never bothered with this and in fact we never got a reason why so many of the original pilots wore suits that didn’t match their lion colors. Yes, it still bothers me all these years later.
Here we at least get a reason and it’s wonderful. It’s a tribute to fallen warriors or whatever! I love that sort of attention to detail. Now just tell me why Keith isn’t in a black flight suit and Lance isn’t in red. Come on Voltron writers, do it for me.
Allura finding her place in the team couldn’t have come at a better time, with the Paladins having to vary their tactics thanks to the arrival of Lotor.
You see, Lotor isn’t like his father. Oh no. Lotor plays smarter, not harder. He works best with strategy, not brute force. He doesn’t need an army to carry out his orders, just his four generals (who are all flawless and distinct, despite limited screen time). He’s executing some sort of Xanatos gambit and I can’t wait to see it unfold.
He’s also just charismatic. Look at how he took care of that guy who was quietly trying to start a rebellion against him. He shows him up in an arena fight (something Zarkon would NEVER do) and then asks him to join up. Sure, it’s all just for show but it proves Lotor has more going on than just wanting to conquer the universe like his father.
This makes Voltron’s fight that much harder. While Zarkon was a villain that mostly stayed in the shadows and getting people to turn against a force like that seemed possible, Lotor presents a whole new challenge. He’s charismatic. He’s a man of the people. How can you fight against charm AND cunning?
As Allura worries, Lotor is multiple moves ahead of them. The Paladins must change strategies if they have any hope of defeating him.
All right, let’s return to the hero of the season. Sven. Voltron basically does its take on a Mirror Universe episode (which, kudos for setting up the idea of alternate realities last season with Slav) and Paladins meet someone who looks somewhat like Shiro…
Except it’s Sven, an alternate universe version of Shiro, along with an alternate Slav. While he’s clearly there to demonstrate that this is indeed a different timeline, let’s not lie to ourselves. This was pure fanservice and I ate it up. They even did a HUGE callback to his original “death” in Voltron with him getting shot and needing to get taken to the “Space Hospital.”
I’m sure if you’ve never seen the original series this stuck out a bit as a do you get the reference moment but whatever, it was awesome. Sven’s “death” in the original Voltron is one of, if not the only, major plotline most people remember from the original series so why not pay tribute to it? Hell, one could argue without that “death” Voltron may never have implanted itself in pop culture. Who knows?
The whole thing was basically an episode of Sliders by asking, “what if?” What if the Galra never ruled the galaxy? The answer at first seems to be peace and prosperity but it’s not that simple. The Alteans took it too far. Their idea of peace is just a different form of enslavement. It’s chilling to see the people we consider good guys take it to this extreme, but it’s a warning to the Voltron team.
With their new goal of enlisting worlds into the cause they have to remember not to take it too far. It’s far easier than they ever considered to step over that line and become a twisted version of what they’re fighting against. Without a doubt this is my favorite episode of the season solely for raising this issue. That and you know, Sven.
That whole episode also changes the game on Voltron: Legendary Defender as a show. With alternate realities in play this just became MUCH bigger. Is Lotor trying to return to an alternate reality? Will the Voltron team not only be defenders of this universe but ALL universes?
Man, is someone on the Voltron staff a massive Sliders fan? This is starting to sound A LOT like the later seasons of that show.
Shiro’s return, while it came too soon, was a nice change of pace. It was great to see him on his own for a bit before being found by those resistance fighters. Shout out to Matthew Moy for his role as the more grounded of the two. Seeing these guys just reminded me how great Voltron is at world building and hinting at its bigger universe. It demonstrates just how far reaching the resistance is and that it doesn’t just include rebel Galra.
As I’ve mentioned a billion times before, this franchise NEEDS tie-in novels. Imagine a “Tales of the Resistance” book with short stories featuring the little pockets of fighters we’ve seen. Wouldn’t you want to read a story about these two and how they got stationed on this planet? Yo, Simon & Schuster. Make it happen.
The big “event” episode of the season is the final one, which gives the origin of not only the Lions but King Alfor, Zarkon, and Haggar. Absolute power corrupted absolutely for Zarkon and Haggar but it’s deeper than that. Zarkon did want to make things better for his people and perhaps took it too far but it’s the death of Haggar that took him over the edge.
That and you know, Alfor blew up his planet. I don’t blame Alfor for that, he did the right thing, but it makes the whole situation messy. No one is totally in the right here. That’s good story telling. Sure, we come down on the side of Alfor because Allura’s his daughter and Zarkon’s the “bad guy” but at least we can see where he’s coming from.
Also, did anyone notice that the helmet Haggar gave baby Allura looked just like Lotor’s in the original series? Interesting…
This episode is another candidate for “needs an expanded universe book”. Don’t you want more tales with the OG Paladins? We got just enough here to get an idea of them but I want more. I want their early adventures pre Voltron. I want their adventures as Zarkon slowly built up his power.
It’s the mark of a special show when you want to see the further adventures of characters who are only on screen for a few minutes and the way Voltron achieves this is deceptively simple. Of course making the characters likeable is important but the universe itself has to be engaging. It has to be a place you want to see explored and while we’ve only visited a few worlds and seen just a tiny fraction of the galaxy, I want to travel in it.
I want to follow these characters and see them grow and change while exploring worlds we’ve seen and new worlds alike. Flesh out the cultures of these characters. What does “by willow!” mean? What is that guys planet like? I need to know!
The animation and action is not only top notch once again this season but it seems like every department took it a step further. The individual lion fights are more dynamic, the ground fights more varied, and even the characters expressions feel more real. Allura’s bayard whip fight was a real treat. The extended Lion fight in episode three was thrilling, feeling like an old submarine movie. The way the Lions, especially Blue, awkwardly moved complimented the story perfectly.
Despite the season feeling a little rushed (which again, could be because of the split) it was still a blast to watch. Yeah, Pidge and Hunk are left a little on the backburner but it’s impossible to give everyone something meaningful to do in such a short span of time. I’m sure they’ll have their day soon enough.
Fantastic world building, heart pumping action, engaging characters, and freakin’ Sven? Yeah, I’m happy with this season. I can’t wait to see where we go when Voltron: Legendary Defender returns in October.
But real talk, with a multiverse now a confirmed part of Voltron: Legendary Defender this opens the door for something even greater than Sven.
A team-up between ALL the versions of Voltron. The OG series. Voltron: The Third Dimension. Voltron Force. The various comics. Voltron: Legendary Defender. Throw Gladiator Voltron in there to, why not? Even if it doesn’t happen in the series proper, give us a comic. Or you know, a book. Come on, Simon & Schuster. We’re waiting!
Shamus Kelley is ready to form VOL-TREN. Yeah, Sven style baby. Follow him on Twitter!