Starscream. The name has almost become an adjective in itself for characters that are traitorous, two-faced, sycophantic or conniving. Not only has the original Starscream been reinvented many times throughout the various iterations of the Transformers franchise, but characters in other shows, films and video games have taken inspiration from him. Starscream is certainly one of the most recognisable from the original series alongside Optimus Prime, Megatron and Bumblebee and almost every iteration of the character has been resoundingly popular with the fanbase. However, oddly enough, the Michael Bay Transformers films managed to perform the seemingly impossible – they managed to screw up Starscream.
One might ask how, since the logical thing for the film series to do would be to do what it did with almost every other Transformers character – have them be an almost exact carbon copy of their G1 personality, with almost none of the character development. In the first Transformers film, however, Starscream seems to be just like any other Decepticon – he lacks the iconic voice, he displays no traitorous intent whatsoever, and all we are really told about the character is that he often fails Megatron – and we only know that thanks to a single line during their only on-screen conversation in the first film in which Megatron says “You fail me yet again, Starscream.” So essentially, going off the first film alone, Starscream comes across as just another of Megatron’s incompetent lackeys. In the after-credits sequence, we see Starscream blasting off into space – which was obviously sequel-bait, but at least gave the audience something to remember him for.
Come Revenge of the Fallen, however, and suddenly things have changed dramatically. Now having inexplicably gained his G1 voice to replace the alien rasp he spoke with in the first film, Starscream is again bullied and kicked around by Megatron for no real reason – he is annoyed that Starscream took the mantle of Decepticon leader, but given the fact that Megatron was dead and rotting at the bottom of the ocean, and that the Fallen had asked Starscream to raise a hatchling army, this seems a flimsy excuse for abuse. A similar issue plagues Dark of the Moon, as Starscream seems to be loyal, if a little sychophantic, and yet Megatron still treats him like dirt. One would think that, with so many of his soldiers being killed in every film, Megatron would actually grow to appreciate Starscream – not for his unwavering devotion despite the constant failure of Megatron’s plans, but simply for surviving this long.
Having said that, Starscream’s impressive survival streak is brought to a sudden and jarring end in the final act of the third film, as he is unceremoniously killed off by Sam, of all people. Starscream’s death is one of several in the third film that were included when the filmmakers assumed that the third Transformers would be the last – as a result, every single Decepticon is killed, even Megatron, and although other incarnations of Starscream had a knack for returning from the dead, it would seem that the movie-universe Starscream is dead for good this time. Looking back on the character’s presentation in the three movies in which he appears, it is obvious that he was grossly mishandled – like many other classic characters in the live-action movies – but the real question is: how? How is it possible to screw up such a tried-and-tested, almost cookie-cutter character as Starscream?
To answer that question, we must first look at the wider issue of how the villains of the Transformers films, particularly the Decepticon characters, are used. As alluded to in How to Fix Michael Bay’s Transformers Films – Part Two: Decepticontinuity, the writers of these films were obviously not concerned with how effectively the villains were presented – as far as they were concerned, the names ‘Megatron’ and ‘Starscream’ held enough brand recognition in themselves that audiences would project their own recollections of the characters onto them. As a result, hardly any effort is put into actually establishing the motivations, personalities or conflicts of the villains aside from what is absolutely essential to make the framework of the story. In other words, the villains are only developed when the writers realise they absolutely have to be, and as a result they all come across as one-dimensional.
Starscream is the perfect example of this – we never see or even hear about any treacherous ideas that he might have, the writers just have Megatron constantly refer to him as ‘treacherous’ despite there being no evidence for this. This uninspired ‘tell-don’t-show’ method of storytelling wouldn’t seem out of place in a Star Wars Prequel, and it even continues after Starscream’s death – the appearance of his decapitated head in The Last Knight (despite the fact it was blown up in Dark of the Moon) and the fact that Megatron still refers to him as ‘treacherous’ showcases just how little the writers cared about the character. Even a relatively generic and by-the-books depiction of Starscream, such as the version seen in Transformers: Animated, is leagues ahead of the Starscream seen in the movies.
Hopefully this article has shed some light on how Michael Bay managed to screw up Starscream in the Transformers films. To read more deconstruction of the Michael Bayverse, click the links down below. Be sure to leave a like if you want to read more Transformers content!
Read More from Sacred Icon
- How to Fix Michael Bay’s Transformers Films – Part One: More Than Meets the CGI
- How to Fix Michael Bay’s Transformers Films – Part Two: Decepticontinuity
- How to Fix Michael Bay’s Transformers Films – Part Three: Good Plots in Disguise