Is Buzz Lightyear Of Star Command Canon? An Investigation

When Disney announced the movie "Lightyear," people were justifiably a little confused. We've already had four "Toy Story" movies, and a major plot point in the first movie is that Buzz Lightyear (the toy) had to come to the realization that he's not a person, but a toy based on a fictional character. On the other hand, "Lightyear" is the origin story of Buzz Lightyear the person (upon whom the toy is based). If that isn't confusing enough, those of us who are old enough to remember Disney and Pixar's "Toy Story" sci-fi spin-off "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" are probably even more perplexed by "Lightyear," since the short-lived cartoon already served as a origin story for the "actual" Buzz Lightyear. 

Unlike "Toy Story," "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" was animated in a classic, 2D style and featured the otherworldly adventures of "real" Buzz Lightyear rather than Buzz-the-toy. With this in mind, it's fair to question whether or not "Lightyear" will completely nullify the events of "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command," or if the cartoon will somehow remain canon. In order to answer that question, we have to look at the all the facts, from circumstantial evidence — like Disney and Pixar's odd reluctance to acknowledge that the show even existed — to direct quotes from the director of "Lightyear" himself.

Conflict in space

As it turns out, there was more than a little turmoil behind the scenes of "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command." Apparently, tension arose because John Lasseter — the director of "Toy Story" and eventually ousted chief creative officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar — did not care for the series. Even though the series enjoyed a successful run from October 2000 to January 2001, the show was later rumored to be more or less disowned by Pixar. 

This rumor is given credence by comic book writer and editor Aaron Sparrow, who tweeted that Lasseter indeed disliked the show, to the extent that he prevented the use of characters associated exclusively with "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" from being used or even mentioned in other "Toy Story" properties.

This claim is also supported by Tad Stones, executive producer and director of "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command." In an interview published in 2020 entitled "Why Pixar "HATES" this Buzz Lightyear TV Show," Stones mentions that while he never heard Lasseter outright state that he disliked the animated series, there were several indications that he used his influence to have Disney and Pixar more or less disown the show, going so far as to alter the appearance of characters on the Buzz Lightyear ride at Disney theme parks so that they didn't look like characters who had only been seen on the show.

Pixar Says...

Additionally, there's the fact that "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" is curiously absent from Disney+ despite the platform holding so many other cartoon spin-offs of its animated movies from that era — including some of the infamous straight to video sequels that were arguably lower quality than the cartoon series in question. There's no official way to watch "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" at all; it's not on any other streaming platforms or sold as physical media by entities associated with Disney or Pixar. There's also the fact that Pixar's own summary on the official "Lightyear" web page more or less implies that the new film — and not the "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" — is the "definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear":

"A sci-fi action adventure and the definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear, the hero who inspired the toy, "Lightyear" follows the legendary Space Ranger after he's marooned on a hostile planet 4.2 million light-years from Earth alongside his commander and their crew. As Buzz tries to find a way back home through space and time, he's joined by a group of ambitious recruits and his charming robot companion cat, Sox. Complicating matters and threatening the mission is the arrival of Zurg, an imposing presence with an army of ruthless robots and a mysterious agenda."

The use of the word "definitive" is telling, and comes off as very intentional in terms of dismissing any other media (like "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command") that might have served as an origin story for not-the-toy Buzz Lightyear prior to the movie "Lightyear." If there was nothing else that could possibly be interpreted as an official Buzz Lightyear origin story, there likely wouldn't be a reason for Disney to use such deliberate wording.

But wait, there's more!

You'd think that the aforementioned clues and bits of evidence concerning "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" getting the cold shoulder would be enough to write the animated series off as non-canonical, but there are several other factors that complicate and potentially contradict this otherwise reasonable assumption. 

For one thing, "Lightyear" director Angus MacLane has said on Twitter, in Q&A sessions, and in interviews that "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" exists as an animated TV show within the canon of the "Toy Story" universe, and in that universe, the movie "Lightyear" is what inspires the creation of the cartoon series.

Let's break this down. MacLane is basically saying that, in our universe (aka real life), the "Toy Story" movies and "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" movies came out long before "Lightyear" even existed. But in the "Toy Story" universe (aka the fictional reality we see in the "Toy Story" movies wherein toys can come to life), both "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" and "Lightyear" exist as media in their own right, with "Lightyear" preceding "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" in that universe. 

In October 2021, MacLane told "Entertainment Weekly" that "Lightyear" is the movie that Andy saw that sparked his interest in the Buzz Lightyear action figure, saying: "In the Toy Story universe, it would be like a movie that maybe Andy would have seen, that would have made him want a Buzz Lightyear figure." But the director added that we wouldn't be directly seeing references to this meta tie-in in the film, saying "The movie doesn't end and then you see Andy eating popcorn."

Our timeline versus the Toy Story Universe

To break things down further, let's compare the timeline of our world to the fictional timeline of the "Toy Story" universe. In reality, the first "Toy Story" movie debuted in 1995. Coincidentally, the film appears to be set primarily in that same year. If "Lightyear" is the movie Andy saw that made him want a Buzz Lightyear action figure, then "Lightyear" and the subsequent cartoon spinoff came out sometime before 1995. In /Film's interview with Angus MacLane, he more or less confirms that the in-universe debut of "Lightyear" and "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" precedes the events of the first "Toy Story" film, stating: 

"So I actually feel like [Lightyear] might be early '80s, late '70s. So it's more like his favorite movie that he saw on VHS probably."

So even though "Toy Story" came out in 1995 and "Lightyear" is coming out in 2022, in the "Toy Story" universe, "Lightyear" and "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" exist as media that debuted before 1995. Either way, the established timelines are as follows:

  • In our world (you know, reality): "Toy Story" → "Toy Story 2" → "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" → "Toy Story 3" → "Toy Story 4" → "Lightyear"
  • In the Toy Story Universe: The debut of "Lightyear" → The debut of "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" → The Events of "Toy Story"

Does it make perfect sense? It depends on who you ask and how much you're willing to interrogate the established lore and statements from those associated with all of the various works involved. But yeah, it mostly makes sense.

The final verdict

Ultimately, after examining all of the information available to us, from the word of several seemingly trustworthy sources to circumstantial evidence like the absence of "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" from Disney+, it seems as though the apparently abandoned cartoon is canon in the sense that it has a place within the "Toy Story" universe, but not canon as far as being a legitimate origin story for Buzz Lightyear the person. 

While Disney and Pixar's reluctance to directly acknowledge or address the series after its cancelation makes it seem as though they'd prefer people forgot about it all together, the reality is that it was a pretty good show that aired 62 episodes and won a Daytime Emmy Award in 2001 for Outstanding Sound Editing. For those of us who watched and remember the series, it's not easily forgotten, despite the apparent efforts to make it so. When you consider the fact that even the director of "Lightyear" is willing to incorporate the show into the "Toy Story" canon in some capacity (even if it's a little convoluted), it seems perfectly reasonable to conclude that "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" is canon. Kind of.

"Lightyear" will go to infinity and beyond in theaters on June 17, 2022.