(Welcome to The Movies That Made Star Wars, a series where we explore the films and television properties that inspired or in this case help us better understand George Lucas’s iconic universe. In this edition:Robotech)

Cobbled together out of three distinct different anime series from Japan, Robotech became a cult phenomenon in the United States and continues to maintain its popularity. Whether one likes what was done to the original Japanese cartoons in their crossover to the United States or not, there is no doubt that the television series as it first aired in the 1980s left an indelible impression on the culture of the United States and opened the door for more imported animation to makes it way to American shores.

Robotech tells the tale of Earth after the crash landing of an alien spaceship on Macross Island in 1999. Another alien species, the Zentraedi, arrive in 2009 wanting to take the battlefortress back from the humans, but humanity has spent the last ten years reverse engineering the ship and developing Robotechnology; transformable fighter jet mecha that can be used in the coming war. The show followed the lives of the fighter pilots and civilians who had their lives affected by the war over three generations. It was epic and each episode had consequences for the rest of the series. It’s great space opera storytelling at its best and it was on television in the 1980s when audiences were most thirsty for it.

There were a number of important creatives watching Robotech during their formative years and found inspiration in the episodes of the show. One of those was a young Dave Filoni.

(Full disclosure: I am co-writing the upcoming Robotech: The Roleplaying Game, coming in 2019.)

Resistance

Dave Filoni is a name that might not be as well known as George Lucas, but he was Lucas’s hand-picked padawan. Filoni was a Star Wars superfan that had been working on other animated shows (including Avatar: The Last Airbender) when George Lucas selected him to help bring The Clone Wars to life.

“That animated series to me,” Filoni told me about Robotech once in an interview, “showed me as a kid that, ‘Wow, these characters can die. Roy Fokker got shot down. How does that work?’ The romance in it  made me feel very much like what was happening in Star Wars. The Zentraedi battlecruisers… It was all so incredible to me and it made me say, ‘I want to grow up and make an animated series like that.”

Look at the new trailer for Star Wars Resistance, the third television format animated series Dave Filoni has been involved in. It looks exactly like he got his wish.

Resistance follows a new character named Kazuda Xiono and he’s stationed aboard a giant ship called the Colossus that bears a striking resemblance to an aircraft carrier, which is essentially what the SDF-1 in Robotech was. Based on the synopsis of the show, it looks like we’re going to get plenty of that melodrama that made Robotech special. The cell shaded animation of the show even hearkens back to the sort of animation style that Robotech is known for.

The Animation Connection

Robotech followed a linear storyline, which was very unusual for cartoons at the time and this is something Dave Filoni cites as an eye-opening experience. It served as a significant inspiration on both The Clone Wars and its animated follow-up Star Wars Rebels. 

Rick Hunter, one of the young protagonists in Robotech, bears many similarities to Ezra Bridger from Rebels. Each of these characters begins the series as a civilian avoiding the larger war, but both find themselves drawn into the conflict. For Rick Hunter, this means trading his pacifism for the life of a Veritech fighter pilot. For Ezra, his path leads him to the way of the Jedi.

The AT-DPs, the two-legged AT-ST prototypes that were introduced on Star Wars Rebels, even bear a striking resemblance to Zentraedi Battlepods from Robotech.

The ending of Star Wars Rebels has a very Robotech feeling as well. As Robotech builds up to a climax, years pass right at the very end and we’re shown one last spurt of action to set our characters in motion into the future. Rick Hunter takes off on a mission into the unknown parts of the galaxy, just like Ezra. Despite all the loss and destruction at the end of both shows, we’re still given a happy ending of sorts.

Books and Voices

There are more ties between Robotech and Star Wars than just the inspiration, though. Some top tier talent crossed over from one universe to the other. The novelizations of Robotech were written by Jack McKinney, which was the pen name of the duo of Brian Daley and James Luceno. Daley wrote the original Han Solo novels that were published in 1979 and 1980 that were referenced extensively in Solo: A Star Wars Story. Then, he got the gig adapting the Star Wars films into radio dramas for NPR. James Luceno came to work on the New Jedi Order series of Star Wars books as a consultant based on his experience with Robotech and he went on to write some of the most beloved books in the Star Wars universe, including Darth Plagueis and Catalyst.

Two notable voice crossovers between Robotech and Star Wars happened as well. Cam Clarke, who voiced Max Stirling and Lancer on Robotech, provided the voice of the Cerean Padawan O-Mer on The Clone Wars and played a number of parts in Star Wars video games. Mark Hamill did some work in the Robotech universe when he provided the voice for Daryl Taylor, the commander of Wolf Squadron in the 2006 animated film Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles.

We Now Return to Robotech

For me, Robotech is the perfect complement to Star Wars and I’m excited to see how its influence affects Resistance. There isn’t a more earnest or genuine example of Star Wars-like space opera than Robotech. If you can look past how dated it can seem at times, Robotech is one of the most thrilling stories in the genre. It’s funny, exciting, emotional, and dramatic. More than that, it’s just cool. And since it really set the pace for what an animated series could do, it can really be seen as a precursor to more linearly told animated shows that are now part and parcel of the Star Wars universe.

Availability: Robotech available to stream on virtually every major streaming platform. Star Wars Resistance premieres Sunday, October 7 at 10pm ET/PT on the Disney Channel.

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