Animated series aren’t supposed to be produced this quickly, and when they are, they certainly aren’t supposed to be this good.
A little more than a year since it first debuted on Netflix, Voltron: Legendary Defender has already dropped its third season, and the fourth is just a couple months away from its release—fans of Rick and Morty and Attack on Titan would give anything to see their shows treated with such efficiency.
Perhaps lending to the haste with which this third season arrived is the smaller amount of episodes that it contains. At only seven episodes, this is just asking to be binged on a quiet weeknight. But Voltron fans need not worry about a rushed story, because while Season Three may not have the quantity that previous seasons offered, it doesn’t skimp on quality storytelling that sets up for what should be a landmark Season Four.
The show picks up what seems to be a decent amount of time following Season Two’s wild conclusion, where Emperor Zarkon was almost fatally struck down in battle, and Shiro inexplicably went missing. Voltron: Legendary Defender has always been successful at portraying the cosmic war with realism (albeit, sans the goriest of details) and Season Three does a great job at addressing the fallout that would expectedly come from the events at the end of Season Two.
Sure, Zarkon was incapacitated, but one person doesn’t make an entire army, even if it’s the figurehead. The bulk of the Galra Empre is still in tact, and still very much has a vise grip on the majority of planets in the universe. Within the first few minutes, Season Three makes it clear that the Paladins’ work wasn’t finished when they defeated Zarkon, it was only just beginning. Dismantling the vast Galra Empire means liberating the universe planet by planet.
The Blade of Marmora continue to assist the Paladins’ effort, and, not surprisingly, the alien races who they rescue aren’t always so trusting of the rogue, noble Galra warriors. Just like the Paladins and Princess Allura were in the previous season, the many species that have lived under the tyrannical Galra rule are loathe to embrace any Galra as heroes, even those who have fought to free them.
What the peoples of the universe are willing to embrace is Voltron, itself. They’ve heard stories of the legendary, almost-mythical mech single-handedly taking down Galra fleets, and they crave the sight of the weapon that offers hope for the end of the Galra Empire.
The problem, of course, is that the Paladins can’t actually form Voltron as Season Three opens. With Shiro missing in action and no one to pilot the Black Lion, Voltron is also MIA. This puts further strain on the Paladins’ already tremendous burden. Voltron is a symbol that holds the resistance together—without it, the peoples that the Paladins’ liberate have a difficult time mustering faith in their cause.
It’s the polar opposite to the situation involving Zarkon. Whereas the Galra Empire maintains its strength even without its key figure, the resistance’s strength is anchored almost entirely in Voltron.
This dilemma is what weighs down on the Paladins in the opening episodes, not simply because it threatens their cause, but also because they miss their pal, Shiro. Compounding the issue is that Shiro isn’t exactly easy to replace, both for his leadership qualities and his innate ability to connect to the Black Lion and pilot it.
Unfortunately, the drama that ensues from the heroes is one of the few missteps that the show has made so far in its three seasons. As the crew reconciles with the fact that they may never see Shiro again, and subsequently attempt to replace him, things get a little too hokey even for what this show has previously allowed. A particularly-awkward sequence involving the Paladins, Allura, and Coran testing to see who has the best connection to the Black Lion amounts to each character sitting in the cockpit and straining to form an incorporeal link with the immense robot.
Based on the instance last season where Keith temporarily manned the Black Lion, viewers will know the end result long before the sequence even happens, which makes you wonder why the story even bothers wasting a few minutes showing it off, in the first place.
You’ll also wonder why Keith can be such an absurdly-bad leader, at times, when one of the key emotions associated with the Black Lion is leadership capabilities. Keith has always been a bit of a hothead, but some of the decisions he goes on to make while the Paladins are in combat early this season are so blatantly foolish that it feels like something out of a low-budget slasher film. It’s as if the writers couldn’t think of any believable way to put the Paladins in danger aside from making Keith ludicrously reckless.
He eventually redeems himself, but his mixed results hamper the importance of one having to possess certain emotional attributes to connect with a Lion. That was previously the basis for each Paladin landing the reigns over the respective Lion that they did, but now in Season Three, a sort of musical chairs situation occurs where Keith takes the Black Lion, Lance takes the Red Lion, and Allura takes the Blue Lion. While this may not be a plot hole, per say, it certainly marginalizes the unique relationship that the Paladins had once established, as well as the meaning behind which cockpit each one ended up in, and why.
Thankfully, whenever the human and Altean characters fail to provide compelling personalities, a new batch of characters fill the void. Ironically, they’re some of the bad guys—at least, it’s almost certain that they’re bad guys.
After being summoned by Witch Haggar in the closing moments of Season Two, Prince Lotor, the son of Emperor Zarkon, makes his debut. So much about Lotor and the Galra under his command is in stark contrast from his indisposed father. Where Zarkon has always been brutish and volatile, Lotor is wily and charismatic. He throws himself into the very thick of the missions that he commands, rather than standing and watching from a far corner of the galaxy.
His daring is necessary for success given the significantly smaller force under his command—a group that amounts to just four Galra. After being in exile for so long, Lotor has to earn the respect of the Galra military, and he begins to do so with the formidable combination of a sharp tongue, and his prowess as a warrior.
But something is amiss with Lotor, because he ends up spending just as much time undermining sections of the Galra Empire as he does harrying the Paladins of Voltron. Although he initially feigns obedience to Witch Haggar’s plans, he very obviously has bigger ambitions than to just be Zarkon’s backup, and he’s seemingly doing everything in his power to attain greater authority.
Of course, true to Voltron: Legendary Defender’s nature, Season Three withholds some of the fine details for later episodes, leaving you to wonder just what targets, exactly, this intriguing villain has in his sights.
If Lotor’s motivations don’t leave you craving for Season Four, Season Three’s final episode surely will. The finale provides some groundbreaking backstory behind the history of the universe, namely how Voltron, and the entire conflict with the Galra Empire came to be. It’s all fascinating world-building that changes the way fans will view so much about the story, expertly elaborating while also raising new mysteries to be answered in future seasons.
Season Three of Voltron: Legendary Defender serves as an excellent primer for the imminent, full-sized Season Four set to release in October. Despite having just seven episodes to tell its story, Season Three is jammed-pack with exciting action, vibrant visuals, and a number of new developments that deepen the already-compelling war between the Paladins of Voltron and the Galra Empire. After all that has transpired here, every fan should be eagerly anticipating the show’s return in just a short couple of months.
+ Portrays realistic ramifications of the war on our characters and the worlds they’re attempting to liberate, taking time to detail how such a prolonged conflict would actually play out
+ Prince Lotor and his cohorts are fantastic villains whose ulterior motives leave you guessing at just what, exactly, they have in store
+ Several great sequences of action, with a perfect mix between mech combat inside the Lions and Voltron, and on-foot battles where the Paladins fight in close quarters
– A lot of the melodrama between the Paladins early on feels contrived and silly
Voltron: Legendary Defender Season Three is available exclusively on Netflix NOW
Jeff Pawlak is the animation buff on the Geekiverse. He’s watched plenty of anime in his time, and he’s glad to see that American studios have started churning a string of animated epics in recent years. While he eagerly waits for Season Four of Voltron: Legendary Defender, he points his attention to Nintendo video games, giant monster flicks, and other animated shows and movies. Find him on Twitter @JeffreyPavs
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