Don’t give me that look. It can’t always be heavy around here. Sometimes you’re going to get me prattling on about some sort of fandom or other. And yeah, betting that it would be the Transformers fandom isn’t an unwise bet.
That said; let’s have some good old fashioned fanboy argument fun!
Being a Transformers fan I often hear the argument that the original Megatron from 1984 cartoon was an idiot. At that point I usually engage people politely… and not heatedly at all. I calmly discuss through patient discourse why they are wrong stupid heads.
Before I keep going I know some will point out how Megatron would indeed put a fusion blast right into Starscream’s spark chamber during the movie when he became Galvatron. That has its place in this discussion but it’s a lot later on so I’ll ask you to bear with me.
Megatron, like every character who bears the name suffers from a critical flaw. It’s become the essence of the character, a lynchpin of his personality. With Beast Wars Megatron was a sadist to the point where it became debilitating and reckless. Many fans will agree that Megaton was an unparalleled genius and a tactical expert. His successes at the end of the first season of the show as well as his godlike agenda at the end of the second season show quick thinking and an ability to capitalize on resources. His flaw though is how much he enjoyed it. His pleasure at his own success would allow the Maximals to easily defeat him in spite of having every advantage. Hence the monologues.
Transformers Prime Megatron, also suffers from a fatal flaw. A need for control. This Megatron would tolerate incompetence, but not disloyalty, nor a direct breech of his orders. It’s why Starscream would survive despite being treacherous and yet Dreadwing would be shot to death when Megatron commanded him to stop. Megatron, in this universe expects a certain level of betrayal and deception, however if his direct command is ever disobeyed then that is a fatal offense. This is more clearly explained with his origins and his desire to become a Prime in this continuity.
Please don’t kill me!
In the case of the original Megatron the flaw is obvious: pride. This Megatron was built entirely for the purpose of being a combatant. You can’t even use the term soldier or warrior since those contain the connotation of some code of honor. No, our original Megatron was built to win, no matter the opponent and definitely no matter the cost.
This Megatron was created during a time when the Deceptacon forces were losing to the Autobots. Now a big part of Transformers is the idea that like humans, Autobots can choose whatever they wish to excel at. Some Autobots are better as builders, some medics, scientists, and then there are guys like Optimus Prime that are generally awesome at everything. But, the point is that they have a choice. Deceptacons are built for combat to the point that weapons are usually built into them. It’s an interesting thing but if you look at the older cartoons, with the exception of the Dinobots, most Autobots carry their weapons. I think guys like Wheeljack and Hound have mounted weapons and those typically double as equipment or tools.
Megatron is the ultimate personification of that idea. His alternate form is a weapon. All he is, or is built to be is someone who conquers and kills. Now rather then that be the set piece for a tragic figure Megatron embraces it and it becomes the dominant drive of his mind. To be the best killer and conqueror. Now in Transformers history we have records of Primes preceding Optimus, but with Megatron? None. We have no idea who the preceding Deceptacon leaders were, what their ideals were, names, nothing. That is how dominating his presence is within that history.
Now as far as we know Megatron was completely undefeated in combat during most of his life on Cybertron. He even took down Sentinel Prime, Optimus’s predecessor. Now, in Transformers lore Primes are supposed to be the pinnacle of intellect and wisdom. They are seen as unbeatable symbols and to be the current bearer of the Matrix is an honour most consider themselves unworthy. At that point it isn’t hard to imagine that Megatron was completely assured in his physical superiority over any opponent. It became a core fundamental of his identity.
Then along comes Optimus Prime. The only Autobot to beat him. To say the least, Megatron’s entire existence was dedicated to thwarting Optimus. It’s why he followed Optimus into deep space rather than stay and slay every Autobot left on Cybertron. It’s why a lot of his stupid decisions happened in the show. He needed that big grand final fight with Optimus. He needed to break Optimus’s spirit. Hence why all he’d ever do is yell out “Prime!”
Seems like the kinda guy that would take a shit in your cornflakes, huh?
So what does this have to do with Starscream?
It’s a common thing in fiction when one has an evil overlord of some kind that the overlord will allow small rebellions to gather momentum under his (or her) dominion. He’ll allow a series of victories so that the name of the rebellion becomes known before he crushes it using his overwhelming might. The most infamous of these attempts you’ll recognize from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi when Emperor Palpatine allowed the Rebel Alliance to attack his Death Star, hiding the fact it was fully operational.
But then we all know how that worked out for him.
Megatron duplicates a stratagem similar to this with a much more immediate payoff. Starscream, no matter what you think of him is pretty much an idiot. His only major advantage in most fights is his flight and speed. Even then he can barely hit anything. On the outset one would think that having someone in your military force would be detrimental to loyalty and in a more honourable team that would be the case.
But Megatron rules through fear of his strength. When Optimus first managed to defeat Megatron we can easily imagine he would need a way to instil fear into his troops despite having an equal on the battlefield.
If you watch some of the earlier episodes of Transformers Starscream frequently boasts how he’ll defeat Megatron, undermines his plans, and makes attempts on his life. At every attempt of this he is verbally berated, abused, and seriously physically harmed. In the eyes of the other Deceptacons Megatron is all powerful and this is confirmed to them in every one of Starscream’s defeats. With every attempt at victory, because Starscream is such a failure, he guarantees the fear and loyalty of Megatron’s Deceptacons.
In addition Megatron’s confidence is probably so grand that if Starscream ever did defeat him, then Megatron himself was probably broken beyond repair and might as well die.
Of course, the movie shows that when faced with the possibility of death Megatron chose subservience to Unicron, giving up mastery of his own destiny to become another creature’s slave. As Galvatron he destroyed Starscream out of vengeance most likely. But then at that point Galvatron’s entire psychology differs from that of Megatron as Megatron was a warrior machine that submitted to nothing and Galvatron is, in essence, a slave.
Still I hope this analysis is at least close to the mark and offers you fine folk a reason behind one of our more iconic, if a bit cartoony, villains of our childhood.
So too does this work exist.