Pixar Light year brought the beloved Space Ranger toy to the big screen in a large-scale interstellar adventure all its own, full of references and allusions to the original toy story character in a whole new light. Whereas Light year remained true to much of the tradition and sympathy of Tim Allenthe iconic action figure, new from the movie the reinterpretation of the evil emperor Zurg left many diehard fans perplexed by the treatment of the history of the sworn enemy of the Galactic Alliance.
Although it can be argued that the film abruptly resumed the canon established in toy story 2 of Zurg being Buzz’s father (in a cheeky nod to The Empire Strikes Back), the film effectively places the character’s motivations in the context of this version of Buzz’s story to confront concepts of toxic masculinity and selfishness.
In the film, Captain Buzz Lightyear, played by Chris Evans, is determined to right his mistakes and complete his high-speed flight mission so he and his people can return home, even at the cost of missing out on decades of life alongside his friends. As he performs more and more hyper-speed test flights, he travels further into the future to encounter a world that no longer needs him or his mission.
Buzz’s do-or-die mindset follows him into the distant future as he encounters a team of new recruits who offer to help him on his mission. Buzz is reluctant to accept help from others and believes that only he is capable of completing his decades-long mission. This results in the appearance of an alternate timeline version of himself, in the guise of the robotic villain Zurg (James Brolin), who is determined to alter the past so that his mistake, and thus the lives of Buzz’s new friends on their planet, never happens.
Zurg is a reflection of Buzz’s own importance, willing to sacrifice the lives of others so he can remedy his own guilt and relive his heroic past. Buzz’s main motivation when he took on the mission was to fix the mistake that stalled Star Command in the first place and get everyone home, all while struggling with the belief that he has to deal with things. by himself and that if he fails, the Space Rangers have won. it doesn’t matter anymore. As he continually throws himself into the future, Buzz proves he’d rather be the hero and clear his conscience than live for himself alongside his friends.
Zurg’s revelation as a time variant of Buzz illustrates how time and isolation have changed Buzz and altered his mission motives to a more selfish end. While Buzz was determined to fix his mistake to save his people and make things right, Zurg wanted to completely change the timeline for himself and rid himself of his guilt. Going from selflessness to selfishness, Zurg wanted to complete the mission, not so he could save his people and admit his mistakes, but so he could count as a Space Ranger again and deny his past mistakes.
Zurg represents Buzz’s inflated selfishness of not accepting his own failures, doing whatever it takes to stay the hero and do things HIS way, wasting his life to find a past in which he was the hero. Before learning to work in a team, Buzz’s personal importance as a savior of the future blinded him to how much he is really needed and how best to serve his community. His fellow rangers needed him as a friend, not as an all-powerful hero with sacrificial duty. The clash between Buzz and Zurg helps magnify the growth Buzz has undergone upon realizing that completing his mission wasn’t the only way to help his people. Unlike Buzz, Zurg no longer wanted to help people, but to protect his own legacy and maintain his hero status.
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