Phantoms of the Space Opera: Lotor’s Theme in VLD S8

Say what you will about the Phantom, but Erik had a tried and true plan when he seduced Christine using the power of music. Nothing can quite shift the emotional tide of an audience like a well written score, and VLD composer Brian Parkhurt’s music does exactly this. Indeed, understanding how sound contributes to drama is so vital to story exploration it is included in the United States Common Core Reading standards as early as Grade 7 (http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/RL/7/). Not only is music integral to creating the mood of a visual story (that is, it tells the audience how we are supposed to feel about a given character, situation, or event), it also works to tie thematic material, the story’s messaging, from one point in the story to the rest. The slightest change in key can transform a Robeastly madman into a sleeping prince, and vice versa. In this essay, I will analyze three musical themes that appear throughout VLD S8 and continue to weave its thematic material where the narrative fabric separates. Come dear readers, abandon your defenses and experience the power of the music of the night.

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Terminology

Glissando: “a continuous slide upward or downward between two notes” (Google Dictionary).

Major chord: A group of three notes in which the first two notes are separated by three notes and the second two notes are separated by two notes.

Minor chord: A group of three notes in which the first two notes are separated by two notes and the second two notes are separated by three notes.

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Theme: “a universal idea, lesson, or message explored throughout a work of literature” (https://www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms/theme).

“an idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.

(MUSIC) a prominent or frequently recurring melody or group of notes in a composition” (Google Dictionary).

Voltron’s Theme

A heroic tune that begins in the very first opening title, Voltron’s theme is the backbone of the series. A variation of the Voltron theme will be discussed later on. The base melody is this: C G G Bb G F G C D E

The last portion ends like so: C G F A# B C

A riff off this tune heard in the series, also keyed in C major, is: C G F D C

Prince Lotor’s Theme

First heard in S4E “Changing of the Guard”, Lotor’s Theme, in its original form, is a decidedly confident, princely piece that evokes both inspiration and mystery. Its minor chords make it reminiscent of ancient world music, such as: 

Lotor’s Theme can be heard between 3:58 and 4:37 minutes here:

Given the guy is 10,000 years old, an old world fanfare fits the ancient, mysterious prince.

The melody we primarily hear throughout the series is keyed in a C harmonic minor and runs thus: C G B Aflat G E F Dflat E

Lotor’s Lullaby, the version we hear in S8E2 Shadows, changes the melody to E major: E B D# B C# G# A B C# B G#

Sincline’s Theme

First heard in S6 during the soundtrack “I Underestimated You”, this two note theme is nearly identical in technique to the Joker’s Theme in The Dark Knight (:40 to :45 of this track: https://youtu.be/1zyhQjJ5UgY)

The Theme consists of two notes that are one whole step apart, making them harmonious by nature when played without the glissando. (I will later refer to the rendition sans glissando as Heroic Sincline.) However, the glissando creates an unsettling feeling. Its discordant sound is meant to build tension and cue the audience, in Merla’s words, “something’s not right”, suggesting mental instability. It can be heard between 1:45 and 2 minutes here:

The melody is a simple: E F# E

Changing of the Chord

One last background item before we dig into the episodes themselves: A simple shift in major and minor chords can make the difference between happiness and sadness, good and evil, villain and hero, a tragic death or an eternal love. For a simple lesson in major and minor chords, visit this link: https://youtu.be/USoXc3p3ZW0

For a practical example of how shifting chords can substantially shift the tone of a song, check out this upbeat version of REM’s “Losing My Religion”: https://youtu.be/y6KmiIq2-m8.

As voice actor AJ LoCasio joked at NYCC ‘17, “Lotors are like onions” (Dar 1). The music of VLD S8 reflects exactly that, sometimes with the simple shift of a note adding a layer of nuance to a scene or character. For the purposes of this essay, I will be referencing the themes with the names I have attributed to them above.

S8E2 Shadows

Although we hear a triumphant rendition of Lotor’s Theme throughout much of Seasons 3-6, this episode and its music introduce the audience to a more innocent side of Lotor. The flashback of the prince’s experience on Ven’tar’s planet reframes the prior narrative by reestablishing the “liar” as a character who possesses integrity in both word and deed. His conversation with Ven’tar, in which he expresses confidence they can convince his father his egalitarian methods are preferable to brute force against her planet, is backed by a hauntingly sweet rendition of Lotor’s Theme that is reminiscent of a lullaby, and that I will refer to from here forward as Lotor’s Lullaby. The prince’s youthful optimism and naiveté are conveyed by shifting the key of his theme from C harmonic minor to E major. The major chord is the heroic, optimistic version of Lotor whereas the minor chord we are used to hearing is what he was hardened into by the trauma of witnessing the destruction of Ven’tar’s planet. Heads up: You will hear shades of this particular rendition again later in the story, and it is significant.

S8E3 The Prisoner’s Dilemma

The Prisoner’s Dilemma thematically refers to a theoretical situation in which two prisoners held separately are convinced to rat each other out in exchange for lesser sentences. It assumes the prisoners will each choose to turn against each other for personal gain when, in fact, both prisoners cooperating would guarantee each the greatest reward.

From a narrative standpoint, the Prisoner’s Dilemma refers not only to Lahn and the paladins but to Lotor, the colonists, and Voltron, who are all “prisoners” of Haggar. When Keith, Krolia, and Romelle discover the secret base of Alteans, they assume the worst and rush back to capture Lotor. When Lotor sees Romelle, although he does admit to lives being lost in the process of defending Alteans, he remains silent on what exactly was going on. Romelle, grieving Bandor’s loss, is the prisoner who talks for the short term gain of getting Voltron on her side. Voltron also rushes to hold Lotor accountable. Lotor, who would have benefitted in the short term by explaining his actual doings at the colony, stays silent because, as Kuron soon demonstrates, Haggar has spies everywhere. After the final confrontation between Voltron and Lotor, the result is Lotor’s death, Voltron’s MIA status for three years, and the first colony falling into Honerva’s hands while the second colony’s Alteans are presumably left at the facility to die (this is never fully explained). The episode revolves around the fallout from the paladins’ hasty choice in S6. This is the reality where Voltron left Lotor in the rift, and they are now directly seeing the consequences of their actions.

The music ties the two parallels together by weaving subtle shades of Lotor’s Theme into the scenes with Lahn. There’s also an ominous version of Lotor’s theme when Lance and Hunk discover the creature aboard the abandoned ship. Lotor’s Theme starts again as the monster enters the room and attacks the paladins.

Keith informs Warlord Lahn that Warlord Ranveig experimented on the ship’s creature using Lotor’s quintessence in order to create a weapon that would destroy his Galra enemies, but he could never control it because it could not differentiate between enemies and allies. Multiple layers of metaphor are at work here. The monster is representative of Sincline in two ways: A) The symbolism suggests Sincline was built to destroy only Lotor’s Galra enemies (Zarkon and Haggar) but B) Although Sincline was built for a good purpose, when Lotor was betrayed by Allura and the paladins he could no longer tell friend from foe and could not control his rage. It is also foreshadowing for E6 Genesis’s Robeast!Lotor, who also cannot distinguish friend from foe, as demonstrated by his erratic behavior in killing an Altean mech pilot even while under Honerva’s control.

Lahn gives a telling speech at the end of the episode, stating that Voltron risked their lives for him twice even though he doubted their intentions, and that he plans to form an alliance with them. The music here is a rendition of Lotor’s Lullaby, and serves to draw a thematic connection to Lotor risking his life twice for Voltron, who doubted his intentions: Once on Naxzela and once by defeating Zarkon.

S8E4 Battle Scars

The episode begins with foreshadowing that is not followed through on. Allura asks to go visit the Altean colony, but is reminded by Keith they were told it no longer exists. Her line about the rest of her people being used by Honerva differentiates them from the colony she has asked to go to, and she says they could at least find clues by visiting. Later in the episode Pidge connects with the energy of Olkarion, a planet that has been destroyed by war and looks similar in terrain to the dead tree Allura healed in Launch Date. Pidge offers an idea about what happened, but Allura says she “thinks there is something more” to the dead planet and asks Pidge to consciously tap into its energy. As Pidge does, the Sincline Theme begins to play. The Sincline Theme transforms into a positive sound as Pidge sees Olkarion children play. When Allura and Pidge go to the city and Pidge witnesses the Robeast draining the planet of quintessence, a slow, emotional, tragic rendition of Lotor’s theme plays.

The episode foreshadows that there was something more to the colony and Lotor’s part in it for the paladins to discover. Because Pidge is the paladin who accused Lotor of being “a murderer, just like his father”, I speculate when the paladins had Lotor take them through the quantum abyss to the colony, after rescuing him from his Robeast state, Pidge, the paladin with the power to connect to a planet’s energy, was the one who saw what had really happened on the colony and exonerated him, a reversal of her narrative beat in S6.

S8E5 The Grudge

And now the paladins begin to make things right. As the title suggests, this episode revolves around the theme of vengeance versus forgiveness, and is an apt allusion to the 2004 same titled horror film. In the film a curse is inflicted on a home where a vengeful family murder took place, and its horror continues to play out on anyone who enters.

In this episode, we see the heavy use of both paralleling and a subtype of concrete foreshadowing I refer to as “microcosm to macrocosm”. Something happens in the small story world that is meant to signify a similar event taking place later on in the larger story world. In this episode, Zethrid seeks vengeance for Ezor’s loss by trying to kill Keith. I believe in the original version, in which Ezor was dead but revived by the paladins’ last healing pod, while Zethrid was clearly still in Lotor’s position, Ezor was meant to be simultaneously representative of A) Ven’tar and her planet, who Lotor lost, B) Allura, who is “waiting to help him heal through the pain”, C) the moon base Alteans who would have been healed, and D) Lotor himself, who is also in need of literal, physical revival. In the version with living Ezor, she still cleanly fills the role of a simpler stand-in for Lotor’s loss of his relationship with Allura during S6 and the role she would have played in helping him heal from his lifelong pain. Acxa also serves as a parallel for what Allura’s role would have been when Lotor reappeared later in the story, as an arbiter of peace now waging war against Honerva, the perpetrator of his “cycle of pain”, for her loved one’s soul.

The track for this episode is called “You Took Away Everything” (https://soundcloud.com/brianparkhurst/the-grudge-you-took-away-everything?in=brianparkhurst/sets/voltron-legendary-defender-1) and – if you will graciously allow me a moment to geek out – it is glorious. The tension and terror it evokes is palpable, and its resolution emotionally resonant.

The height of the conflict is backed by a desperate version of Lotor’s Theme and Sincline’s Theme. Musically, this suggests that Acxa has once more found herself in the position of talking down a friend from making a destructive choice and that Zethrid is in Lotor’s shoes when he forms the Sincline mech. Everything has been taken from her and someone will pay by having to feel the pain and rage she feels. Whereas Acxa was unsuccessful in talking Lotor down, this time she calls on Zethrid to “break the cycle of pain” and, although Zethrid still falls, eventually succeeds.

“Breaking the cycle of pain” is a heavy handed real world allusion to domestic violence and abuse, the same cycle Lotor was caught in, as we see in E2 Shadows. Narratively speaking, Lotor’s redemption arc requires him to come to the realization that he has, in some ways, become like his abusive parents in his effort to survive them. “Breaking the cycle” in the microcosm is meant to play out in the macrocosm of the story world. And how does Zethrid break the cycle? She forgives. She cancels the paladins’ debt. The woman who “would never take her back” turns out to be waiting for her. We still see shades of where this was going in Allura’s first encounter with Dark Entity Lotor, who tells her “the witch may change her name, but she will always be a witch” and enlists Allura’s help in destroying his mother. This serves to reestablish the conflict between Lotor and Honerva initially set up in S6, and indeed, eventually (probably during one of her blackouts before reviving him) Allura would find herself in the position of speaking with Lotor further about his mother.

Whether therapist, philosopher, pastor, or priest, any person worthy of their authority to do so will tell you this: Forgiveness is NOT about trusting again or allowing an abusive person back into your life. Forgiveness is about cancelling the debt you feel a person owes you. It is about letting the past go so that it can no longer destroy your present nor dictate your future. Lotor says on different occasions he wants to be a defender, a protector, an explorer; simply put, he is standing in his own way. His arc is about letting his abusers and his past go rather than seeking to destroy it so that he can put his words into action and be the leader he wants to be. As Veronica tells Acxa early in the episode, it’s not about what you’ve done in your past; what matters is deciding to make a change.

Just as Zethrid cannot be with Ezor until she forgives the paladins, Lotor cannot become the seventh paladin, the purple lion, until he determines to let his past with his mother go. S6 sets up a dramatic reversal between Lotor and Honerva with his line, “The end is near, witch… If you beg for your life now, maybe I will take pity on you when the time comes”. The line is about Lotor seeking vengeance for, as we learn in S8, what happened on Ven’tar’s planet, but it is meant to be dramatically reversed at the end of their arc, when Lotor instead shows his mother mercy. It is mercy she neither asks for nor deserves. Forgiveness is not about the person who harmed you; it is about setting yourself free. This should be the narrative moment Lotor makes the conscious choice to become not just the “new Altean defender” but a true Defender of the Universe by extending the hand of forgiveness that convinces his mother to stop her destruction and sets them both free. S5 Lotor is incapable of passing the White Lion test, but S8 Lotor learns that in order to gain life, one has to offer oneself.

This episode is remarkable in that nearly the entire musicscape of the encounter between Zethrid, the paladins, and Acxa calls the audience’s attention to Lotor and his mental breakdown in S6, triggered when Allura tells him he is more like his abusive father than she could have imagined. It is peppered with desperate, fevered renditions of Lotor’s Theme and Sincline’s Theme that make the audience feel Acxa’s terror as she relives her former commander’s rage-filled breakdown through another friend. My speculation is that this same fevered rendition of Lotor’s Theme would have been reprised during what is, both literally and thematically speaking, the battle for Lotor’s soul during the Storming the Pyramid alchemist versus alchemist fight between Allura and Honerva to connect the two events.

The last part of the selection, however, is the most telling. Zethrid’s attempt on Keith’s life is backed by a combination of Sincline’s Theme and the Lotor’s Theme when Veronica fires on her, then, as a heroic version of Lotor’s Lullaby plays, Keith makes the morally correct choice he talked Allura out of in S6; instead of letting Zethrid fall to her death, Keith saves Zethrid. I suspect a rendition of the heroic Lotor’s Lullaby section would have been reprised as Allura heals Lotor and they are reunited, just as Keith would never give up on Shiro in S6 and Ezor on Zethrid in S8. Speaking of Keith and Shiro, it is notable that during the track “I Will Never Give Up On You”, played during the scene where Keith fights Kuron and refuses to let him fall to his death, the Lotor and Sincline themes show up several times. As Keith clings to Kuron’s arm and has the memory of his childhood in which Shiro would never give up on him, an excerpt from Lotor’s Lullaby keyed in F plays, suggesting a connection between Keith’s youth and Lotor’s, and the difference having a positive influence who was determined not to give up on him made for Keith.

S8E6 Genesis

This episode mainly contains the themes one would expect for its respective events. If we’re gearing up to see Sincline or actually seeing Sincline, either Lotor’s or Sincline’s theme plays. Notably, many of the same musical riffs will be heard again during Uncharted Regions and The Zenith.

As the episode opens, a gentle, mysterious version of Sincline’s Theme permeates the paladins’ and Atlas crew’s battle strategy. The theme continues through Honerva’s speech to the Alteans on Oriande, transitioning into something more sinister. As Allura rises and tells her team they must attack Oriande directly, a battle riff plays, interlaced with soft shades of Sincline’s Theme as she describes the Robeasts’ quintessence draining komars.

During Allura’s speech to the fleet, she refers to Honerva’s Robeasts as “abominations”, calling back to Lotor calling Honerva an “abomination” in S6, a way to narratively connect the experiences of Allura and Lotor.

Lotor’s Theme plays as Sincline rises from the ground. Merla declares “something’s not right” and after Sincline pummels Voltron until the lions break apart, the mech goes limp, floating downward, and Sincline’s Theme plays. Allura says “time to end this” when she sees Honerva, calling back to Lotor’s S6 line to Voltron and once again drawing the audience’s attention to a connection or similarity between the two. A slower rendition of Sincline’s Theme plays as Honerva asks Allura to come back to Altea, to which Allura responds by paralleling Lotor’s line to Zarkon in Shadows: “Never!” A sorrowful rendition of Lotor’s Theme plays as Honerva causes Sincline to kneel before her. The music here underscores what Honerva’s command to her son to “stay” should already make us feel: Empathy for the imprisoned son who is being treated like nothing more than a misbehaving animal.

S8E8 Clear Day

Like Genesis, Clear Day primarily uses Lotor’s Theme when we would reasonably expect to hear it. “The Power You Seek” (https://soundcloud.com/brianparkhurst/clear-day-the-power-you-seek?in=brianparkhurst/sets/voltron-legendary-defender-1) contains the main parts of interest. Lotor’s entrance as the Dark Entity is reminiscent of Jareth the Goblin King’s first entrance in 1986’s Labyrinth (:26 to :40 here https://youtu.be/MzH961dXRtU), with the music shifting from a quiet drop as the preparatory glimpse (Jareth’s shadow, the backside of Lotor’s midriff) appears, then shifting into a resounding theme when the character comes into full facial view in the female protagonist’s bedroom and from her perspective. This particular Labyrinth homage suggests we are to view Dark Entity Lotor as a similar entity to Jareth, a seductive otherworldly being who arrives to tempt the heroine into joining him in the subconscious, a Freudian dreamscape.

Another significant musical place occurs during Allura’s dream. As her mother tells her that only she can protect Altea, Lotor’s Theme begins to play and Allura finds herself inside one of Honerva’s Robeasts, draining Quintessence from her own world in order to defeat the attacking Galra. As she drains Altea’s Quintessence, Lotor’s Theme shifts into a small section of the title Voltron Theme. This is significant because we the audience are used to hearing Voltron’s Theme during heroic actions, things we as the audience are meant to view as righteous and justified. When we hear this theme, we root for those it is associated with to succeed.

When the Dark Entity appears as her mother again, tempting her to free it, part of Lotor’s Lullaby plays, musically connecting the offer to come home to Altea, which has long been destroyed, to Lotor’s experience with Ven’tar’s planet. It’s a shared experience of loss, with both worlds specifically associated with the feminine and mothers, and having been destroyed by a masculine force.

As Shiro faces off against the Beta Traz Warden in an armwrestling competition, a version of Lotor’s Theme plays. The moment swiftly becomes awkward between the two before the Warden explains that he thought Voltron had ruined his life, when really they had saved him. Meanwhile, the episode leaves off with Allura passed out on the floor, presumably having followed Lotor. To where, we do not see, but what happens there should thematically interconnect with the moment of reconciliation between Shiro and the Warden.

S8E10 Knights of Light Part 2

When Keith asks Allura if she has any ideas, she concentrates, a version of Lotor’s Lullaby plays in D#, and Allura says she knows what they must do, right before they arrive at Honerva’s pyramid, which is backed by a slow, solemn rendition of Lotor’s Theme. Allura states the entity is pulling them back to its source, which is being protected. Sincline’s Theme plays when Quintessence poisoned Zarkon demands to have the lions, connecting Lotor’s instability with his father. A soft, tragic version of Lotor’s Theme plays leading into the shock value moment of the season: Lotor’s “corpse”, complete with the aforementioned vines rooting into Sincline and motes of light emanating from him. After this, Zarkon appears in his mech to Lotor’s Theme, again connecting father and son.

The first significant item to note about the next Knights of Light track (found here: https://soundcloud.com/brianparkhurst/knights-of-light-part-2-set-things-right?in=brianparkhurst/sets/voltron-legendary-defender-1#t=2:40 ) is its title, “Set Things Right”. This track comes after the paladins have discovered tHe CoRpSe and carries the thematic weight of the paladins beginning to do exactly what the track’s title suggests. When the paladins left Lotor in the rift, it threw off the tenuous balance of the universe, causing problems on multiple fronts. Now that they know his fate, they must act to right their wrong, just as Keith did for Zethrid in The Grudge.

At 2:40, a rendition of Lotor’s Theme plays as the entity’s source, a moon of Daibazaal, explodes and motes of light fall into Allura’s hand, connecting narratively to the motes of light we have seen before. 3:38 begins Sincline’s Theme and transitions into a frightening version of the same theme from 4:18 to 4:40 when Honerva discovers the paladins in her mind. 4:50 to 5:20 is particularly notable because it is Lotor’s Theme that transitions into a similar rendition of the Voltron theme we hear during Clear Day, when Allura dreams of defending Altea by draining Quintessence from it. The world is crumbling before them and the lions disappear.

At 6:21 Lotor’s note at the end of Sincline’s Theme transitions into a sweet, almost romantic version of the Voltron theme. Alfor tells them they will need to form Voltron again but Zarkon says they should accept defeat. Here Keith gives a speech about not giving up, reminding the paladins they are bonded to each other and can succeed as a team. Alfor says they have one last chance to set things right but they need Zarkon to lead once more. Zarkon says “form Voltron” as a combination of Lotor’s and Voltron’s themes play at 7:30. As Pidge said in Battle Scars, the old gives way to the new. Zarkon, the tyrannical Quintessence addicted abuser, contributed to the hellish fate of his son in life. But now his chance for atonement comes by way of helping the new paladins save the son he tried to destroy.

The scene ends with Allura passing out once more, to the tune of Lotor’s Theme, suggesting she (and we) should expect to see him again, logically on the astral plane.

S8E11 Uncharted Regions

When Shiro orders the drained Alteans to the medbay and states those fighting against Honerva now have a chance, an abbreviated version of Lotor’s Lullaby plays. My instinct says we are meant to connect these Alteans with the man we met on Ven’tar’s planet, the Lotor who only used methods that would allow for replenishment, as stated by the character in S5.

The Track “Merged” (https://soundcloud.com/brianparkhurst/uncharted-regions-merged?in=brianparkhurst/sets/voltron-legendary-defender-1) picks up when Honerva sees the Balmera. It contains a section from 1:15 to the moment the first note of Lotor’s Theme resounds at 2:20, in which a variety of heroic yet urgent renditions of Sincline’s Theme and Lotor’s Theme build. During this time, the paladins and Merla attempt to stop Honerva. Before you think these themes are associated with Honerva’s actions, which would make sense if they were being played in the forms we are used to hearing them in, keep in mind they are heroic versions and reach their height during heroic actions of the paladins and Merla. Yes. For some reason, in this section we are meant to associate heroism with Lotor. This episode is such a discombobulation of edits, it is difficult for me to say if this is meant to be taken symbolically or if, at one point, Lotor was fighting alongside the paladins as the purple lion. At 2:20 the resounding first note begins what is easily the most terrifying, evil version of Lotor’s Theme heard in the series. This is the moment Honerva has successfully merged Sincline with her own mech.

S8E12 The Zenith

When the paladins form Voltron, the same sweet, romantic rendition of Voltron’s Theme heard during Knights of Light Part 2 plays, but this time it is in a higher octave, making it even more romantically coded. This version of the theme is unique to S8. The music plays during a seemingly normal Voltron formation, but we should call back to Keith’s Knights of Light speech about the team being bonded to each other. I find it noteworthy the battle that ensues contains a poorly edited split screen, suggesting something (or someone) having been edited out.

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The track “Now We Have a Chance” (https://soundcloud.com/brianparkhurst/the-zenith-now-we-have-a-chance?in=brianparkhurst/sets/voltron-legendary-defender-1) plays a rendition of Sincline’s Theme, but this time the notes from F to E flat do not contain a slide. Instead, they are played as precise and succinct, giving the tune a stable and determined feel. This occurs just after they have formed the blazing sword. This use of Sincline’s Theme suggests Lotor’s presence with the paladins, but in a positive way. This leads into a rendition of the Voltron theme in the same key as Lotor’s Lullaby.

The same track reverses the notes of Sincline’s Theme and blends into a heroic tune as Keith inspires the paladins to continue fighting. This builds toward the Voltron Theme which in turn leads into a heroic but desperate version of Sincline’s Theme at 8:30.

The track “Beyond the Stars” (https://soundcloud.com/brianparkhurst/the-zenith-beyond-the-stars?in=brianparkhurst/sets/voltron-legendary-defender-1) contains a sad and solemn version of Sincline’s Theme as Honerva lands in the single remaining reality in which Zarkon, a devoted father, is raising Lotor to honor his Altean heritage after his mother’s death. The first glimpse of little Lotor is backed by what is the sweetest, most heart wrenching version of Lotor’s Lullaby in Season 8, tying the hopeful man we met in Shadows to the child we see now, happy at the idea of reuniting with his mother. Honerva’s line, “I have spent lifetimes trying to get back” is almost certainly a meta reference to Sincline’s mother in Beast King GoLion and Lotor’s mother Lora in the Robotech/Voltron crossover comic, and it tragically implies that in every lifetime Lotor the child is separated from his mother. Notably, the Robotech/Voltron comic also deals with multiple realities, and we get a glimpse of an alternate reality in which adult Lotor holds his mother tightly to him. VLD was, I believe, intended to be the iteration that brought this reality to fruition.

The Spirit Tree

At this point you may be wondering why I skipped both the last episode, The End is the Beginning, and the first episode of S8, Launch Date. They contain very little of Lotor’s music, but there is something remarkable about the first episode. During Lance and Allura’s date, Allura heals a tree that looks reminiscent of the particular way in which Lotor is affixed to his seat in Sincline when the paladins discover his state in Knights of Light Part 2. The same motes of life emanate from the tree that we will later see emanating from Lotor’s “dead” body. As you will recall from our earlier discussion, we also see the same visual cue of dead trees and vines contrasted with a living forest during Battle Scars.

We have discussed the connection between VLD and other iterations of Voltron within the franchise, but this particular scene connects with a different story created by Peter Keefe, an original Voltron: Defender of the Universe EP and character developer who had a falling out and subsequent lawsuit with former WEP President Ted Koplar. Keefe, who pushed for progressive messages of inclusion and acceptance in his shows, created a brief series called Vytor: The Starfire Champion. It seems Keefe had a type. Set in a galaxy far away, its protagonist, Vytor, is a member of a tribe of indigenous people. Off the bat, it’s noticeable that Vytor is possibly of mixed racial descent as he is lighter than most members of his tribe. The first episode confirms as much when his father is revealed to be a lighter skinned ruler from a different tribe than his mother. Their arc revolves around the princess, who rejects the “savage” mystical views of Vytor’s people in favor of science, learning that Vytor’s traditions are not only acceptable but valuable and worthy of respect.

In Episode 3: The Spirit Tree, Vytor’s titular protagonist accidentally destroys the tribe’s spirit tree, causing his tribe to fall into chaos and warlike behavior. The episode then revolves around Vytor and his companions searching for a magic seed that will heal the tree. Two places within the episode are of musical note. From 2:00 to 2:27 and from 21:28 to 21:40 a piece of music plays that should sound familiar. Listen: https://youtu.be/nSfeF3-ov74.

The Voltron Theme musically links itself to Keefe’s later work; the show attempts to honor the messages he wanted his audience to learn. The tribe’s chief delivers Keefe’s message in his speech, “The heart of our island has returned… A small mistake can cause great harm. Yet even in the most troubled times there is still hope if we trust ourselves and do what our hearts tell us is right.” The soul of VLD S8 revolved around Princess Allura going against the advice of her peers, learning to trust her own instincts, and following her heart to set their mistakes right, bringing life back to that which had perished.

Dead Trees

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Healing Trees

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Restored Trees

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Conclusion

Peter Keefe once said, “Lotor is my favorite character. Each character had their very own wonderful personality… But Lotor was conflicted and that’s why I liked him. We made him that way as much as possible. A brilliant mind, a dashing soul. And yet with a bent toward the bad side, the dark side… I think he was probably my favorite because he was the most representative of conflicted souls in the real world.” The music of VLD framed Lotor’s internal conflict with expert precision. With Lotor’s conflict resolved, why not include a heroic rendition of Lotor’s Lullaby at the very end of VLD? Because it is not, by the end of the story, needed. Watch and listen.

Voltron’s theme is the major keyed version of Lotor’s. It is the uplifting, heroic counter to the prince’s dark, mysterious past. The S8 we received may offer them redemption, but Voltron’s Theme does not uplift Zarkon’s or Honerva’s music. It uplifts Lotor’s. And that is what the story was about: Healing the boy who was broken by ten thousand story years and three franchise decades of cyclical abuse. Even in its Season 1 opening theme, Voltron has the dashing soul of the purple lion.

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Thank you to @crystal-rebellion@leakinghate, @dragonofyang, and @voltronisruiningmylife for squealing with me about this glorious music and the treasure trove it contained at 1am on several mornings!

2 thoughts on “Phantoms of the Space Opera: Lotor’s Theme in VLD S8

  • October 18, 2019 at 2:00 pm
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    Hey, I just wanted to say thank you to all of you for looking into this. I’m a huge voltron fan and Lotor/Allura/Lotura fangirl and when season 8 came out, I was heartbroken to find that Lotor, even though they showed us him as a child, being verbally abused and neglected, didn’t get that redemption arc he needed. What I thought when I was watching those baby Lotor scenes was “hey, if they have this, then he’s definitely going to be redeemed! Why else would it be in the show? Just to toy with out emotions?” Some of my friends (also hardcore Lotura shippers) broke the news to me before I even finished the season. I’m a 14 year old girl (who doesn’t usually cry) and I literally broke down and started crying. I almost threw up when I saw his “dead” body in Sincline and I’ve literally eaten raw fish (some stupid challenge) without gagging. For literally a six months after the fact, I’d get triggered whenever someone said Lotor was the “bad guy”, which usually ended up in a shouting match, getting me grounded by my parents. I really think you guys are on to something, and thank you for giving me hope. I’ve been reading your stuff for a long time now, and I just wanted to say it’s amazing what you’re doing. Season 8 ruined several months of my life for me and i was just so let down by it. Thank you!

    Reply
    • October 21, 2019 at 12:12 am
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      I’m really sorry you had to deal with that, hon. We appreciate all your support through these months, and we’re really happy we could give you hope. The teachers in our group had students who were as heartbroken as you, and we were hurting ourselves, but we managed to hit the ground running. We weren’t sure what we were going to find at first, but with every piece we uncovered, we also found hope written in the (stars) plot! We’re here for you, and we won’t stop until we succeed, I promise you that. We’ve dialed back from the meta for a bit to focus on our reconstruction Rise and Atone, and through it we hope to showcase the magic that VLD had from beginning to the end for everyone to see!

      Reply

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