The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Robotech

This '80s anime classic was influenced by Star Wars, but also came to inspire future Star Wars creators.

In the 1980s, Carl Macek brought to the United States a series of Japanese cartoons that he had scotch-taped together and turned into the 85-episode series known as Robotech. Robotech told the tale of Earth after the crash landing of a Super-Dimensional Fortress on Macross Island and followed the lives of the fighter pilots and civilians the war came in contact with. It followed heroes like Rick Hunter, Dana Sterling, and Scott Bernard through their defense of Earth against the Zentraedi fleet, the Robotech Masters, and then the Invid. It’s an epic series that brought a love for anime to a generation of American children, but it also brought with it a love for great space-opera storytelling.

The connections between Robotech and Star Wars might go deeper than you expect.

Han Solo at Star's End

The first connection ties two Star Wars legends deep into the fabric of Robotech. Jack McKinney is the name on more than 20 novelizations of Robotech. But what many might not realize is that Jack McKinney is the name chosen by Brian Daley and James Luceno in their collaboration to write all of those books. Brian Daley wrote the first three Han Solo adventures published across 1979 and 1980 and he adapted the NPR radio dramas of the entire original Star Wars trilogy. James Luceno came to work on the New Jedi Order series of books as a consultant, based on his experience with Robotech. Luceno went on to write some of the best books in the Star Wars universe with Darth Plagueis and the recent Tarkin.

The Clone Wars - Ahsoka and Anakin in Sabotage

Robotech was one of the first cartoons that followed a linear storyline, one where if you missed an episode during its run, you might not understand what’s happening next. This sort of storytelling opened the eyes of Dave Filoni, the man behind The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. “That animated series to me,” Filoni said, “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.’”

And that’s exactly what Dave Filoni did. It’s easy to watch The Clone Wars and Rebels and get some of the same feelings you might get watching the classic mecha cartoon. The stakes on all three shows are consistently high, and the status quo for the characters and the universe manage to change over the course of the show so that one season couldn’t be confused for another.

Star Wars Rebels - Ezra

There’s a lot of Rick Hunter in Ezra Bridger, too. Rick and Ezra both start their series as civilians, looking out for themselves and avoiding participation in the war, but as days go on, they find themselves joining the conflict and training in ways they never expected. For Rick Hunter, it means joining the Robotech Defense Force and becoming a Veritech pilot. For Ezra, it means joining the rebellion and training to become a Jedi. And they both pine for women who don’t return their feelings in the form of Lynn Minmei and Sabine Wren, respectively.

AT-DP

In the opening episodes of Robotech, there are battle sequences between Veritech fighters and Zentraedi Battlepods. They look a lot like the street fights you might see on Lothal with our rebel heroes and Imperial AT-DPs. I asked Dave Filoni specifically about this though, and he said there was no direct or purposeful inspiration for those situations from Robotech, but did admit to having a model of a Zentraedi Battlepod on his desk.

Clone Troopers

It’s probably another bit of a coincidence, but an interesting parallel nonetheless is that the Zentraedi, the giant race of soldiers who played the villains during the first Robotech war, were a race of clones bred only for war. Sounds a lot like the clones from Kamino, doesn’t it? Throughout Robotech, the Zentraedi are forced to learn about what life is really like (or can be like) once they’ve come in contact with the human societies of the galaxy. There are episodes of The Clone Wars that explore some of the same ideas about what sort of life a person bred for battle ought to be entitled to (especially Season Two, episode 10, “The Deserter.”)

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - O-mer

There have been a few voices that crossed over between Robotech and Star Wars, as well. The most prominent might be Cam Clarke, who played Max Sterling and Lancer on Robotech. He provided the voice for the Cerean Padawan O-Mer on The Clone Wars, as well as number of voices in a variety of Star Wars video games.

That vocal influence went the other way, too. Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, provided the voice for Daryl Taylor, the commander of Wolf Squadron in Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, the 2006 animated sequel to Robotech. He was obviously no stranger to being in a fighter jet zooming through the galaxy.

If you’re interested to listen, I even interviewed Robotech’s Tommy Yune a few years back about the influence Star Wars had on Robotech. You can listen to it on the Full of Sith podcast website.

For me, Robotech is the perfect compliment to Star Wars. I found it in the 1980s when I was thirsty for more space opera, and there isn’t a more earnest or genuine example after Star Wars 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, like The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels.

Availability: Robotech is widely available on DVD and Blu-ray, and is available to stream.

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmakerjournalist, and the editor in chief of BigShinyRobot.com! He’s also the co-host of the Star Wars podcast, Full of Sith.

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