“What’s your favorite book?” “What’s your favorite movie?” “Who’s your favorite music artist?” These are tough questions, and I can never give a single answer to any of them. But how about this one: “Who is your most favorite character in any story medium — book, movie, folk story, whatever?” Although that sounds like it should be a far more difficult question, I can answer it definitively and without hesitation.
My favorite character ever is Optimus Prime.
Transformers wasn’t my first fandom. That distinction goes to Bozo the Clown or even Mr. Fred Rogers. But when I saw Transformers for the first time, I was immediately enthralled. Eight-year-old me was very much into giant robots from outer space waging their war of good vs. evil on our world. (Spoiler: so is forty-year-old me.)
I adored Wheeljack, the Autobot scientist. I loved imitating the distinct voices of Jazz and Ironhide. Who doesn’t love scrappy little Bumblebee? And even the bad guys were cool, like Megatron, Soundwave, and Shockwave — especially Shockwave. But they were all overshadowed by the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime.
I’ve thought a lot about it, and there are three qualities about Prime that sharply define him. And what makes him so special to me isn’t any one of these qualities, it’s the whole that emerges when all three come together.
There’s a line in “The Touch” by Stan Bush, the theme song of the 1986 animated Transformers film, that epitomizes Prime: “And you never give in when your back’s to the wall.” Prime never, ever gives up. If at first he fails miserably, he gets right back up and tries again. The best example of this is in the final minutes of “More Than Meets the Eye,” the original three-part pilot story of the Transformers cartoon. The Decepticons are leaving Earth victorious. They’ve secured a shipload of Earth’s resources, and they’re heading back home to Cybertron. But is Prime ready to give up? No, he is not!
Lots of characters are determined and don’t give up easily. But Prime pairs that determination with strength, both physical and mental. Take a look at his specifications card from the box of his original action figure:
Strength: 10! Endurance: 10! Courage: 10! Skill: 10! Intelligence: 10!
To be fair, I think his skill and intelligence scores are a bit high. He’s extraordinarily skilled at what he does best — leadership, destroying Decepticons — but he’s not a medic like Ratchet or a scientist like Wheeljack or Perceptor. But his strength, endurance, and courage numbers are right on. Very few Transformers are stronger than Optimus Prime, and most of those that are — Devastator, Unicron — are stronger purely because physically they’re much larger.
If determination were enough, Batman or Luke Skywalker would be my favorite character. If strength were enough, it would be the Hulk or Voltron. But what truly makes Prime superior is his never-ending determination, backed by his ultimate strength, all at the service of protecting the weakest among us.
“Freedom is the right of all sentient beings” is Prime’s motto, and he lives it. As a child who wasn’t very physically tough, I looked at Prime as if he were the biggest, strongest kid in my class, but one who used his power to protect the weak, not to torment them.
Watch this scene from Transformers: Dark of the Moon in which Prime, in just one minute, single-handedly fights through 11 Decepticons — including Shockwave — to defend the people of Chicago. There is simply no better moment that summarizes how Prime’s determination, strength, and protection of the weak all come together to make him into my all-time favorite fictional character.
I can’t say I’m the world’s greatest Optimus Prime fan. That honor would probably have to go to the guy who had his name legally changed to “Optimus Prime.” But nevertheless, Autobot leader Optimus Prime gets my vote for the greatest character ever created.
What if you had to pick your all-time favorite character? Guess what — you do have to!* Write about it on your blog or on Facebook or Twitter or here in the comments or wherever. Hashtag it #MyFavoriteCharacter and let me know who you like best.
* Actually, you don’t have to. But it would be pretty great if you did.