The Transformers: The Return of Optimus Prime

With a madness plague spreading across the galaxy, the Autobots try a last-ditch gambit to save the day.

The death of Optimus Prime caused quite a stir when it happened. You don’t kill off Robot Space Dad even if it was the right choice for the story of The Transformers: The Movie. The Return of Optimus Prime was a two-part episode that also served as the finale to the G1 series. But from my perspective you cannot discuss it without discussing an earlier episode called Dark Awakening as the plot of the former connects to the latter.



Dark Awakening

  • Directed by Andy Kim and Ray Lee
  • Written by Henry Orenstein and Antoni Zalewski
  • October 1, 1986
  • First-run syndication

Voice Cast

  • Narrator-Victor Caroli
  • Optimus Prime-Peter Cullen
  • Ultra Magnus, Quintesson #3-Jack Angel
  • Grimlock-Gregg Berger
  • Arcee-Susan Blu
  • Spike Witwicky-Corey Burton
  • Cyclonus, Quintesson #2-Roger C. Carmel
  • Quintesson #1-Regis Cordic
  • Perceptor-Paul Eiding
  • Rodimus Prime, Hot Rod-Dick Gautier
  • Scourge-Stan Jones
  • Daniel Witwicky-David Mendenhall
  • Blurr-John Moschitta Jr.
  • Snarl-Hal Rayle
  • Springer-Neil Ross
  • Kup-John Stephenson
  • Galvatron, Sludge, Wheelie-Frank Welker

Seeking shelter from a Decepticon attack, the Autobots stumble across an apparently resurrected Optimus Prime. But not all is as it seems.

Dark Awakening is probably as close to a horror episode as The Transformers ever really got. Cartoons in 80s were not afraid to get dark or serious but this show generally avoided that and aimed to be acceptable to any viewer.

The narrative starts out pretty standard for the season, but the tones shifts and becomes darker once they discover a never before mentioned space mausoleum for all the Autobots lost in The Great War. The thing is this big burial spot’s existence looks like a big surprise to almost everybody. You may not know all that were placed there but most people have heard of their nation’s cemetery for the fallen. And that is doubly so if their greatest leader is there. Anywho…

The story moves at a breakneck pace from there as they find Prime (who seems VERY off) and take him back in before getting stranded there and learning that the Decepticon attack was part of a Quintesson plot to get Prime back in the Autobot fold because he is more like a zombie given just enough life to lead the Autobot fleet into a trap that is part of yet another Quintesson plot to reclaim Cybertron. All that got covered in under 22 minutes.

My issue is that the kickoff to the Quintesson plot relies entirely on Galvatron’s ineptitude. He is not in on what they wish to do and for this to work he must NOT destroy the Autobots before they get to the mausoleum. There is also the appearance in it that there was no plan to include the Autobots getting to the mausoleum as Optimus is building his own ship to leave. This is something that certainly deserved a two-part episode in order to slow things up. It packs a lot in and they are forced to make huge narrative leaps.

During the third season of The Transformers the new leader of the Autobots Rodimus Prime was plagued by doubts of his own leadership. Being a leader was something he never sought, but rather thrust upon him in the end at the end of The Transformers: The Movie. A lot of what occurs here plays on that.

For the time Dark Awakening is not bad but too much happens too quickly. There is no time to take anything in before the next element is tossed at you. Even being a bate and switch bringing back Robot Space Dad, this requires more time than what they gave here. It is a good story idea packed into too few minutes.

I guess this was meant as a sad yet heroic finale to the character of Optimus Prime as well as a big middle finger to anybody that wanted him to come back permanently. As an episode it is a bit subpar but is necessary viewing for the two-part The Return of Optimus Prime.

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but you should check out Dark Awakening if you’re going to ultimately watch what turned out to be this show’s true finale.


The Return of Optimus Prime: Parts 1 & 2

  • Directed by Andy Kim and Ray Lee
  • Written by Michael Charles Hill, Henry Orenstein, Cherie Wilkerson, and Marv Wolfman
  • March 3, 1987
  • First-run syndication

Voice Cast (Pts 1 & 2)

  • Narrator-Victor Caroli
  • Optimus Prime, It-Peter Cullen
  • Ultra Magnus, Cyclonus-Jack Angel
  • Rodimus Prime, Hot Rod-Dick Gautier
  • Dr. Gregory Swofford, Sinnertwin #2, Wrist Timer-Jered Barclay
  • First Aid-Michael Bell
  • Defensor-Chris Latta
  • Afterburner-Jim Cummings
  • Metroplex-Bud Davis
  • Hun-Grrr #2-Marshall Efron
  • Hot Spot, Goldbug-Dan Gilvezan
  • Abominus-Jim Gosa
  • Jessica Morgan, Bonnie Carlson-Joy Grdnic
  • Scattershot, Hun-Grrr #1-Stephen Keener
  • Sky Lynx, Dr. Mark Morgan, Klementia-Aron Kincaid
  • Wreck-Gar, Quintesson-Tony Pope
  • Cutthroat-Tony St. James
  • Kup, Alpha Trion-John Stephenson
  • Galvatron, Throttlebot, Soundwave, Sharkticon-Frank Welker
  • Sinnertwin #1-David Workman
  • Scourge-Stan Jones
  • Blurr-John Moschitta Jr.

Madness spores are spreading across the galaxy and the only one who can help is the great Autobot leader Optimus Prime.

The Return of Optimus Prime was just about everything that a young The Transformers fan could want. It had action and adventure and great animation. It was a high stakes story that looped back to The Transformers: The Movie and brought back the great Optimus Prime in a way worthy of the character.

The story starts during the events of Dark Awakening with a group of scientists that by coinky-dink find themselves testing a new alloy in the same solar system as the climactic battle of the closing moments of Dark Awakening. Moments before the explosion they engage in a little robotic graverobbing and take Optimus from the ship.

What starts as a morbid attempt at salvage becomes an attempt at revenge fueled genocide when they discover some hate inducing spores and it is decided to use his body as part of a trap to infect all the Autobots.

This particular story touches a bit on anger and rage. There is a scientist that has never quite gotten past his injury caused by a confrontation between Optimus Prime and Megatron and he’s allowed the anger over to become a consuming force in his life. There’s even a bit of bigotry in this since the humans view all Transformers the same rather than as individuals.

Aside from Optimus Prime coming back, the second biggest development of this is Bumblebee’s upgrade. Whatever damage he received occurred off screen but was so severe that simply repairing it was not possible, so the Quintesson they captured rebuilt him entirely. He looks great don’t get me wrong but how is death less severe than near death?

Much like Dark Awakening, a great deal happens in short order in The Return of Optimus Prime. It is not nearly as compressed as Dark Awakening, but the story could have benefitted from one more part if not being one of their five-episode stories.

This loops back to The Transformers: The Movie in not only bringing back Optimus Prime but the use of the Autobot Matrix of Leadership. It was said in that movie the Matrix would light their darkest hour and it truly lives up to that here. The entire galaxy is infected with an insanity inducing spore. All existence is threatened by this madness and by releasing the wisdom of the Matrix it indeed does light the darkest hour.

The two-part episode itself contains better animation than Season Three in general had. It’s certainly head and shoulders above what came before though it is not without its issues. There is a coloring mistake here and there, but nothing is so terrible that it looks as cheap as Season Three overall did.

The script is well written (you have Marv Wolfman involved after all) and the story generates a high level of tension and excitement for what they would do in children’s animation at the time. But most importantly this is a very satisfying conclusion to The Transformers story and the closing moments provide a good end to the Cybertronian War. You are left feeling that Prime’s actions had managed to finally set the future on a positive path. Not through guns or fighting but through earning the respect and gratitude of his enemy.

The Transformers: The Return of Optimus Prime is a perfect ending to one of the greatest animated series of the 80s. It brings back the show’s greatest heroic character and provides a nice conclusion using elements that came before. This is a must see for fans of The Transformers.


This three-episode arc is a great cap to everything that came before. While I do think each leg needed more time to delve into things, all are very fun, exciting, and ultimately satisfying. You can watch this on YouTube or even buy it physically. Whatever your choice you should give it a look.

Published by warrenwatchedamovie

Just a movie lover trying spread the love.

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