Netflix have released a new collection of episodes from the original Voltron, hand-picked by the creative team that's brought the iconic series back to life. To celebrate, we sat down with Legendary Defender executive producers Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery to reflect on the original show, and exactly how it has — and hasn't — inspired the new series.
The 12-episode collection, available now, is being dubbed Voltron '84. Each episode has been selected by the makers and cast members of Legendary Defender, who will also introduce their selection and explain why they love it.
Speaking to Dos Santos and Montgomery, their love for the original show is clear. The amount the 1984 Voltron series has inspired Legendary Defender is a lot more than you realise — but there are also parts of the classic show they definitely wanted to leave behind. We asked the pair about both — and whether or not Legendary Defender will ever get around to including the infamous Vehicle Voltron.
Tell us a little about your history growing up with the original Voltron series.
Lauren Montgomery: Sure, why don't you go first, Joaquim, your story's better than mine. [laughs]
Joaquim Dos Santos: I don't know about that! I was prime age for Voltron. The original, Defenders of the Universe, they called it. I had the toys, I have a very specific story about — I remember the first time I saw it, I was at my buddy's house — it was a sweltering summer here, like 114 [Fahrenheit, 45C] outside. We were supposed to be swimming and Voltron came on, so we got stuck. We were entranced by the show and we played Voltron for the rest of the day without doing any swimming. We might have dived in once.
But when my mum came to pick me up, I remember my mum and my friend's mum having this conversation, and the friend's mum was like, "No. They were supposed to go swimming, but they just played the lion show all day long. Just playing with these lions." That was my introduction. But I had the die-cast toy, and hurled it at all my friend's heads, which was very dangerous. But I was difficult.
Montgomery: I loved it. I was a young girl, and it was on TV, and I watched it on TV probably... my sister had it on, because she always kind of had control over the remote. I was the younger sister, so I didn't get that power. But it was on and so, we watched it. And as I grew older, I didn't really have a very good memory of it. A lot of shows, like Thundercats, I would see them again and go, "Oh, gosh, I know I watched that." I didn't have like, a little solid memory. Not until it came back around and was on DVD, where I could actually watch it again and reacquaint myself with the show.
And it's funny, because that was how I discovered that it ever even existed. Like, I had no idea. All I remember was, "there was a girl, all in a pink outfit, and she was riding a lion — cool." And then there's this episode with a guy in a black outfit [Sven, now known as Shiro in Legendary Defender] and I'm like, "Who the hell is that!?" [laughs] It was the first season. But you know, he kicked it and she came in, and yeah — it was just little things I had to reacquaint myself with and I fell in love with it all over again. It was just one of those mysterious things I remember from my childhood, and then learned "it is real!" I loved it.
Dos Santos: I mean, that's the weird thing, too. Like, we ran into that issue with trying to reimagine these shows that we both had memories of, but I only remembered the big parts of it. I didn't remember the storyline, really. I just knew Voltron fought stuff and he had cool pilots.
Why introduce fans of Legendary Defender to the Voltron classic series now?
Montgomery: I think, now that we have two seasons under our belt, the people who are coming to our show, they're familiar with our show and they know what it is. I think if you put two different versions of Voltron out there right off the bat it might get a little confusing to people who aren't familiar with the fact that there was an old show, there is a new show. It gets a little jumbled, they're not quite sure which story to follow...
But now I think our show's been on long enough, people have seen the first season and then they have seen the second season, and now we can kind of go back and really reminisce about the old show and appreciate what it was. And I think people will be able to see what the elements of that original show are and how they show up in our show, because they're so familiar with the first two seasons they have seen already.
Dos Santos: I think growing up with the original shows, it's a cool nostalgia trip, and this is a nice little twist so you're just not re-watching the same episodes over and over again, you've got a little extra window. But also, I think, for fans of our show who may not be familiar with the original, it's kind of neat. Like, "Omigosh, this what they drew from, these are the elements that they liked." Old storylines are expanded upon and I think that's like a fun little Easter egg.
What's it been like going through these old episodes to sort out this new collection, watching the classic show again?
Dos Santos: It's been really fun. Obviously a nostalgia trip. And I think, some of it, it's kind of funny to see it show its age just a little bit? And we had to do a kind of version of this in the first story arc of Legendary Defender — we had to do some recon on the old show, and so we watched both the original Voltron and Beast King Go-Lion [the Japanese anime series Voltron was adapted from]. And now, for me, I will say everything's kind of a bit of a stew in my head, so when things zig where I feel like they should zag, they change — my brain is a little confused and has to recalibrate. It's a fun exercise, and even the stuff that might not have aged so well, it has this kind of retro-funky-nostalgic-bloody quality to it, you know?
Montgomery: It's also surreal, too. There's a fun aspect where you get to go back and re-watch the show and remember all the things that made you fall in love with it, but then there are these other elements where I come back and — our Allura is so different. Not just visually, but in how she acts, and I guess the kind of power she's portraying. it's kind of surreal to go and watch the old Allura and my brain has been working in Voltron: Legendary Defender for so long that I'm just pre-programmed now for that show. And now I go, "Oh yeah, I forgot about that Allura. She's there, too."
Dos Santos: Allura blushed a lot. There's a lot of blushing going on.
Beyond the obvious, when you were coming into Legendary Defender, what were the elements of the original show that you wanted to ensure carried forward? And likewise, are there any elements from the classic show that you were happy to leave behind?
Montogomery: Oh yeah, for sure. I totally forgot half of them by now! We used to have a whole list of, like, "What did we keep and what did we let go?" It seems like the repetitive nature of Voltron — you know — every episode was solved the same way. We definitely wanted to leave that behind. We wanted to make sure that when villains showed up, they were a serious threat — when Voltron came out, it was for the right reasons — he didn't always need to show up. The villains needed to be more threatening and less kind of... just there. [They needed a] physical arc. Even some of the main characters just fell into this thing, the area of "hero guy".
And so we needed to differentiate that and we may have made the choice to leave the Swedish accents in the old show? And then for Shiro, that was a bit of an homage to Go-Lion, so we didn't completely deviate. We just cherry picked from the very original [anime], instead of from Voltron. Albeit Allura, the damsel in the distress act, we kind of chose to leave in the past. I mean, the old Allura wasn't always a damsel in distress. She had her moments. We just chose to push the power aspect of her a little further into the forefront.
Dos Santos: I think, beyond specific for us, what we definitely wanted to keep was, we wanted everybody who watched the original show to instantly recognise who everybody was, but while the character design — even the robot design — is significantly different, we always wanted you — just by looking at it — to definitely tell who was who, and that Voltron was the lion Voltron that you remember growing up. That was just our big, overall idea.
It's obvious talking to you that you are both huge fans of the original series. When you were approached to do this new collection of shows, was it a challenge to nail it down to 12?
Dos Santos: Yeah, I think it was a challenge only because there are, again, you know — despite how many times we've had to go in a re-watch these things in our adult lives — for me, I'll sit out my child nostalgia brain and fill in gaps that weren't explained in the original series. So if I had my ultimate wish, I'd like to explain what my personal version of the perfect Voltron episode would have been. Because I still remember it very differently than what it was. It was tough, because you had to look for something that captured little bits and pieces that you loved throughout the entire series, and distil that into one episode. It was a challenge.
Montgomery: Yeah, for me, it was a challenge because there's only one episode that I remembered with literal crystal clarity from my childhood. Everything else kind of ended up being a muddled mess! So if I were to find the one that I just find most appealing, then it would have been more difficult. But, instead I just chose the one that I remembered specifically from my childhood. Because it left such a huge impact on me. Because it traumatised me. But when someone goes, "What's the most memorable episode for you?" I know exactly which one, because it's the one where I remember exactly the scene where Haggar attacked Allura.
What do you think is going to be the biggest surprise for fans who are watching the old show for the first time?
Dos Santos: I mean, if I'm putting on my fan hat and I was watching — I can't really think of a series that's maybe done this, I think? They might be surprised how close we came to some elements of the original series.
I think to become familiar with what you know, and then you go back and say, "Oh my gosh! This existed before." I don't know. It's like Old Man Marty McFly, a weird [sort of] time travel... so I think they might be surprised just how close we did stay to some of the elements of the original series.
I have a huge nostalgia for it. I can't really watch it without putting on that nostalgia vision. So I've heard a couple youngster's say like, "The original series looks a little weird..." I think if you can just remove its age — you've got to think about how mind-blowing that show was when it first came out. And how crazy a concept it was that five lions come together to form a giant robot — it's so insane! So I think they can take that away from it.
Montgomery: Yeah. That's really what it is. It's just going into it with that appreciation of what came from it. If you're a huge fan of the original show — let's say your favourite character [in Legendary Defender] is Shiro — you're going to go back and watch the show and Shiro's not really there. And so you might find that disappointing if you're just going for Shiro. But if you're going in looking at the show as, "Hey. I have this new show that I really like, and this is what inspired it," and just kind of have that appreciation, I equate it to liking a show or a movie and then reading the book, or the comic it was based off. You know it's not going to be exactly the same, but you can appreciate what it was from that thing that inspired it. The movie, or that show that you loved so much.
Finally, I wanted to ask about one particular concept from the original show. What were your thoughts and memories about when the show originally changed from Lion Voltron to Vehicle Voltron? And do you think there's a possibility that something like that might eventually happen in Legendary Defender?
Dos Santos: I think anything and everything is on the table. You never know! When you're not working anything out — I think we said in the past that we're super-focused on the Lion Voltron right now. And I will say for me, personally — and this is going to be a very controversial statement — I was a little weirded out with Vehicle Voltron, just because I had become so accustomed to Lion Voltron. It was such a departure. So huge! Such a big change. I was a little confused. "Where's the lion? Is the lion one coming back?"
And again — this is going to be a point of controversy — it weirded me out he had a conehead, man! [laughs] The guy looked like he had an upside-down snow cone on his head. So, you visually compare to the cool knight's helmet Voltron had... but I do see the merit in Vehicle Voltron, I will say that.
Montgomery: Yeah. This might also be a bit of a controversial statement — I might lose some Voltron fan-cred — but I never watched the Vehicle Voltron. Didn't even know it existed! I literally only knew about Lion Voltron. That was the only thing I cared about. So, sorry everyone! But I'm lions all the way.
Dos Santos: That's in a way, a beautiful thing, because she's so focused on making Lion Voltron the best it can be! But I also will say, from a logistical standpoint, there were a lot of characters in Vehicle Voltron. I wasn't really focused on any of them.
The 12 classic episodes that make up the Voltron '84 collection are available on Netflix now.