Robotech, In Brief: To The Stars

“We’ll build the SDF-3, Lisa, and together we’ll get there. Yeah, we’ll go to the stars and beyond!”

WHAT HAPPENS: Gray skies loom over New Macross City. Minmei asks Rick if he could give up the service for a normal life. He tells her too many people depend on him — and they depend on her, for inspiration and hope. She asks Rick to marry her; he’s shocked, but agrees to think about it. In South America, Khyron’s battlecruiser is ready. He plans to rejoin the Robotech Masters, but first plans to destroy the SDF-1. Aboard the SDF-1, Lisa tells Claudia she’s thinking of resigning; she can’t work alongside Rick and watch him go home to Minmei. Claudia tells her Gloval wants her on the bridge. There, he tells Lisa that construction on the SDF-2 has been completed, and he wants her as its captain. The ship’s mission is to locate the homeworld of the Robotech Masters, to make sure their home is the next battlefield; Earth, he fears, couldn’t survive another Robotech war. The ship leaves tomorrow. Meanwhile, Rick remains certain that he can’t think of settling down, not now. Minmei tells him someone’s at the door. It’s Lisa, telling him good bye. Knowing she may never return to Earth, she tells Rick that she loves him. She leaves to join her crew. Rick starts after her, but Minmei blocks his way; she tells him he’s done more than his fair share. Just then, missiles strike the city. Rick searches for Lisa and finds her on the ground; he fears the worst, but she assures him she’s all right. She starts again towards the SDF-1, but Rick tells her she’s too weak. He tells her he’ll take care of her, because he loves her. Minmei appears and tells Rick they have to get to a shelter. She tries to stop him from following Lisa again, but he breaks free to man his Veritech once more. Khyron sees what appears to be the SDF-1 on his monitor; his ship fires a beam that strikes it dead-center. Approaching Khyron’s ship, Rick receives a report that SDF-2 has taken a direct hit and is sinking. With all their computers down, the bridge girls tell Lisa they have to abandon ship. Lisa wonders what Gloval would do, then tells the girls to follow her. They run down a dark corridor leading them to the bridge of the SDF-1. Claudia and Gloval are already there. They return to their old stations. The battered SDF-1 rises again and fires the main gun. The blast tears through Khyron’s ship, crippling it, but the SDF-1 is drained; the twin booms disintegrate and it splashes back into the lake. Khyron locks his guidance system onto a collision course. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the battle cruiser strikes the SDF-1, destroying it. Rick lands Skull One near the ruins and is reunited with Lisa; she explains that at the last moment Gloval pushed her into an escape pod. Minmei joins them and Rick admits to her that yes, he’s in love with Lisa. He asks Minmei to forgive him, but she asks him to forgive her — for trying to make him something he’s not, and pretending to be something she’s not. Music, she says, is as important to her as the military is to them. She wishes Lisa good luck on the mission and says good bye to Rick. As Minmei walks away, Lisa asks how they’ll complete their mission when both their battle cruisers have been destroyed. Rick tells her they’ll just have to build the SDF-3.

THOUGHTS: Where to begin? There’s a lot of ground to cover here. “To The Stars” resolves the love triangle and has been bashed into shape to set the stage for adventures to come: not only the episodes that follow it, but also the intended sixty-five episode sequel to the original TV series, Robotech II: The Sentinels.

The issue of the SDF-2 remains the big problem with this episode. The SDF-2 was added to the show’s dialog to complete the triumvirate of mounds that appears later on in the series — one for the SDF-1, one for the SDF-2, and one for Khyron’s cruiser. Three ships, three mounds. The Robotech producers clearly intend for the command center we’ve seen throughout the Reconstruction era to serve as Lisa’s bridge, even though we’ve seen it for a while and Gloval seems to think the SDF-2 is new information to Lisa; if she’s been aboard that ship for months, you’d think she’d have known. When Rick is informed that SDF-2 has taken a direct hit, we see the SDF-1 listing. Rick tries to radio SDF-2 and calls out, “LISA!” The intention in that scene, despite what the animation shows us, is clear. Certainly it doesn’t make any sense for the SDF-2 to look exactly like the war-torn SDF-1, or for Khyron to mistake it for the SDF-1, and the geography doesn’t make any sense — where is the SDF-2 in relation to the SDF-1? How are there TWO battle fortresses in lakes in the center of Macross City? Many people have spent a lot of time trying to explain this one; Carl Macek always said he saw the ships as standing back-to-back in the lake, which was only ever officially visually conveyed by Mike Leeke in Comico’s Robotech: The Macross Saga #36. Others have come up with theories ranging from a simultaneous attack destroying SDF-2 elsewhere, or it being submerged in the lake where we can’t see it. Macek’s is the most consistent with the dialog and the visuals it’s overlaid upon, and would explain how Lisa and the bridge trio manage to get to the SDF-1’s bridge so fast — via an access shaft between the two ships. However, since there’s still a gulf between intention and what’s actually on the screen, fans have tried to make it actually work over the years, hence the other explanations.

Then there’s the issue of the SDF-1’s destruction. Khyron’s ship sheared the right arm off of the battle fortress. This shouldn’t have “destroyed” the ship. Melanie MacQueen does try to convey the sorrow and shock that would come with losing that close-knit crew, but since the original Macross animation has the entire bridge crew surviving the animation moves on to resolving the love triangle and sending Minmei on her way. It’s obvious why this has to be done in Robotech: the ship has to be destroyed so it can become the ruins that our new heroes encounter a dozen or so episodes from now. It’s just, again, inconsistent with what’s seen. In the Comico adaptation, Khyron’s ship collides with the SDF-1 dead-center, tearing through the bridge. I’m sure Carl Macek and the rest of the Robotech team would have loved to have had Adobe After Effects or somesuch thing back in 1985 to “fix” these problems, but alas, all they could do was insist to the viewers that these things were happening, in clear defiance of what our eyes tell us.

Despite all this, “To The Stars” is still a tremendous piece of work, interesting visually even when it’s not brilliant, with a beautifully apocalyptic look in its second act, and so many iconic moments — and so many iconic lines from the Robotech staff. It’s simple and declarative, but you never forget when Lisa tells Minmei, “He’s a pilot! That’s his life!” I also love the callback to Roy’s infamous line from “Boobytrap,” when Rick thinks, “Boy, Roy was right. When this Robotech stuff gets in your blood it’s there to stay.”

Consider this: because this was episode thirty-six, in daily syndication this would air on a Monday. Tuesday comes and suddenly you have a whole new cast of characters. What a way to start the week, saying good bye to Rick, Lisa, Minmei, Gloval, Max, Miriya, Sammie, Vanessa, Kim, and yes, even Khyron and Azonia — many of them in a lasting and permanent way, as they’re all killed off. I often wonder what would have happened to the carefully choreographed week-to-week beats that were planned in Robotech II: The Sentinels if it had been slipped in after The Macross Saga in a later Robotech syndication package. Obviously they’d all be off by a day, meaning this would just be the first of many Monday climaxes!

FIRSTS OF NOTE: First and only “appearance” of the SDF-2, first mention of the mission to the Robotech Masters’ homeworld, first mention of an SDF-3. Oh, and the first and only time in Robotech we see the VF-4 fighter, in the form of a model Rick plays with. (Rick tests out that plane in the framing sequence of the comic book series “From The Stars”; Macross’s Hikaru Ichijyo goes on to lead a squadron of them in Flashback 2012.)

RICK’S STATE OF MIND: Determined, not only to continue in his service with the military, but to go wherever it takes him, even if it means going “to the stars and beyond.” Likewise, he finally knows who he wants as his partner on this journey. It’s about time!

DOES MINMEI SING? “To Be In Love” plays us to the end credits of this apocalyptic finale.

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5 thoughts on “Robotech, In Brief: To The Stars

  1. I have to say mate as a long time follower of your previous blog, it’s been a lot of fun reading these entries on weekdays. You are probably one of the only other Robotech fans out there who have not given up on this franchise and are still passionate about it which for me is cool to see. I still remember the first time I watched this episode over half a decade ago and for a 13 year old it was one climax I would not forget anytime soon.

    I know you are going to be covering Robotech II: The Sentinels in a seperate entry but I thought I’d ask, how about an entry on Robotech: The Movie? I believe in an older vlog you stated your hatred for it, but I am still curious as it is still part of the crazy zeitgeist that is this franchise. I personally love it as a massive guilty pleasure mainly due to how much of a mess it is.

    So yeah I would love to see that at some point, but otherwise keep up the great work and greetings from the UK. :)

    • InvidNinja: Thanks for the kudos. Sadly, I think I’m more enthusiastic about Robotech than any of the folks at Harmony Gold these days. All these years later, I’m still fascinated by the coulda-shoulda-woulda’s: the possibilities inherent to the animation and the rewrites, the weaving and stitching together of various threads, and the avenues of exploration suggested by the completed and unfinished animation. And beyond that, I still adore the iconography of all three generations. Yes, even Southern Cross/Robotech Masters. ESPECIALLY Southern Cross/Robotech Masters.

      As I’ve explained before, one summer in the mid-2000’s I transcribed the dialog of The Untold Story for Tom Bateman, back when he was still with Harmony Gold. I had a bad, nth-generation blurry VHS copy to go off of, so I spent a lot of time running the video back and listening and running it back and listening again, since some of the dialog was muffled. I’m not entirely sure how an eighty-two minute movie turned into a 24-plus-hour ordeal, but somehow it did; it was probably some of that random Southern Cross fight sequence dialog that I had to run back dozens and dozens of times to figure out JUST what was said that added whole hours to the length of the viewing and transcription. My recollection is that I eventually got too tired to focus about halfway to three fourths of the way through the movie, so I caught a few z’s then returned for another several hour stretch. The end result is that I just can’t watch that movie, even six, maybe seven years on. The idea of sitting through it again, especially in the very similar start-and-stop-and-run-it-back sort of way that I’ve been doing to write up these posts, is just too painful for me to imagine. It will probably be the year The Untold Story is set in before I can actually sit down and watch that again without having migrane-inducing flashbacks.

      • Seconding what InvidNinja said. Thanks so much for all the work you do. I love this show beyond all reason, and I’m glad there’s still somebody keeping the lighthouse burning, so to speak. Beyond the childhood nostalgia, like you, I love the might-have-been aspects of Robotech. All the ways that it might have been the space opera of a lifetime, if just X had happened. It’s a sickness.

        Like you, I’m pretty cynical about the state of the franchise at this point. I really doubt we’ll see any more original content for a good long time, if ever. That being said, I love reading your stuff, and thanks again for all your hard work!

  2. This is a great episode, but the SDF-2 business is a mess. What’s so bizarre about the whole situation is how utterly unnecessary it was. There is no need for the SDF-2 to be involved in this episode at all. The justification that there needs to be three ships for three mounds is weak – I’m not saying that wasn’t the reason it was done (this is the same story I have always heard); just that it was an incredibly poor decision. It turned what was, at worst, a very minor issue (why three mounds?) into a far larger (and confusing) debacle (what is going on with the dialog and where the hell is the other ship?).

    There is no reason that there has to be a one to one correspondence between ships and mounds. The mounds could simply be markers/monuments for the buried remains. Indeed, this even fits with the animation. After all, there is no indication from the outside or inside that the mounds themselves even contain the (recognizable) remains of starships, so the writers could easily reference them as markers etc without contradicting the visuals. Moreover, the mounds are far too small to fully contain any of the ships in question anyway – unless they were completely dismantled, in which case, there is no reason they couldn’t have made any number of smaller piles out of two ships rather than three piles out of three ships.

    But even if we were to still insist on the number of mounds being symbolically connected to the ships, this could be easily done by having the three mounds represent the three ships that made up the SDF-1 – with Khyron’s ship being purposely left out so as to deny him a lasting memorial. The writers simply made this far more confusing than it had to be.

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