Editor’s Note: The following contains Lightyear spoilers.Disney and Pixar’s Lightyear is an action-packed animated adventure that keeps you rooting for Buzz (Chris Evans) up until the very end. Like the movie that inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy of Toy Story fame, Lightyear delivers a thrilling adventure origin story that follows Buzz, a space ranger, as he navigates his grief over marooning his crew on an unknown planet.
Throughout the movie, all Buzz wants is to devise the perfect formula for a working hyperspeed crystal and finally get his crew off this planet, thereby completing his mission and fixing his mistake. Just as he and his robotic feline companion Sox (Peter Sohn) finally devise a working hyperspeed crystal formula, the planet this crew has now been inhabiting for generations, has now come under attack, threatened by a mysterious robotic oppressor. Who is this evil villain terrifying Buzz’s crew enough that they’ve taken refuge behind a laser shield? Now the only way Buzz, stuck with a much-more-junior-than-he-originally-thought crew can get his working hyperspeed crystal onto the ship that will finally take everyone home is to destroy this ominous robotic presence, get that laser shield taken down, and finally convince everyone it’s time to leave this planet once and for all. So does Buzz complete his mission?
Just as Buzz finally seems to have a decent shot at taking out the robotic alien presence and finally completing his mission, all of his hopes and dreams come crashing down. While taking refuge and recharging on a deserted mining rig, fully refueling from all the fighting and escaping robotic attacks, Sox plays Buzz a message from Alisha (Uzo Aduba), Buzz’s old space ranger partner. Alisha left this message with Sox for Buzz years ago, while he was on his first mission, and she was preparing Sox for Buzz’s return. In the message, Alisha reveals that she’d had unwavering faith in Buzz all along, hoping that he would finish the mission and get everyone home. Hearing this message rattles Buzz, shaken to his core that her belief in him cost her everything — that she did not matter because she believed in him. Izzy (Keke Palmer) corrects Buzz — her grandmother most certainly mattered. She had a beautiful family and many friends here on this planet who very much saw her as someone exceptional.
This lovely moment does not last long before Buzz and the crew are on the run yet again, pursued once more by Zurg’s increasingly disheveled robot assassin. The assassin steals the hyperspeed crystal, disappearing with the help of a buoy portal that beams him back up to the robot ship. Then not too long after, Zurg (James Brolin) appears and portals himself and Buzz up to his ship. Quick on her feet, Izzy eyes one of the portal beacons attached to the crew’s ship and launches herself, Mo (Taika Waititi), Sox, and Darby (Dale Soules) up into Zurg’s ship, chasing after Buzz.
Buzz, now face to face with his enemy Zurg, learns who this man behind the mask has been all along: Zurg is Buzz, from the future! Past Buzz reveals his master plan. He wants to use the hyperspeed crystal Sox created in this timeline to finally travel back in time and finish the mission. When he does this, it will reset the timeline, effectively erasing everything that happened on this planet. Alisha will never fall in love with the partner she’s met here. Izzy won’t even exist. Buzz will finally complete his mission and achieve his goal, but in doing so, the cohort he begrudgingly grown to rely on will cease to exist. Buzz of the present, changed by his conversation with Izzy, won’t let this stand.
Present Buzz steals back the crystal from Zurg Buzz and fights his way off the ship. Meanwhile, his crew — now on the ship — splits up to save their space ranger friend. Izzy and Sox track Buzz and realize they’ll need to spacewalk to get to him. Being lost in space is Izzy’s biggest fear, but she conquers it to save her friend. Elsewhere on the ship, Mo and Darby capitalize on Darby’s skills as a bomb maker and create an excellent distraction, bombing the robots.
Just as everyone makes it back to their ship with the crystal, Zurg’s ship self-destructs, shooting everyone into space, falling toward the planet. Buzz finally sacrifices the crystal to save his crew, helping their ship land back on the planet. As they land, Commander Burnside (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) surrounds the crew. Just as it seems all hope is lost and a new round of trouble here on the planet is starting, Burnside congratulates Buzz and offers him a job as a Space Ranger once more, complete with the chance to create his own crew. Buzz turns him down — he already got his crew! Buzz, Izzy, Mo, Sox, and Darby decked out in their new space ranger suits blast off to infinity and beyond.
In the end, Buzz does not complete his mission. Buzz realizes that completing his mission is something he no longer wants to do. All along, Buzz’s goal in being a successful Space Ranger was to finally matter. He thought his best shot at doing that would be to go it alone, to be the one everyone relied on to get the job done. By the movie’s end, Buzz has transformed into a team player. Buzz has learned that all his effort taken to fix the mistake he made generations ago, the mistake he feels caused people — particularly Alisha — their dreams, actually only caused him to miss out on years he could have spent accepting the new reality forged by his actions and making the best of it.
Lightyear‘s ending is a beautiful window into the nuances of ambition, particularly in the way Buzz faces off against himself from a different time. We get to see the consequences different choices can have on a single character. By clinging so tightly to his original goal of completing the mission without taking any time to critically consider the real motivations underlying his goal, Zurg Buzz from the future has grown seemingly heartless. In isolation, he never opened himself up to the possibility of creating relationships with those impacted by his original mistake, of healing in the community. As such, all he cares about is the righting of his initial wrong. However, present-day Buzz’s choice to sacrifice his chance to finally wipe the slate clean and alleviate his guilt leaves the moral of this story embedded in more of a gray area. It shows us that absolving one’s guilt is more complicated than simply wiping the slate clean. We see that true growth and healing come from building relationships and finding the possibilities in the reality you’re in, no matter what kind of mistakes have led you there.
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