How Beast Wars Became Both the Past and Future of the Transformers

Blair Marnell

In 1996, Beast Wars: Transformers became the first animated series in the franchise to debut since the original show, The Transformers, ended nine years earlier. It was also an official continuation of the Generation 1 continuity, in the process providing stories that added to both the past and the future for the robots in disguise.

Unlike their G1 counterparts, the Autobots and the Decepticons, Beast WarsMaximals and Predacons had alternate forms that included prehistoric mammals, insects, birds, and even dinosaurs. Although the initial storyline of Beast Wars was wrapped in 2000 with Beast Machines: Transformers, the Maximals and the Predacons have periodically returned to the franchise in the intervening years. Arriving this week, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts marks the first film to incorporate characters from Beast Wars in a live-action Transformers movie. And it may be only the beginning of a new era for the Maximals.

With Rise of the Beasts here,we’re taking a look back at the occasionally convoluted history of Beast Wars, Beast Machines, and how they charted an ending for the Transformers by exploring the distant history of their universe.

Maximals vs. Predacons

For its time, Beast Wars: Transformers was a groundbreaking series because it was one of the first shows to be fully computer animated. Throughout the series, the backstory established that Beast Wars began 300 years after the events of the final session of the original Transformers animated series. Under the terms of the Pax Cybertronia, the Great War between the Autobots and the Decepticons was brought to an end. This in turn led to the Great Upgrade, where the Autobots and Decepticons gave way to the Maximals and Predacons, both of whom were smaller and more energy efficient than their predecessors.

While some of the Decepticons and Predacons were genuinely willing to let the war stay in the past, there were rogue factions of Predacons who were embittered by the terms of the treaty that were biased against them. One of those Predacons was Megatron, who took his name from the legendary Decepticon from the original series – which, yes, can make it sometimes tricky to know which Megatron is being discussed when going over Transformers history. The Beast Wars Megatron and his Predacon allies stole a starship called the Darksyde and escaped into space. They were soon pursued by Optimus Primal, the successor of Optimus Prime and the other Primes that came after him.

Optimus Primal and his Maximals caught up with the Predacons while piloting their own ship, the Axalon. During the conflict, both ships were drawn through a transwarp portal and stranded on a strange world millions of years in the past. And because the planet’s energon-rich atmosphere was damaging their robot bodies, the two factions were forced to adopt artificially organic beast modes in order to survive.

Changing the Future

It gradually dawned on the Maximals that their trip to the past was no accident, and that this had been Megatron’s plan all along. Their prehistoric battleground was Earth, and the original Megatron had laid the groundwork for this audacious plan to reshape history. Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Rhinox, Rattrap, and ex-Predacon Dinobot continued their battle for many cycles before the arrival of Ravage, one of the original Decepticons who was reformatted as a Predacon – one of many ways that Beast Wars would connect to the classic Transformers G1 characters.

Ravage had traveled to the distant past to arrest Megatron on the orders of his leaders, but he ultimately sided with the Predacons out of loyalty to the original Megatron. This gave Megatron enough time to locate the Ark, the ship that brought the Autobots and Decepticons to Earth in the original series. While the original Autobots and Decepticons were trapped in stasis lock, awaiting the awakening that would kick off the original series, Megatron attempted to assassinate the slumbering Optimus Prime, which nearly wiped the Maximals out of existence.

Optimus Primal saved his predecessor by accepting Optimus Prime’s spark in his body. This mutated Primal into a larger body that came to be known as Optimal Optimus, and he remained in his new form even after Prime’s spark was returned to his own body. This temporarily gave Primal a key advantage until Megatron was able to pull off a similar trick by taking the original Megatron’s spark into his own body. That allowed Megatron to fight Primal on more equal footing.

Megatron’s final gambit of the Beast Wars led him to the Nemesis, the ship that brought the Decepticons to Earth alongside the Ark. With the Nemesis restored, Megatron was nearly able to destroy the Ark and completely change the future. Fortunately, the surviving Maximals were able to prevail and return the original Megatron’s spark to his body. With the war over, Optimus Primal and his Maximals used an Autobot shuttle to go back home to Cybertron with Megatron as their captive.

The Reign of Megatron

The Maximals’ victory was short-lived in the sequel series, Beast Machines: Transformers. Somehow, Megatron was able to escape the Autobot shuttle and arrive on Cybertron before the Maximals. In that unseen period, Megatron achieved his dream of the total conquest of Cybertron, and he populated the planet with his mindless Vehicons. Optimus Primal, Cheetor, Blackarachnia. and Rattrap were the only remaining Maximals left, and they lost all of their Beast Wars upgrades upon their return.

Megatron had essentially declared war on free will itself, and he only allowed a handful of Vehicons, Jetstorm, Tankor, and Thrust, to possess sparks. As a further example of Megatron’s cruelty, he made sure that Tankor and Jetstorm’s sparks belonged to Rhinox and Silverbolt, respectively. Thrust’s spark was originally Waspinator’s, a low-level Predacon.

Primal and Megatron also found themselves on the far end of ideological extremes. Optimus Primal wanted to turn Cybertron into a biological paradise, while Megatron favored a fully technological planet. Megatron also desperately wanted to purge himself of his biological beast form.

The Final Conflict

Optimus Primal became a fanatical follower of the Oracle, a Cybertronian supercomputer. He believed that the Oracle wanted him to eliminate everything technological on Cybertron. It wasn’t until Primal had a brush with death that he realized just how wrong he was. The Oracle wanted Cybertron to strike a balance between the technological and the biological.

Alongside new Maximals, Nightscream and Botanica, Primal, Cheetor, Blackarachnia and Rattrap continued to battle Megatron. And while Silverbolt was eventually freed from Jetstorm’s mind, Rhinox was corrupted by his time as Tankor, and he ultimately lost his life following Megatron’s agenda before finding some measure of redemption after his demise.

In the end, Megatron successfully stole the sparks of every remaining Maximal except Primal. During their final battle, Primal narrowly bested Megatron by sending both of them into Cybertron’s core which reformatted the planet into a perfect union of the technological and biological. Primal’s sacrifice also allowed the Maximals’ sparks to be restored to their bodies, alongside the rest of Cybertron’s newly revived population.

Japanese Beast Wars

Just as Japan had its own Transformers animated series after the US series ended — Transformers: The Headmasters, Transformers: Super-God Masterforce, and Transformers: Victory Beast Wars also had Japanese exclusive spinoffs. Beast Wars II: Super Life-Form Transformers was a traditionally animated anime series that took place in the far future of Earth, which was renamed Gaia. In this timeline, the Maximals are led by Lio Convoy, who was the equivalent of a Prime. His beast mode was a lion. Convoy’s teammates included Apache, Bighorn, Scuba, Tasmania Kid, Diver, and even a young clone of Convoy, Lio Junior.

Galvatron leads the Predacons in this series, and like Megatron before him, he was simply named after the legendary Decepticon leader. The same is true of the Starscream from this series, who also shared some personality traits with his Generation 1 counterpart. The rest of the Predacons included Megastrom/Gigastorm, BB, Dirge, and Thrust.

The animated movie, Beast Wars II: Lio Convoy’s Close Call!, temporarily brought Optimus Primal to the future of this series. Primal also teamed up with Lio Convoy and the Maximals before returning to his own time to fulfill his role in history. A sequel series, Super Life-Form Transformers: Beast Wars Neo, debuted in 1999. Within this show, Big Convoy led the Maximals against the Predacons, who were led by Magmatron. And in the end, both factions eventually united against Unicron.

War For Cybertron

The characters from the first Beast Wars series returned in the final installment of Netflix and Rooster Teeth’s Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy. Keep in mind, this was a different continuity from both the original Transformers and the Beast Wars series. That was nothing new for the Autobots, who get a reboot every couple of years, but it was a new experience for these characters. In Transformers: War for Cybertron – Kingdom, the Autobots and the Decepticons crashed on prehistoric Earth and came face-to-face with their counterparts in the Maximals and the Predacons.

However, the Autobots’ decision to take the AllSpark – the object that gave the Autobots and Decepitcons life – had grave consequences for Cybertron and everyone who remained there. Thus in the new timeline created by Prime’s actions, the Maximals and Predacons came from a different future than the one seen in Beast Wars. Additionally, Optimus Primal and the Maximals were bitter towards Optimus Prime, especially since they had gone up against his evil counterpart, Nemesis Prime, and his master, Unicron.

Eventually, the Autobots and Maximals were able to set aside their differences and defeat the alliance of Decepticons and Predacons. The combined group of Transformers were all able to leave Earth together and return to a dying Cybertron in order to restore the Allspark to its proper place.

The only thing standing in their way was Nemesis Prime and his partner, Galvatron, a future incarnation of Megatron who had been reformatted by Unicron. Realizing that allowing Galvatron and Nemesis Prime to take the Allspark to destroy Unicron would kill Cybertron, Megatron and the Decepticons joined forces with the Predacons, the Maximals, and the Autobots to save their world.

Rise of the Beasts

While the live-action Transformers films began in 2007, it took 16 years for the Beast Wars characters to get the same chance on the big screen. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is set in 1994, and formally introduces a new generation of fans to Optimus Primal (Ron Perlman), Rhinox (David Sobolov), Cheetor (Tongayi Chirisa), and Airazor (Michelle Yeoh).

Peter Cullen is back as the voice of Optimus Prime, and he is joined by Pete Davidson as Mirage, Liza Koshy as Arcee, Cristo Fernández as Wheeljack, John DiMaggio as Stratosphere, and Bumblebee in a non-speaking role. In a break from tradition, Megatron and the Decepticons are not the film’s featured villains. Instead, the Autobots and Maximals go up against Scourge (Peter Dinklage) and the Terrorcons: Battletrap (Sobolov), Nightbird (Michaela Jaé Rodriguez), Transit (DiMaggio), and an army of Scorponok Predacons.

But the biggest bad in the movie just happens to be one of the greatest villains in Transformers history: Unicron (Colman Domingo). The planet-eating and god-like Unicron famously made his first appearance in The Transformers: The Movie in 1986, and his presence was hinted at in Transformers: The Last Knight, the final film in Michael Bay’s chapter of the franchise. Rise of the Beasts is a fresh start for Transformers that builds off of the good will from Bumblebee. But whether the Beast Wars characters will stick around in the film series remains to be seen.

Blair Marnell
Freelance writer for almost every major geek outlet, including Fandom!