The concept of alien life is so fascinating that, as humans have progressed further towards finding them in real life, we’ve made countless books, movies, and TV shows to imagine what they’re really like. Star Wars and Star Trek are probably the first that come to mind. They’ve been the forerunners of shaping society’s idea of extraterrestrials into something more than little green men. But even so, it’s all sci-fi.
That’s one of the reasons why I, and many others, love outer space. There’s just no telling what’s really out there. But it seems like media has lured us into automatically assuming what alien culture and concepts are like. That, somehow or other, those things will be humanoid, even if they just met the humans.
Bring in Voltron. The franchise was rebooted this summer on Netflix as Voltron: Legendary Defender to wild success for a variety of reasons. What I personally love about it is that, very subtly, it made me completely rethink our general ideas of alien life. It could be completely unlike anything we can imagine, and we won’t know until we find it. (Disclaimer: any other movie or show could also make you rethink aliens, but Voltron is the catalyst for this specific case.)
Think for a second. In most media about aliens, what do you see? War, fighting, and the need to dominate other galactic life forms. What about real-life aliens? Usually, we imagine them coming at us with blasters blazing, or with probes to study us. Even the basis of Voltron is for a giant robotic alien warship to fight off the Galra empire from conquering the entire universe.
But even when there’s a peaceful side to the war, there’s usually not much emphasis placed on that desire for peace, as it gets caught up in strategy and weapons talk.
In Voltron, the main aliens, Princess Allura and Coran, come from the destroyed planet Altea. While they would love nothing more to avenge Altea, Allura makes it clear in multiple instances what they believe in. When a harmless local Arusian approaches the castle with a sword, Keith doesn’t trust him and holds out his bayard. But Allura stops him and explicitly states, “Alteans believe in peace first. Let’s go welcome them.”
Later on, when the Alteans and the Voltron Paladins are on their way to help save another planet, they receive a distress signal from a nearby moon. Hunk insists that they return later since their current mission has first priority. Instead, Allura quotes the Paladin Code (formed by her father), which says that they “must help all those in need,” and they follow the signal.
These are small moments, but they speak volumes. They show that aliens have the capacity to want peace first, and can go out of their way to make sure it’s achieved. Just because humans impose our own problems on space, that doesn’t mean it’s actually a universe of war out there.
When it comes to extraterrestrial environments, this is the one thing humans have an ever-growing understanding of, because we can study other planets from Earth. We also know what life needs to survive and thrive (like oxygen, food, water, etc.). Based on those things, we’ve assumed that most planets we’ve observed are inhospitable for life.
But that’s just for life as we know it. Aliens could survive in environments we couldn’t even begin to comprehend. When describing Altea to Lance, for instance, Coran says that they didn’t have rain made of water. Instead, it was “more like rocks, razor-sharp and boiling hot…[that] could knock a hole right in your head.” And yet, he and Allura survived that, and look fondly back at it.
There’s also the question of what do aliens eat. If they did eat similar to how humans do, one can only imagine how different the actual food would be. Coran makes Team Voltron a “traditional Paladin lunch” after a training session. The Paladins find it disgusting by human standards. But for Alteans like Coran, the disgusting smell is a sign of a “healthy” lunch. Different ways of upbringing for aliens may have given them a different mindset when it comes to food or dangerous things, and that’s something we need to consider.
The one moment that struck me the most in Voltron about alien life is the one pictured above. It’s when Coran and Pidge use their devices to compare how time progresses for Alteans and humans in an “intergalactic time-measuring competition.” Allura calls their version of a time-slice a “tick,” the Altean equivalent of our “second.” (Seconds are barely faster.) Everyone gathers around so casually for the time competition, as if time is a universal concept.
But is it? Part of the reason the Alteans have a concept of time at all is probably because the writers of Voltron are human, and therefore are familiar with human ideas. But when you think about it, everything we have around us is human-made (or a human perception). Even time is something humans made to keep track of things, not something the universe created. That’s why it’s so mind-boggling to thing that perhaps aliens do not have a concept of time. It’s so ingrained in us as a species that anything different seems…well, alien.
There’s just no way (or a very, very slim chance) we could possibly have pinpointed what alien life is really like, because we’re limited by human imagination. But by watching media like Voltron and picking up on its subtle differences for alien life, we can think deeper and question things a little further. So if it’s now “space is the limit,” then what’s the real boundary we should be reaching for? We are one species on one planet in one galaxy. Who are we to assume what the rest of the universe is like? Voltron sure doesn’t.