In Lightyear, the Angus MacLane spin-off from Pixar’s Toy Story franchise, Buzz Lightyear returns with a few new wrinkles. See, the Buzz in this movie is not the one we’ve met before. He’s not a toy, but a cartoon character in Andy’s favorite movie, the one that inspired him to buy a Buzz Lightyear action figure of his very own. Here, Buzz travels through time, finds new friends, and defends a band of humans against his sworn enemy Emperor Zurg.
For reasons unknown to Buzz, Zurg is searching for him. The “why?” is revealed in the film’s twist ending, which manages to not only retcon Buzz but also push us toward a new understanding of the character’s past and possible future. So let’s talk about that ending and what it and the three post-credits scenes mean for the future of Buzz Lightyear. Spoilers ahead!
What is the plot of Lightyear?
Buzz Lightyear hopes to atone for his past mistakes. After marooning himself and a community of humans on a hostile alien planet, he must discover a way to achieve hyper speed fusion so they might escape and he can continue his career as a space ranger.
Testing new formulas for hyper speed, however, does come at a cost: Every time Buzz jets around the planet’s nearby sun, he speeds four years into the future. He does so many experiments, by time he succeeds that, upon his return, he discovers an alien ship led by the mysterious Emperor Zurg attacking the flourishing human encampment’s laser shield (a protective cover created by Commander Burnside). He also learns that his best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) is dead.
Now, his only hope for redemption lies in his robot cat Sox (Peter Sohn) and a plucky group of trainees: The confused robot Eric (MacLane) — who the team leaves behind at a whiteboard because he takes too long to give directions — an inept Mo (Taika Waititi), the older, no-nonsense Darby (Dale Soules), and Alisha’s ambitious granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer). The biggest challenge for Buzz, however, isn’t facing Zurg. It’s facing himself and learning how to trust others.
More than anything this sci-fi adventure is about expanding a cinematic universe for a theatrical and streaming landscape filled with them. That much is born out in the film’s climactic yet cloying ending…
Lightyear ending explained
Buzz and his crew infiltrate Zurg’s ship. During the final showdown between Buzz and Zurg, the latter's robotic body opens up revealing an elderly, cynical Buzz from the future. He wants the warp speed elixir so he can return to the past and stop this future from ever happening, no matter the consequences. But the younger Buzz knows that going back will erase everyone, including Izzy. And that while Alisha never got to be a space ranger again, she had a happy life and family while marooned. And he shouldn’t blame himself.
Young Buzz defies his older self, blows up his ship, and returns back to the alien planet to begin training the next generation of space cadets, including Izzy.
Because the two Buzz Lightyears, the Toy Story version and the one in Lightyear, come from different universes it’s difficult to draw a clear line between them. Buzz as the audience knows him, in the words of Woody: “Is a toy!” — with pre-programmed catch phrases, none of which let on the origins of Zurg. If anything, the reveal of Zurg as older Buzz retcons not only that joke, but his backstory too. In Toy Story 2, Zurg (a parody of Darth Vader) reveals to Bonus Belt Buzz that he is his father and the pair end the movie playing catch. Making such a massive change furthers the idea that the Buzz in Lightyear is totally different from the one we’ve come to know.
Lightyear post-credits scenes explained
A whopping three post-credit scenes follow Lightyear. The first two are recurrent jokes: One features Commander Burnside sitting at his office desk. A giant killer bug is zapped by the laser shield. “Laser shield,” he quips with a smirk as he sips his coffee. The other post-credit scene features the aloof Eric still at the white board giving directions to an audience of no one.
But the most pressing sequence arrives at the very end of the credits: It’s Zurg floating through space after the explosion of his ship. He appears to be dead —until he suddenly awakens.
The jarring moment gives the opportunity for a sequel, thereby further expanding the Toy Story universe. “The movie was designed to be a snapshot in a moment in time. While the director hasn’t committed to a sequel, he certainly left the door open,” director Angus MacLane recently told Murphy’s Multiverse. “It’s not the first adventure of Buzz Lightyear and it’s not the last… I wanted to do something where we weren’t beholden to a timeline that was necessary to do all things… So it could go on, we’ll see.”
Will Zurg return? Will Buzz be prepared? Tune in for the next adventures of Lightyear.