Here’s Your Guide to the Very Complicated Mythology of the Transformers Universe

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Transformers: The Last Knight. Photo: Paramount Pictures

Transformers: The Last Knight is the fifth installment in Michael Bay’s multibillion-dollar franchise, and it’s being marketed as a movie of answers. “You want to know don’t you?” Anthony Hopkins asks in the trailer. “Why they keep coming here?” But the truth is, we already know a lot about how the robots of Cybertron got to Earth, why they came in the first place, and why they’ve stuck around. The Last Knight will introduce a bunch of new concepts into the Transformers mythology — the staff of Merlin; the original “Knights” of the Transformers race, who established the first cooperative link with humans through King Arthur; Quintessa the Deceiver, creator of all Transformers; the order of the Witwiccans; the answer to the great mystery of Stonehenge — but it’s understandable if you haven’t made a flowchart of the franchise to keep track of all the things we already know about the descendants of Cybertron. So here, then, is a brief history of Transformers time.

Why are they even here? Don’t they have their own planet?

They used to, and the bad guys keep trying to bring it back. The first Transformers movie opens with Optimus Prime delivering a voice-over about the significance of the AllSpark, a cube of energy that has the power to create worlds and fill them with life. The civil war on Cybertron between the Autobots and Decepticons was instigated by Megatron, and fought over control of the cube. The planet was destroyed in the process of the war, and the cube was lost in the far reaches of space, otherwise known as Earth. Carbon dating places its arrival here around 10,000 B.C.

As that war ended, Megatron made a pact with a traitorous Autobot named Sentinel Prime to ditch Cybertron for Earth, enslave humanity, and use our planet’s resources to rebuild their home world. On their way here, though, Megatron crashed himself into some Arctic ice and froze for thousands of years; the same thing happened to Sentinel, but on the moon. The whole first movie is about how Megatron came here to retrieve the AllSpark — which is made of Energon, the lifeblood of Transformers — so he could rebuild his species with it. Obviously, he loses and the AllSpark is destroyed. Then the whole third movie, Dark of the Moon, is about Megatron and Sentinel finally linking up to fulfill their dastardly plan to reap Earth’s resources by using a thing called a Space Bridge to pull Cybertron through space and merge it with our planet. That doesn’t work either. (Phew!) But Chicago gets seriously destroyed in the process, and “Remember Chicago” becomes the inflection point in Transformer-human relations as they exist in The Last Knight.

Based on the Last Knight trailer, this movie is going back to the beginning, but haven’t Transformers been on Earth since before the Middle Ages?

Yes, since way, way before that. In Transformers: Age of Extinction we learn that roughly 65 million years ago, an alien race called the Creators sent ships out across the cosmos to “cyberform” thousands of planets with devices called Seeds. We get a look at this process in a prologue scene where alien ships hover above a dinosaur-filled valley on ancient Earth, and then disperse floating explosives that, when detonated, turn all lifeforms in the blast radius into an elemental metal called Transformium (the advanced alloy Transformers are made of, natch). The Creators want to destroy life on Earth to get material for more robots; the dinosaurs didn’t really go extinct, they were just turned into Dinobots. The plot of Age of Extinction is all about the quest to get one of these Seeds, and all you need to know is that the good guys win, and Optimus Prime launches himself into space with it at the end of the movie along with a message to the Creators to stay the hell away from Earth.

The Transformers didn’t return to Earth for a long time after the Jurassic age. A prologue in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen shows early man encountering a ship full of bots in the year 17,000 B.C., when beings called the Seven Primes arrived on an exploratory mission to harvest energy. They created star-absorbing machines called Sun Harvesters to manufacture Energon, the aforementioned Transformer lifeblood. The Primes had a directive not kill suns on planets that house life, but one robot called Megatronus Prime goes rogue and puts a Harvester in what will later be the Egyptian desert, making him the original Decepticon. In a fight to stop him, Megatronus is defeated (but not killed) by the Primes and forever known after as the Fallen. In order to activate the Harvester, one needs a key called the Matrix of Leadership, which is stripped from the Fallen in battle. The remaining Primes sacrifice themselves and encase the Matrix in a tomb of their own bodies, the Tomb of the Primes, hidden within the al-Khazneh temple in Petra, Jordan.

The whole point of the second movie is Megatron teaming up with the Fallen to reactivate the Sun Harvester he put here ages ago. (It’s hidden inside one of the great pyramids!) But again, the good guys win, and humanity gets another stay of execution.

That’s a lot of cities leveled.

It is! For those keeping score at home, Los Angeles (Transformers), Chicago (Dark of the Moon), and Hong Kong (Age of Extinction) have all been smashed by Transformer battles so far. If you want to save an Earth omelette, you’ve got to sacrifice a few major metropolis eggs.

Damn. Anything else?

Sam Witwicky (the sweaty boy from the first two movies, played by Shia LaBeouf) and his great-great-grandfather Archibald Witwicky (the guy who discovered Megatron in the Arctic) are part of a long line of Transformer secret keepers. You’ll learn all about them in The Last Knight, so the Witwicky line hasn’t been totally retconned out since the arrival of Mark Wahlberg’s character, Cade Yeager.

One more thing?

Yes, the Transformers heroines exist in this unimpeachable order. Megan Fox > Rosie Huntington-Whiteley > Isabela Moner > Nicola Peltz > Laura Haddock. There will be no disagreeing.

Your Guide to the Mythology of the Transformers Universe