Who is Zurg in ‘Lightyear’? Pixar’s reimagined villain explained

Image via Disney/Pixar

Warning: This article contains full spoilers for Lightyear.

Lightyear is now in theaters, and the Chris Evans vehicle leaves Pixar fans with a lot to chew on. The Toy Story spinoff is a unique entry in the franchise as it introduces the “real” Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, the character the popular action figure was based on in Andy’s universe. In doing so, the film effectively gets to effectively wipe the slate clean and reimagine Buzz’s lore anew.

This includes Captain Lightyear’s nemesis, Zurg. As first mentioned in the original Toy Story, the Evil Emperor Zurg is described as the sworn enemy of the Galactic Alliance. Essentially a parody of Darth Vader and a myriad other cartoon sci-fi villains, he’s a deliberate walking cliché, something sent up in his introduction in Toy Story 2. But, for Lightyear, Zurg has been reimagined to be much more nuanced and more menacing.

But how has Zurg been changed for Lightyear? Here’s all you need to know about the movie’s twist ending and Zurg’s revised character arc.

Who is Zurg?

via Disney/Pixar

To understand Zurg, we first need to understand Buzz’s arc in the film. So the plot of Lightyear concerns Buzz’s tireless attempts to undo his own mistake and find a way for his fellow Space Rangers and other colonists to escape from Tikana Prime, a barren planet they only became marooned on in the first place due to Buzz’s insistence on ignoring all help.

Lightyear takes it upon himself to embark on countless hyperspeed test flights, which due to time dilation, send him further into the future each time. Eventually, he succeeds in perfecting the hyperspeed fuel formula — well, Sox (Peter Sohn) does. However, he finds himself decades in the future, discovering that the Tikana Prime colony is under siege by a mysterious robotic enemy known as Zurg and his android army. Once Buzz is captured by Zurg, he learns the truth… Zurg is an alternate version of himself.

Zurg — who got his alias from the way his robots struggle to pronounce “Buzz” — reveals that, when he returned to Tikana Prime with the working hyperspeed crystal, he was penalized by the colonists for his rogue mission. Embittered, he jumped much further into the future, which is where he came upon the advanced Zurg robot tech. He then figured out a way to go backwards in time as well as forwards and returned to the past, just before Hero Buzz’s return.

Unlike Hero Buzz, who has learned the error of his ways thanks to his newfound team, Zurg Buzz is still determined to complete his mission at all costs and wants to travel back to fix his initial mistake, thereby erasing decades of history — and Buzz’s new friends — in the process.

Why was Zurg’s backstory changed?

Image via Pixar/Disney

All of this is a big shock to Toy Story fans as Toy Story 2 establishes that Zurg is actually Buzz’s father, in a meta-joke referencing the iconic twist of The Empire Strikes Back. There is a brief reference to this original backstory in Lightyear, as Hero Buzz initially thinks his old alternate self is his dad, but otherwise, the concept is completely junked.

So why was this done? While speaking to Den of Geek, director Angus MacLane admitted that Pixar has grown less fond of the Star Wars-spoofing Zurg joke over time, with MacLane himself believing it to be the wrong kind of fan-service. He explained:

The thing about Zurg being Buzz’s dad is that back in 1999, that reference was novel and somehow hilarious. But now that kind of fan service-type thing can seem a little diminishing for the movie, in my opinion, and I think as time went on internally at the studio, we kind of regretted that decision to make him the father.

MacLane revealed that Lightyear‘s first draft did portray Zurg as Buzz’s dad, but the story wasn’t working until they decided to focus on Buzz’s own personality flaws and make his journey in the film be about overcoming them. So the notion of Zurg being a Buzz variant was born. MacLane continued:

Buzz’s hubris, and the thing he wanted more than anything becoming a destructive force became really interesting to us. So that was the root of that, because what we wanted to tell was a story about a hero that thinks he’s a hero, but it’s that heroism that ultimately is dark and dangerous.

Could Zurg return?

lightyear
via Pixar

By the end of the movie, Buzz well and truly defies his older self by using the working hyperspeed crystal to blow him up. He then returns to Tikana Prime, whereupon he’s put in charge of the recommissioned Space Ranger Corps. It seems like a closed-off happy ending, then, but if you stick around until the very end of the credits, you’ll spot a hint that Buzz’s troubles are far from over.

Lightyear actually has three post-credits scenes, but the third is by far the most important. After the Pixar logo fades out, a brief clip catches up with Zurg floating through space. He appears to be dead, but after a moment, his eyes begin to glow red. This seems like a promise that Zurg is still alive and will no doubt return to get revenge on his alt-self.

While we wait for news on Lightyear 2, go see Lightyear in cinemas now.