Optimus Prime is the Transformer everyone remembers, and he’s the one I remember most fondly of all because he was the first one I ever received.
Prior to Christmas 1984, I had never heard of The Transformers. I hadn’t seen any of the toys in shops, I hadn’t seen any of the episodes on television, and I hadn’t seen any of the comics in newsagents.
On Christmas Day in 1984, Optimus Prime changed all that. What I initially thought was die-cast model lorry turned out to be so much more.
December 1984 was a time of massive and heartbreaking personal upheaval for me. Just 10 days before Christmas, my parents ended their marriage very suddenly and very viciously. In the space of 24 hours, I was whisked over 450 miles from an air force base in Germany to the middle of England having no choice but to say goodbye to all my friends, almost all of my belongings, and my home.
If not for the tremendous kindness of long-time family friends (also in the air force), my mum and I would have had nowhere to live and nowhere to spend the holidays. But despite all that, my mum was determined to make sure that we still had a good Christmas.
In what I imagine to be a somewhat panicked consultation with her friend, my mum found out all that she’d bought her son; the Decepticon jet, Thundercracker being one of the presents. Hey, we were air force brats… we loved jets!
Come Christmas morning I was soon in grateful possession of a handful of annuals, a 35-piece A-Team “Combat Headquarters” set, some marbles and, of course, Optimus Prime.
The toys I received the previous year (a few “Return of the Jedi” action figures, some Space Lego, and some Space Playmobil) were, at that point, in storage. Considering my traditional space toys bent I was a little unclear on the reasoning behind getting a boring red lorry.
And then, inspecting the box further, it all dawned on me: This lorry’s cab could transform into a robot and its trailer into a command base. On the back there was an utterly awesome space battle featuring a whole cast of robots and vehicles. And, reading the little box at the bottom, I found out that the lorry was in fact called “Optimus Prime” and was in charge of the “Autobots” and he fought the “Decepticons” and he could split into 3 modules. And… I had to look up “sentient” and “autonomous” in the dictionary.
Optimus Prime felt like having several toys in one and over the course of the day (I couldn’t put him down!) I really let my imagination go with the whole robots in disguise play pattern–a mundane Earth truck that was secretly a sentient (now knowing what the word meant) alien life-form who towed his own command base around with him.
Not being 100% clued up on the whole Autobot/Decepticon war, I absently wondered why the command base was human scaled and had seats for people. I had no idea of the toy’s Diaclone heritage, after all.
Christmas Day, as it tended to do when you’re 7 years old, stretched out for a seeming eternity. All day I played with Optimus Prime on the living room carpet, letting myself get distracted from life’s problems for a precious few hours. From time to time, my mum’s friend’s son would appear with Thundercracker on a strafing run (and I would deploy Prime’s missiles in a return volley) before retreating back to his side of the living room and his pile of presents, while his sister would roll her eyes at us both.
That evening, we sat as a (temporarily extended) family and watched “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” on video, all the while thinking about how not all aliens might come to Earth aboard a flying saucer and instead be disguised as a lorry. The Transformers’ robots in disguise concept just utterly and completely blew my mind. My mum had cleverly bought me a space toy after all!
Because of the, uh, unorthodox and cramped living arrangements at that time I wasn’t allowed to keep Optimus Prime’s entire packaging but I did cut out the box art and tech specs for my scrapbook. That cutout piece of box art is all that I have left of that first Optimus Prime, my very first introduction to the world of The Transformers.
After selling off 99% of my Transformers collection last year I realised that I was without an Optimus Prime and, after careful consideration, decided that of all the tens (maybe hundreds) of Optimus Prime toys that have been released since 1984, the original version was, to me, the definitive version.
Now, I have the Encore reissue Optimus Prime on my desk and it serves to remind me of that time in 1984, when the bottom of my world fell out from underneath me when I was 7 years old and the kindness, compassion, and generosity of friends and family–and gift of that red lorry–helped me through it.