This Sunday, a generations-long battle of the wills waged (mostly) between powerful women to determine the fate of a monstrous magical kingdom will reach its epic conclusion. And then, 13 and a half hours later, Game of Thrones will air.
This reads as glib, but once I realized that Disney Channel’s metal-as-heck animated series Star vs. the Forces of Evil would be wrapping its increasingly ambitious serialized run the same day Game of Thrones would, the parallels between the two became almost laughably obvious. Like Game of Thrones, Star vs. the Forces of Evil is interested in investigating the corrosive effects that absolute power can have even on those with the best of intentions. Like Game of Thrones, Star vs. the Forces of Evil has spent the latter part of this investigation centering the perspectives of several powerful women, each from different generations, each motivated by a slightly different ideology. Like Game of Thrones, Star vs. the Forces of Evil found one of these women deciding in its penultimate episode that the only way to move into the future was to wreak havoc on the past. And like on GoT, on SvtFoE, that woman even ended up being the one with long, snow-white hair tied back in severe braids. (Moon Butterfly, how could you??)
As remarkable as these similarities are, though, what they end up doing is further underscoring the many ways in which Star vs. the Forces of Evil has managed, throughout its four long seasons, to set itself apart—not just as a colorfully progressive fantasy epic cum man girl vs. power allegory, or as an example of the nuanced heights fun, serialized kids’ animation can reach, but as a model of how textural dynamism and textual variety can work together to create a story that’s wildly strong, utterly unique and entertaining as heck. Yes, Star vs. the Forces of Evil is as concerned as Game of Thrones is with the destructive influence of absolute power—represented, in Star Butterfly’s world, by the magic wielded over Mewni’s mewmans and monsters by the kingdom’s long line of Butterfly queens—but equally does it prize both the redemptive power of family, friendship and deep empathy for your fellow creature, and the cathartic power of just giving yourself permission to revel in pure, un-self-serious goofballery.
This last element, although it may have been more prominent in the series’ first two adventure-of-the-week seasons than it has been in the last, more serialized make-Mewni-whole-again ones, has served an especially powerful role in balancing the show’s pacing as the climactic face-off between the mewmans’ backwards-looking, anti-monster xenophobia—led by Mina (Amy Sedaris) and enabled by ex-Queen Moon (Grey Griffin)—and Star (Eden Sher) and her friends’ forward-looking, monster-friendly agenda—represented by the revived Queen Eclipsa (Esmé Bianco), her monster husband Globgor (Jaime Camil) and their magical monster baby Meteora (at one point, Jessica Walter)—has approached. The more that the mewmans have dug into their hatred of monsters and any mewman/Earth human who might stand by them, the darker Star vs. the Forces of Evil has become. And the darker Star vs. the Forces of Evil as become, the more welcome have been all the narrative time-outs during which Star and Marco (Adam McArthur) have zoned out over tacos back on Earth, or Tom (Rider Strong) and Janna (Abby Elliott) have gone boot-surfing in Mewni’s magical junkyards, or Star, Marco, Tom and Janna have gotten high as fuzz off the glittery, unicorn-filled realm of pure magic. (Well, as high, at least, as any Disney show is going to let any of its animated kid characters get.) All of these episodes, episodes in which absolutely nothing of narrative interest happened, have aired in the run-up to Mewni’s possibly magic-ending final showdown, but rather than that narrative nothingness puncturing the larger plot’s building tension, each one has made the humanity of Star’s story—and thus, of her hero’s journey—more robust.
As it has balanced, pacing-wise, what would otherwise have been a heart-squeezing grind toward Sunday’s final Star (harmonious peace) vs. Mina (genocidal populism) death match, so too has Star vs. the Forces of Evil’s inherent goofballery allowed the story to dip into themes deeper/weirder/more esoteric than might a show that hadn’t used its heroine’s magical cache of Super Strawberry Shake Quakes and Spider with a Top Hat Blasts to establish itself early on as A Big, Ambitious Weirdo™. See, for example, Star’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Tom Lucitor, demon prince of the Underworld, whose horns, third eye, and penchant for traveling by infernal column of fire seemed tailor-made to serve his initial role as Star’s hot-headed evil ex, but which all turned out, once he exorcised his literal demons and became a cheerful, emotionally healthy member of Team Star, to help challenge the audience’s understanding of what’s monstrous and what’s human. See also: Star’s spells (Spider with a Top Hat included), whose silly communal life inside her wand is the subject of several pace-balancing bottle episodes before Eclipsa’s Total Annihilation acid butterfly spell shows up and thrusts the audience into contemplating just how much a person (or a narwhal spell) ought to be willing to sacrifice for the greater good. See, finally, every single thing having to do with the Butterfly queens’ slobby sprite of a magical sage, Glossaryck (originally Jeffrey Tambor, now Keith David), whose only mode of interacting with the princesses whose magical education he oversees is Dadaist. After three seasons of his mind-bendy nonsense, a fed-up Star pulling his eyeball open to step into his mind in the series’ penultimate episode, “The Tavern at the End of the Universe,” is not only unremarkable, but the obvious best next step for Star to take. I mean, how else is she going to force him to debate her on the metaphysical consequences of destroying her story’s source of corrosive absolute power from within?
Ultimately, though, as narratively impactful as all of Star’s serious goofiness is, it’s the series’ unselfish, friendship-hyping heart that both puts it ahead of most fantasy epics, and that will leave the greatest legacy. Although any fan worth their rom-com salt will have marked Star and Marco as romantic endgame from the start, the path that Star vs. the Forces of Evil took to get them there, rooted as deeply as it was in genuine friendship, was solid enough that had the series not made Starco official, their relationship arc would have still been more satisfying than most series manage to pull off. Add to this the complexities of the relationships Marco builds with Tom, Kelly (Dana Davis) and Jackie (Grey Griffin), and that Star builds with Eclipsa, Ponyhead and her parents—some romantic, some platonic, some chaotic, all intensely compelling—and you’ve got a story that will only get more satisfying the more you rewatch it.
I don’t know how Star vs. the Forces of Evil will end—against my own inner demons, I resisted the urge to beg for a review screener before writing this piece—but having watched with growing admiration as Daron Nefcy and her team have molded this season into its final, extra metal-as-heck shape, I don’t have anything but faith that come Sunday, the most ambitious girl-powered fantasy epic currently on air will go out with a Sparkle Glitter Bomb Expand. I can’t wait.
The series finale of Star vs. the Forces of Evil airs on Disney Channel this Sunday at 7:30 a.m. It can also be found on the Disney NOW app.
Alexis Gunderson is a TV critic and audiobibliophile. She
can be found @AlexisKG.