Ah, Leon Powalski, silver-tongued serpent of the Lylat System. Not literally a serpent, of course, but a four-legged, crested relative. If you’re a Nintendo fan, you know him. Maybe you even like him. Despite being among the least explored and least human members of Star Fox history, Leon still enjoys popularity among Nintendo’s fanbase. This veteran member of Star Wolf made his official debut in the spring of 1997, when his sharp ominous aircraft descended upon frozen Fichina in formation with the rest of his team. Thus came the legendary words—“Andross has ordered us to take you down”—and those glassy-eyed Star Fox 64 players already starstruck by Wolf were stunned again by everyone’s favorite heartless chameleon.
Much of his success comes from his voice. Ja Green does an excellent job bringing the empty condescension and disinterest that encapsulate Leon’s character. Unfeeling and grandiose, Leon is not your friend, though many wish he could be. He is an assassin, one bored by easy prey and frustrated by those he can’t torment. A classic villain archetype, his very presence imbues the duality of the English sophisticate on the surface and the “ruthless lizard” underneath. Green complements this supposed personality with the flat-eyed and collected face that appears on Leon’s 64 transmission screen (the scrapped Star Fox 2 does a better job portraying how Leon’s mind works beneath the veneer.)
Nobody knows where Leon came from, but we all know this: he’s lean, green, mean, and a torturing machine. Every description from Nintendo’s official profiles attests to his robotic pathology and love of the prolonged hunt. If Nintendo were not known for its family-friendly, virtually enriching worlds of plumbers and primates, it would be rather interesting to witness Leon as described. But for the sake of those kiddies who are just trying to engage in furry space battles, it is never really demonstrated what can happen with talking chameleons void of the soul. Rather, Leon is balanced as an aimless pilot who rivals a cockshot Brooklyn pheasant and must occasionally suffer the righteousness and strange emotions of others. One needs only to listen to a Brawl transmission to experience his indignity at being mistakenly classified as a cousin group:
LEON: A blue planet… It’s actually quite breathtaking, isn’t it?
SLIPPY: Boy, I’ll say! Look at all that water! It’s a paradise for guys like you and me, huh? Without a quick dip in the water now and then, we get all dried out!
LEON: Listen, I’m no frog. Don’t try to stick us in the same group!
SLIPPY: But, you’ve got a long stretchy tongue just like me, right?
LEON: Didn’t I just tell you to drop the subject?
Alas, even the emptiest of anthropomorphic lizards aren’t completely without something of their own, and Leon displays a unique form of fanboyism when he breathlessly elaborates the advantages of Wolf’s natural weapons in hand-to-hand combat. It’s borderline hyperventilation. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in this beady rotating pupil there is much to be stated about the beauty of claws and teeth creating pools of red. Thankfully, his teammate Panther cut him off before he could declare his undying love for Wolf and start revealing the plans he’d made for their life together. I mean, his ship is called the Rainbow Delta, amirite?
I kid, I kid (but if you’re into it, more power to you). But on one final note, in 2006 Leon, Wolf, and Panther become playable with all of Star Fox and some others in Star Fox Command. In this game, Star Wolf allies with the full-time heroes in the hopes of bailing their criminal reputations when an Anglar Emperor threatens to ruin Lylat for all. Leon takes to the skies in his beloved Rainbow Delta, a somewhat bulky ship that, reportedly, needs to charge its weapon every time and has a little less power than the single laser.
Leon also gets the barest kind of depth when the day is all done and his team has to go back to being the villains. “I’m tired of being saddled with a horrible rep!” he proclaims on one route, knowing that helping save the universe twice still won’t break the endless list of typecasting on his IMDb. “I want flowers! And a parade!” Egomaniac as always, but with an ostensibly more innocent objective, in a “be thankful thorns have roses” kind of way. I don’t think Leon is nice deep down, but this brief quirk was a nice breather from his perpetual portrayal as a breathing robot.
So there we have it, a homage to Leon Powalski, the classy assassin who flickers the reptile in all of us. The day he features in Star Fox once more will be a great one. After all, there’s a chance Ja Green will reprise as he did for Star Fox Zero, stirring the hype for the masses who were so ready to hear Leon’s trademark voice as he descended upon the game’s fearless leader on a barren planet of ice and snow.
“I’m on your tail, you impudent fox!”