Here is a compressed order of events in the Gen 1 continuity:

  • Orion Pax is heavily damaged/killed
  • Alpha Trion rebuilds Orion Pax into Optimus Prime, presumably giving him the Autobot Matrix of Leadership. It could be argued that the Matrix was partly responsible for the upgrade, but this is never stated one way or another.
  • Optimus Prime is heavily damaged, and in his last moments, gives the Matrix of Leadership to Ultra Magnus. No change is made to Optimus Prime
  • Ultra Magnus inserts the Matrix into his own chest, but receives no upgrade.
  • Ultra Magnus is temporarily destroyed, and the Matrix is stolen by Galvatron, who wears it as bling.
  • The Matrix activates during the Autobot's "Darkest Hour™" and Hot Rod is upgraded into Rodimus Prime.
  • In three instances in Season 3, Rodimus removes the Matrix and instantly reverts back to Hot Rod. When he reinserts the Matrix after the first two removals, he is instantly transformed back into Rodimus Prime. The third removal is permanent, and he remains as Hot Rod from then on.
  • Galvatron inserts the Matrix into his canon and only gets visions of Autobots. He recieves no reformatting/upgrade like Hot Rod. This could be hand-waved away arguing that the Matrix only works on Autobots.
  • Scourge inserts the Matrix into himself and has his power levels increased, but goes a bit insane. He receives no reformatting/upgrade like Hot Rod. This could be hand-waved away arguing that the Matrix only works on Autobots.
  • Optimus is revived twice (once as a sort of Zombie-Prime). In both cases, when he reinserts the Matrix, he receives no new reformatting/upgrade.

Additional Info

  • In Beast Wars, Optimus Primal

merges his spark with that of Gen 1 Optimus Prime. When he does so, he is upgraded into Optimal Optimus. When The sparks are split again, he reverts back to Optimus Primal. Only Sparks are mentioned here, with no mention of the Matrix being specifically transferred.

So, after all that...

Why is Hot Rod the only one that is magically reformatted when he inserts/removes the Autobot Matrix of Leadership?

  • 4
    Out of universe, sometimes upgrades happen to sell more toys. Jul 11, 2014 at 8:10
  • 1
    Correction, Galvatron wears The Matrix as bling not HotRod
    – CyanAngel
    Jul 11, 2014 at 9:22
  • 2
    In your timeline, only Hot Rod actually opens the Matrix, the others just seem to carry it - Hot Rod receives his reformat when he opens the Matrix, so it stands to reason that you don't just get a hot new body simply because you have your sticky mitts on it...
    – Moo
    Dec 28, 2014 at 17:02

11 Answers 11


Another alternative explanation is:

The Matrix itself chooses who becomes the Prime

The cartoon G1 continuity is a cobbled up mess, but if we fill in the gaps with info from the other, better explored, continuities and extrapolate from there then we realize that the Matrix is a religious/mystical relic as well as being a symbol of leadership. The rank of Prime is equal parts political, military and spiritual. He's not only the leader of the Autobots he is also something much deeper. Primes are not elected or assigned, they are chosen.

Optimus was chosen by the Matrix in the comics continuities, and was reformatted accordingly. Cartoon Optimus' status in this regard is a bit murky. We witness his reformatting from Orion Pax to Optimus, but there was no Matrix involved, or at least we never saw such an interaction (real world explanation: the concept of the Matrix hadn't been created yet). Though the fact that the Matrix worked for cartoon Optimus after his resurrection reinforce the idea that he was indeed a chosen Prime.

Ultra Magnus was assigned leadership of the Autobots by Optimus, but the Matrix never chose him. In fact, the Matrix showed no affinity towards him. It never glowed, or opened for Ultra Magnus and simply stayed in his chest compartment doing nothing but looking pretty.

Hot Rod on the other hand showed signs of Matrix affinity early on. It seemingly fell into his hands alone when Optimus dropped it. It glowed brilliantly when Hot Rod held it. And finally, not only did the Matrix open for Hot Rod it chose him as the new Prime, reformatting him into Rodimus Prime.

  • 2
    +1 for the concept of a living, semi-sentient object that actively chooses the Primes. I should have put that possibility in my answer. Ah well.
    – Omegacron
    Jul 10, 2014 at 17:24

TL;DR - You can "have" the Matrix without "having" the Matrix.

Some of this answer is, by necessity, based on speculation. However, this is an educated guess based on the G1 cartoon continuity.

Much of what you describe can be explained by differentiating between "possessing" the Matrix of Leadership and "accepting" the Matrix of Leadership. The Matrix is not just a physical object, it's a symbol of the burden of leadership. It contains the collected wisdom of all previous bearers, and apparently can only be opened by one who is willing to accept that wisdom and all of the responsibility it entails. When that occurs, the bearer obtains full access to the power of the Matrix, which apparently includes being upgraded into a more powerful form. Here's a rundown:

First, Optimus Prime himself. The MAN.

We don't know the full measure of Optimus Prime's acceptance, but since he remained the Autobots' leader for several million years, we have to assume that he fully accepted the burden of leadership. As you stated, it wasn't clear if Alpha Trion built Optimus' upgraded body, or if the body he built was upgraded by the Matrix.

It's also possible that Alpha Trion added the upgrade process to the Matrix. We don't know if previous Matrix holders were upgraded in this fashion, and Alpha Trion had a process for upgrading Autobots into bigger, tougher versions of their previous selves. He could have integrated this knowledge into the Matrix by bearing it himself or by some other external means. He was, after all, one of the original Transformers and had a vast knowledge of all things... Transformer-y.

So, let's look at Ultra Magnus:

When Ultra Magnus took the Matrix, he didn't want to lead and never fully accepted the burden. When he tried & failed to open the Matrix on Junkion, it was to use the Matrix as a weapon, which it is not. Even if he had a desire to lead, he did not understand the purpose of the Matrix and therefore could not accept it for what it was.

Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime is a little trickier:

When Hot Rod first opened the Matrix & transformed into Rodimus, he was at a point of desperation and wanted the wisdom to save the Autobots - a selfless motive in which he was ready to accept anything that brought hope - even the responsibility of leading his people. He was never fully comfortable with being leader, however, and on the occasions where he gave up the Matrix he was also willing to give up the wisdom of the Matrix along with the burden of leadership. His upgraded status fluctuated with his willingness to lead and accept that role as Autobot leader. The exception to this, and the one that throws a gear in the works, is when he lost it to Galvatron, in which case he wasn't willingly giving it up. Maybe because he so badly wanted to be just Hot Rod again?

Galvatron and Scourge may have possessed the Matrix, but without accepting it there is no access to its full power (which includes the transformation/upgrade part). The side effects they experienced could be explained as the Matrix "leaking" some of its power.

This is the only explanation I've heard in 20 years that seems to make sense. Otherwise, we just have to explain each robot's upgraded status (or lack thereof) as continuity errors.

  • Continuity errors AND just bad writing... But I like your explanation MUCH better. Thanks for sharing. Jul 10, 2014 at 16:17

Hot Rod is instrumental in fulfilling the Matrix of Leadership's intended purpose

The Matrix of Leadership has a symbolic role for the Autobots but also hidden powers of an unknown extent.

During the 1986 Movie Optimus Prime prophesies:

... but one day an Autobot shall rise from our ranks and use the power of the Matrix to light... our darkest hour.

When Hot Rod is transfigured by the Matrix at the close of the movie the same words are heard:

Now light our darkest hour!

The destruction of Unicron fulfils the 'light our darkest hour' part of the prophecy, but Hot Rod's transformation to Rodimus Prime is needed to fulfil the 'rise from the ranks' part. Hot Rod is not equipped - as he is - to lead the Autobots into a new age of peace, but as Kup observes:

I knew you had potential, lad.

This potential is used by the Matrix to create a leader who can create a new and peaceful future post-Unicron:

Let this mark the end of the Cybertronian Wars as we march forward to a new age of peace and happiness!


Here's an unpopular idea, which I think explains this.

Hot Rod was the Chosen OneTM.

If you look specifically at the events of Transformers: The Movie, you see Hot Rod is the protagonist. During the film, he shows a preternatural connection to The Matrix of Leadership. Eventually he is the one to use it to 'light our darkest hour'. I think this explains why he alone gets an upgrade. He's the only one who has a connection to the Matrix.

Optimus Prime's a cool dude, and a great leader, however he was merely carrying the Matrix. He didn't wield its special power like Hot Rod did. Same with Ultra Magnus (excepting the coolness and excellent leadership). Lacking a proper connection to the Matrix and ability to wield its power, they do not get upgrades.

  • 1
    But Optimus did wield the Matrix's power. In the Hate Plague incident he took the Matrix from an infected Rodimus and opened it, ending the plague. Jul 11, 2014 at 11:39
  • 2
    +1 for out of the box thinking. -1 for talking smack about optimus prime.
    – phantom42
    Jul 11, 2014 at 12:53

The answer simple if you've read the old marvel comics. The planet cybertron is primus, brother of unicorn whom realised battling unicorn in his original form was destroying the universe so becomes cybertron and made the transformers race to combat unicron. Primus face in the comics is the spitting image of hot rod, the chosen one properly the reincarnation of primus and unicron (in the comics) named rodimus primus. The matrix meant to be the essence of primus so hot rod will be more in tuned with it than anyone else.:-)

  • 1
    Some of this seems to be covered in existing answers. You might want to edit your answer to include the specific source of the details.
    – Blackwood
    Aug 3, 2016 at 0:27

All of the points made are great, however, in Season 3, in the episode "Rise of the Primitives" all of the primitive based bots - from both sides are called by "The Assistant".

This entity has called them to stop the Creator from destroying the universe. The Creator is later known to be the original creator of Unicron and in the episode is busy with his new energy based monster named Taunatron.

In this episode there is a scene where The Assistant relives his story to the primitives and shows Unicron turning on the Creator. The Matrix is clearly seen floating away into space.

This is the only use of the Matrix and likely works in conjunction with an Autobot in proximity of Unicron - which only falls to Hot Rod in the movie.

  • Floating into space is the only use of the Matrix?
    – Edlothiad
    Nov 23, 2017 at 12:41

Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus were already "adults."

Hot Rod was "a kid" until he was matured by The Matrix.

The reason why Hot Rod was chosen was because he was the first to touch The Matrix when Optimus Prime dropped it. It is as simple as that.

  • 1
    So The Matrix works by "finders keepers"? If Hot Rod was a "kid" until he was matured by The Matrix, why was he downgraded when he relinquished it?
    – phantom42
    Sep 2, 2014 at 12:33
  • @phantom42: Why does Captain Marvel turn back into a kid when he deactivates his powers? Same reason - Rodimus is enhanced by the Matrix, without it he just has the power and abilities of Hot Rod. He needs him some Matrix to SHAZAM!
    – Jeff
    Nov 13, 2015 at 16:48

The reason why Hot Rod was transformed by the matrix is because he was chosen by it and his body was empowered by its energies such as orion pax was reformatted by it when it was given to him by alpha trion. what a lot of people fail to recall is that alpha trion himself is a prime and had been in orion pax's life for some time. He probaly just chose orion or the matrix did. while it is not mentioned that alpha gave orion the matrix, it also isn't mentioned that the matrix of leadership event exists for two years worth of cartoon continuity. In fact it isn't revealed until the movie. Subsequently magnus was not changed by it because he was not chosen. whether it had to do with his issues of self doubt is unknown.


Now everyone knows that Hot Rod was the Chosen One after Optimus spoke to him after he became a Prime using the power of the matrix. Ultra Magnus said it himself, he's only a soldier. However, Hot Rod didn't believe that anyone was just a soldier. He believed that once the war was over, there would be no Autobots or Decepticons, just Cybertron and Cybertronians. And he was willing to give up everything about him before he became a Prime, so that the Autobots could survive the war and live their own lives after it. Plus, he showed signs of leadership on Quintessa.

Also, all you bozos missed the most important thing that deemed him worthy. For instance, he rushed into battle to save Kup from that robotic sea monster! And he fixed Kup, even though he wasn't a doctor. He used the Matrix to save everyone, Autobots and Decepticons alike, even the Decepticons on Cybertron!!! Ultra Magnus tried to use it to save himself, he didn't use it in an even darker hour, like Hot Rod. That proves that Hot Rod was worthy of the Matrix's full power.

Also, look at this picture!


Ultra Magnus is covered in armor. So when he opened up his chest, he actually opened a hole for the Matrix that was in his armor. In fact, the opening was hollow when he took it out. That's why he died when Galvatron blasted his chest.

You don't believe me, then you don't make any sense! Unless if you have a better explanation. WHICH THERE ISN'T! #Transformers=Life!

  • 1
    I am fairly sure that Ultra Magnus was never depicted as an Optimus-like robot wearing armor in the G1 cartoon. And even if he was, that photo is of an unlicensed third-party upgrade kit for a toy from 2007, and it has very little to do with the G1 cartoon.
    – recognizer
    Jul 22, 2016 at 18:25
  • -1 for blatant speculation and calling us all 'bozos'... May 9, 2017 at 10:56

The Matrix adapts according to the bearer. The Matrix gave Optimus Prime Strength, Power, Wisdom without changing him physically due to his larger size from the start. With Hot Rod being smaller Autobot the Matrix had to "Modify" him not just to accommodate the power but the look of a leader that Optimus already had.

  • 1
    Interesting points, where is this information from?
    – Möoz
    Nov 27, 2016 at 21:56

If you look at the movie from 1986, it shows the ancestors that carried the matrix of leadership and the first one looked exactly like Hot Rod, the matrix chose him because it was his, thats why he transformed into Rodimus Prime, thats why he was able to open the matrix,

  • hi and welcome to stack exchange :) i recommend you take the tour and you should also visit the help center .. why do you say this .. you can put links on some words to strenghtens your points .. or quotes or article is also good :)
    – Rocket
    Dec 28, 2014 at 17:41
  • I don't remember the movie showing this - are you sure? Jul 21, 2015 at 10:22

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