He'll be back...and back...and back
May 21, 2009, when 'Terminator Salvation' opens, is just the latest in a long list of dates in the killer-cyborg timeline
"The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make." So goes the mantra of the "Terminator" franchise - a message that time-hopping future soldier Kyle Reese shares with Sarah Connor to help her keep getting out of bed in the morning when she'd rather just say, Annnh, it's the apocalypse. Call in sick.
Of course, this theme has also given license to James Cameron and the directors and writers who've followed him to treat continuity like something as ridiculously malleable as that liquid-metallic T-1000. (It probably hasn't helped that seemingly half the production outfits in Hollywood have at some point called the shots for the 25-year-old series.) Here's a timeline tracing how the various pieces of "Terminator" mythology fit together — or don't — from the original installment to the cancellation-threatened TV incarnation to this week's new big-screen relaunch, "Terminator Salvation."
An inexplicably accented Terminator cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger, below) is sent back through time from the year 2029. His mission: Kill LA fashion victim Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, left) before she can conceive her son, John, eventual leader of the human resistance against the sentient machines ruling the world. The daddy of Sarah's baby? The adult John's lieutenant, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn, left, with Hamilton) — shipped from the future like the ultimate mail-order man-bride. ("The Terminator," 1984)
John Connor born, according to police records. ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day," 1991)
John Connor (Eddie Furlong), now age 10, and his mom are stalked by a new T-1000 Terminator prototype (Robert Patrick). Fortunately, John's 45-year-old future self reprograms the original T-101 model (Schwarzenegger) to help him bid hasta la vista, baby, to the bad guy. ("T2")
Cyberdyne Systems' Skynet, the advanced military computer behind the Terminators' rise, goes online. ("T2")
Skynet becomes selfaware (oops!), and wages nuclear war against humankind. Warns Sarah (Hamilton), "Anyone not wearin' 2 million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day!" Or would have, at least, if the Connors hadn't succeeded in preemptively destroying the technology (read: junk salvaged from the pulverizing "T1" finale) used to develop Skynet. ("T2")
Per her grave marker (and her son's exposition), Sarah Connor dies following a three-year battle with leukemia. ("Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," 2003)
Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) lives(!) under the radar with teen-emo John (Thomas Dekker), until they're discovered and a slinky new guardian-angel Terminator (Summer Glau) helps them flee to 2007. ("Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," 2008-09)
(Or is it 2005? 2007? The dates don't fully compute) — A 20-something, perpetually jittery John Connor (Nick Stahl, above left) and future wife Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) are visited by a new, enigmatically reprogrammed T-101 (Schwarzenegger, above center, mere months away from the Governator's office). Connor: "You shouldn't even exist! We took out Cyberdyne over 10 years ago. We stopped Judgment Day!" Terminator: "You only postponed it." Enter the Terminatrix (Kristanna Loken) to kill some time before the nukes do go off, as an alternate Skynet is activated and achieves self-awareness within an hour. ("T3")
Judgment Day, per TV. ("Sarah Connor Chronicles")
A hardened John Connor, now as nuttily intense as, well, Christian Bale (below), tangles with "old-school" hardware like the pre-Arnold T-600 Terminator, and bonds with a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). ("Terminator Salvation")
John Connor's army has Skynet on the brink of defeat, prompting the machines' temporal Hail Mary. ("The Terminator")
In offscreen action, John Connor is assassinated by a T-101 who buddies up to him by exploiting sunny memories of the "no problemo" days. His widow, Kate, subsequently reprograms the cyborg to go protect their younger selves. Yet again, he'll be back. . . . ("T3")