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While the title of James Cameron’s franchise may be Terminator and Arnold Schwartznegger’s “I’ll be back” or “Hasta la vista” lines always come to mind first, isn’t Sarah Connor is true icon of the series? I mean, killer machines can chase humans on movie screens all the livelong day, but Linda Hamilton’s character made us care why. Sarah is the access point to the franchise that has always held importance in the franchise’s impending post-apocalyptic future that must be stopped. And let’s face it – when she hasn’t been central to the Terminator story the storyline has suffered... I'm looking at you, Terminator Salvation.
Now Terminator: Dark Fate marks the triumphant return of Linda Hamilton as her legendary character She’s been away for almost 30 years, brought on by James Cameron returning to the creative side of the franchise for the first time since Judgement Day. The original Sarah Connor is back in action and looks to be more badass than ever. As fans gear up to soon be reunited with her, let’s take a look through the character’s incredible evolution over the years in the Terminator movies:
Damsel-In-Distress Sarah Connor
Looking back, Sarah Connor had some humble beginnings in the original Terminator film. And what’s great is this doesn’t knock her character one bit – in fact it deepens it and makes her even more interesting and grounded in reality. When we first meet the Terminator leading lady, she’s a typical Los Angeles woman of the ‘80s. Sarah Connor is a young and unassuming waitress who needs saving when Arnold’s Terminator unexpectedly comes after to prevent the birth of her future son, who will lead the resistance against the machines in the future.
The quiet genius of Sarah Connor is she was a character ahead of her time. Her type of strong character is often cheapened with today’s female heroines – as they often introduced as characters already locked and loaded with incredible ability from the get-go. Why would Sarah already be prepared to be hunted down by a cyborg assassin from the future when we meet her? There’s no logical reason for it. It’s when becomes suddenly immersed in the world of the movie and with the help of Kyle Reese that she evolves into a fighter in her own right. The character goes through complete trauma during the runtime of The Terminator as she runs for her life, falls in love with Reese and by the end accepts her fate in the timeline as Kyle dies and she becomes pregnant with John Connor. Her arc is actually pretty perfect.
Locked-And-Loaded Sarah Connor
When Linda Hamilton was asked to return to her Terminator character for the second film after the monumental success of the first movie, she told James Cameron she didn’t want to play the same waitress Sarah Connor. She told him: “I want to be crazy”. And with the second film, audiences catch up with an institutionalized Connor, seemingly rambling of a future where robots take over the world and has been separated by a now 10-year-old John Connor. She clearly takes Kyle Reese’s warnings to heart and has transformed herself into a badass warrior. The actress underwent military and weapons handling training, becoming a completely transformed and muscled up version of Sarah Connor. Not to mention Hamilton came off giving birth herself just a couple weeks prior to the role.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day has her teaming up with a good-guy Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 to survive a more daunting version of Skynet technology, Robert Patrick’s T-1000. While the original Sarah Connor we met was driven by survival, this one is intensely motivated by protecting her son to no end. As an audience, it’s a shocking but incredibly rewarding to see her grow into this hardened warrior after the first film. She benefits from the humble beginnings as mentioned above in Terminator and becomes one of the most interesting sci-fi action heroes to match one of the best entries in the genre of all time.
Made-For-TV Sarah Connor
Sarah Connor’s peak moment on the big screen would be followed by a long drought for the character. Linda Hamilton was written out of the storyline for The Rise of the Machines, said to have died from cancer and James Cameron left the creative process of the movies. 2009’s Terminator Salvation would greatly leave Connor out of the equation as well. But someone got it, Sarah Connor is integral to the Terminator franchise and Fox decided to develop a spinoff series called Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles for television. Ahead of her iconic role in Game of Thrones as Cersei Lannister, Lena Headey was chosen for the role after the studio auditioned hundreds of actresses.
Similar to what Dark Fate does, The Sarah Connor Chronicles ignores the events of Rise of the Machines and imagines Connor’s life after Judgement Day. John Connor is a teenager and they have a new female Terminator on their side. The show unfortunately only lasted two seasons due to cancellation, despite fans best efforts to rally behind the continuation of the series. While Headey’s Connor was true to the character and further explored her life, it didn’t quite have the same staying-power as Linda Hamilton’s version. Perhaps because the relentless franchise was watered down by network guidelines, maybe it just didn’t have the same oomf as the movies?
Alternate Reality “Reboot” Sarah Connor
Interestingly enough, the next Sarah Connor would also be a Game of Thrones star with fan-favorite Daenerys Targaryen actress, Emilia Clarke. In 2015, Paramount attempted to revitalize the Terminator property with Terminator Genisys, a reboot of sorts that placed Sarah Connor in an alternate reality to set her apart from the original character. In this version, good-guy T-800 (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) comes into her life to protect her at the age of nine, making her an able fighter by the time Kyle Reese (played by Jai Courtney) comes to defend her against ‘80s T-800, played by a de-aged Schwarzenegger Terminator.
The movie is a hodge-podge of just about everything, as Sarah also meets an adult version of her son and falls in love with Kyle without her damsel-in-distress persona intact. Genisys tried a bit too hard to give fans everything they loved about the franchise that the creatives forgot what made it great. Clarke’s Sarah Connor falls into the automatic “strong female character” trope without being as grounded or interested as previous versions. Not Clarke’s fault – we know what she’s capable with via Daenerys.
The definitive Sarah Connor is unquestionably Linda Hamilton’s version in Judgement Day and she’ll be back in Dark Fate on November 1. What do you think of the changes made to the Terminator over the years? Sound off in the comments below!