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Warning: SPOILERS for Terminator: Dark Fate are ahead!
John Connor has been an integral character in the Terminator franchise since the beginning, but Terminator: Dark Fate opted to take the character down an unexpected path. Rather than keep John around, the latest Terminator entry began by showing him being killed by a T-800 in 1998, just three years after the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Why did director Tim Miller and the rest of the Terminator: Dark Fate creative team decided to take John Connor off the board? According to Miller, it’s because he wanted to pave the way clear for someone new to take over as the individual who would command humanity’s resistance against the machines; someone who was not connected to the Connors and didn’t embody the traditional Chose One archetype. Miller explained:
You'd think it [killing John off] was probably a controversial decision, but it really wasn't. There was a lot of talk at the really early stages of should this new savior be someone who was connected to the Connors? Should it be John's daughter or something like that? Which I was always against, because I'm just not a fan of the Chosen One sort of movie as much as I am of a hero sort of rising to meet adversity, who could be an everyman or an everywoman. I identify with those people much more than I do with Neo in The Matrix or King Arthur or something like that. So I was all for this being some new person that wasn't connected to the Connors and had been chosen by the hand of fate.
That person who succeeded John Connor is Natalia Reyes’ Dani Ramos, who was shown in the future becoming a surrogate mother to the younger Grace and inspiring many survivors to stand up against the forces of Legion. One could argue that Dani still fits the Chosen One mold given that the adult Grace was sent back in time to protect her from the Rev-9, thus indicating that the Resistance wouldn’t be successful in this timeline without her. Regardless, Tim Miller knew that Dani couldn’t truly shine unless John was out of the equation.
Tim Miller added in his conversation with The Hollywood Reporter that Sarah Connor is “not a happy character,” and works best when she is “driven and tragic.” In his mind, Sarah couldn’t be that in Terminator: Dark Fate if John Connor was still alive and leading an ordinary existence. John’s death was the “rocket fuel” to propel Sarah forward and keep killing Terminators.
However you feel about how John Connor’s death, in the Terminator: Dark Fate timeline, he’s gone and not coming back. Dani Ramos must now live to inspire the remnants of humanity, and as we saw at the end of Dark Fate, Sarah Connor has taken it upon herself to train Dani and ensure she’s ready for what’s to come.
The chances of Dani's future adventures unfolding on the big screen remain to be seen. James Cameron has talked about how Terminator: Dark Fate could serve as the first installment of a new trilogy, and the movie’s earned an overall better critical reception than the Terminator sequels that immediately preceded it. But on the other hand, it’s not faring well at the box office, taking in only $123.6 million worldwide so far off a budget between $185-$195 million.