In Case You've Forgotten: A 'Terminator' Primer

(EDITORIAL NOTE: This primer was written in advance of the release of 2003's "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" to remind viewers of the basics of the franchise. The producers of FOX's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" have basically said that movie never occured in the Terminator mythology, so take some of this information with a grain of salt. The "Terminator" mythology is constantly in flux.)

Important Dates (and Twisted Chronology):

1984: The Terminator is sent to 1984 to kill Sarah Connor before she can give birth to resistance leader John Connor. Interestingly, this has the opposite effect, as Kyle Reese is sent back to the same time to protect Sarah and they have a productive one-night stand, ultimately yielding John. Perhaps if the machines never sent back the Terminator, Kyle never would have come back and John never would have been born? Or is it only his name that matters, genetics secondary.

Roughly 10 Years Later: The Terminator returns, this time to protect Sarah and John against the T-1000, and liquid metal bad guy. While John should, in theory, be 10 years old, James Cameron casts newcomer Edward Furlong, who's roughly 14 when the film is released. This hiccup in the chronology still annoys some fans, who have written essays explaining why "T2" could take place in any of a half-dozen years.

Aug. 29, 1997: The artificial intelligence computer defense system Skynet becomes self-aware and launches its nuclear arsenal on U.S. enemies abroad (really savvy fans know this advanced sentience kicked in at 2:14 a.m. ET). The subsequent system and retaliations and counter-attacks wipes out much of the human population and opens the door for the machines to take over the world. Known as Judgment Day, Sarah and John Connor in theory prevented this Armageddon in the second movie.

Several Years Later: "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines" begins with John Connor at the age of 22, which either means that the year is 2006 or maybe 2000 if you accept that John was 13 in the second movie and that it took place in 1991.

2029: Humanity, led by John Connor (now sporting really unfortunate scars all over his face) is on the verge of destroying Skynet forever. Skynet sends back the first Terminator to kill Sarah. Subsequent Terminators are sent as their predecessors fail. Humanity keeps sending back plucky, but overmatched heroes, despite the fact that the job is in a constant loop.

Important Robots:

T-1: The first Terminator makes its first appearance in "Terminator 3." An ungainly and boxy robot, it seems capable of causing an awful lot of destruction, but it more closely resembles a tank than a person, rendering it largely ineffectively in more details-orient reconnaissance missions.

T-800:Known by the futuristic-inclined as "The Ah-nold Model." A fairly impressive improvement over the initial T-1, the T-800s are cybernetic organisms, human flesh over metallic structure. These new models resemble beefy weightlifters and professional wrestlers. They're also programmed to speak with mysterious, thick Eastern European accents, making them both difficult to understand and frustrating to trace. Unfortunately, they're designed with limited emotional range, but they can be programmed to use progressive modern slang like "I'll be back." Can be taught limited verbiage in at least one language in addition to English (i.e. "Hasta la vista, baby"). The massive advance over the T-1, raises questions of a, say, T-435, which has many of the same advantages of the T-800, but unfortunately resembles Squiggy from "Laverne and Shirley."

T-1000: Yet another massive improvement over the previous model. Made out of liquid metal, the T-1000 can absorb any amount of gunfire and can turn itself into any being it comes in contact with. The major upgrade is that the new model is slimmer and more streamlined and can now speak in an American accent. Dramatic range still remains limited, though, and the T-1000 is hampered by his inability to transform himself into multi-part weapons like guns. This model is adept at becoming pointy, shiny, metal weapons, though, like murderous toothpicks. Unfortunately susceptible to extremes in heat and cold. Prone to hesitation in several crucial moments.

T-X:A far more attractive model than any previous makes. The T-X has many of the advantages of the T-1000, but the added dimension of a malleable pansexuality. The T-X has many new skills that shouldn't be spoiled for people intending to view "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

Some Important Humanoids to Remember:

Sarah Connor: Makes the plausible transition from vapid waitress to Earth Mother of the Free World to butt-kicking warrior queen within two movies. Becomes increasingly buff and increasingly insane and is gone by the third movie, having done her job by producing and repeatedly saving the future leader of the world.

John Connor: The savior of humanity (note, in true subtle Cameron style, his telling initials). Goes from proto-zygote in the first film to petulant teenager in the second to slightly-deranged junkie in the third. Also morphs from Edward Furlong to Nick Stahl. If they didn't keep reminding us that eventually John's going to save humanity, it would be tough to believe.

Kyle Reese: In the future, he's one of John Connor's top aides. In the present, he's a gun-toting sperm donor. He saves Sarah's life and teaches her what it takes to be a soldier. Most importantly, though, in the few hours they spent together, they loved a lifetime's worth.

Dr. Peter Silberman: Earl Boen's officious police psychologist is the only character besides the T-800 to appear in all three movies. It's difficult to know why.

One Really Important Quote:

"The future is not set. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.": John Connor in the future makes Reese memorize this speech and recite it to Sarah in the first film. Sarah subsequently makes John memorize it in the present so that he can tell it to his presumptive father in the future. Nobody actually makes up the speech. It just gets cycled around. It does, however, encapsulate the theme of all three movies.