If you think about the epic moments in media that draw us together as a nation—and who doesn’t ponder such things—then you must be watching “The Sara Connor Chronicles” on Fox, the latest version of the “Terminator” movie series that not coincidentally starred the Governor of California as the bad-guy cyborg from the future who learned how to love.
The latest version of a dark future centers on Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor, the teenager who will live on into the future to lead “the rebels” against “Skynet,” the computer network programmed to destroy all humanity. But there’s a twist: cyborgs are dispatched from the future by both the older John Connor and the faceless Skynet to either protect or destroy John Connor, depending on their persuasion. They are literally programmed to terminate his life, and nothing stops them.
The trope is terrific, a chronologic displacement even the novelist Milan Kundera could love. With time travel, robots, and Armageddon, it doesn’t get any better than this. But it’s not science fiction that makes the “Terminator” series indestructible in the good ole U.S.A.: it’s the rebel yell embedded in our DNA.
Think about two of the biggest blockbuster series of all time—“Star Wars” and “Terminator”—total gross revenues worldwide are in the billions because they’re both about the same thing: the American Revolution.
These epic sci-fi sagas are love songs to our Revolutionary past.
We don’t have tons of future footage to go by in the “Terminator” series, but things are not looking so great for the human race. The Skynet computers—the faceless monarchs of futureshock—have all but wiped out the human race, but a plucky band of red-white-and-blue rebels led by John Connor are going to change all that if he can just not get himself killed by a futurespeak cyborg before he can grow up.
That’s where Mom comes in: Sarah Connor is women’s lib come to life, the best fighter there ever was, according to her son-in-the-future, and a cyborg-killer who will protect her cub at all costs so as to bring light back to the world. Bionic woman? Wonder Woman? Sarah Connor, who bleeds for humanity, can kick their skinny white asses back to Bonwit Teller.
Like “Terminator,” “Star Wars” tells a similar tale of freedom and, ultimately, democracy. In the three prequels, we see the Empire fall prey to corruption and the false gods of totalitarianism. Instead of Skynet or the British King George III, we have the dissolution of the parliament and the rise of an evil, omnipotent ruler.
Enter the rebels. Like John Connor, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Sir Alec Guiness ride to the rescue against the dark side of the force, and it’s no accident Darth Vader is dressed to kill just like a Nazi. The Darth dude, like the Terminators, is a kind of cyborg, with a computer-generated lower body only a robot could love—and a godlike voice from James Earl Jones that is downright Elizabethan.
Why do we watch? Why do they fight?
These rebel stories work for us here in America because when we watch them we automatically connect with our USA DNA. We don’t need to travel back in time to hear the bell tolling from the spire of the North Church to let us know that somebody a long time ago had to fight against overwhelming odds for the freedom and liberty we have today. Whether watching “Star Wars” or the “Sara Connor Chronicles,” we glean the ultimate power of truth and justice—but we also stay tuned because the forces of good always win. In the future, one can only hope the human race will be so lucky.