I waited 28 years to see this moment:
It hit me with the sort of power this scene had in 1991:
I didn’t even really know I was waiting that whole time, of course, because I didn’t even know it could be possible (especially after T3 ). But I was. I knew it after months of hearing about James Cameron talking another movie and my strong belief that it would be without Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor….and then, boom, they announced she was coming back!
Maybe the inclusion of Sarah Connor’s entry would have lost power once I saw the movie, due to being included in the trailers. It really didn’t. Then again, neither have those pull ups in over 28 years. I have now seen Terminator: Dark Fate three times, I hope to get to a theater again a few more times before it finishes up. I will, of course, also be adding the DVD to my regular gym line up (which is now mostly the first two Terminators, but sometimes I throw on the first two Aliens, sometimes Mad Max: Fury Road, and then there are some others, but mostly Terminator). I’ll likely do a full and spoilery review eventually, but right now this is more a reflective journey piece although I’ll discuss the movie somewhat and towards the end some spoilers about Sarah Connor will be touched upon.
I was 29, the same age Sarah was in Terminator 2: Judgment Day according to Dr. Silberman, when T2 came out Of course the movie taking place in 1994 or 1995 (I’m not going into the issues of the conflicting information we’re given on that, just go with what you prefer) while it was released in 1991 means I am technically a few years older than Sarah. On the other hand, Linda Hamilton was 34 at the time of filming (October 1990 through March 1991) and the release in July. So a few years here or there, both actress and character are my contemporaries. This also means that in one year half my life will have been spent with my feelings of connection to (okay, okay… being obsessed with) the character of Sarah Connor.
Hamilton and Carrie Fisher are really my most contemporary female action/sci-fi actresses I’m a fan of, but I discovered Linda late, when she discovered Sarah’s bad ass self, besides, I somehow missed The Terminator when it first came out and only saw it shortly before going to T2. Sigourney Weaver is just enough older to not feel quite so connected although I loved Alien and Aliens. Jamie Lee Curtis is totally my favorite in the horror genre and is even closer in age, but was the quintessential Final Girl in the original Halloween, so while I might have identified somewhat with Laurie Strode’s shy bookworm nerdiness, she wasn’t exactly a role model type back then. My childhood heroes were, of course, much older, not to mention sparse and more problematic. I can think of no others who really are near my age. It was like one day I had much older role models I wanted to be like (but probably butcher), then Sarah and BOOM! I was mom-age watching “kids” getting all the action. When Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the series, the movie was amusing but not a huge blip) came out only a few years after T2, I was closer in age to Kristine Sutherland’s Joyce than Buffy and her gang. Now, I’m even older than the parents on the CW’s Arrowverse shows, which has given me the characters I longed for as a teen, especially with Sara Lance in Legends of Tomorrow as well as Batwoman. (Although I admit to great disappointment that Alex Kingston’s Dinah Lance was not revealed as the original Black Canary, as in the books and would have given me a heroic peer, but rather replaced with the newly created Sara being first…they could have done both!!!. As it is, Kingston is the closet to my age of any of the other parents on these shows *sigh*)
I’ve I talked some about what it meant to me and how significant the timing was to discover this character in 1991 at a time when I was really working to figure out a Celtic Reconstrucionist Pagan warrior path for myself. Not just as fitness motivation, but martial arts as well. And simply not being a damn by-stander, so while our “activism” might be different on practical levels, there was a sense of “What would Sarah Connor do?” that kept me going at times and still does. Eventually, when I returned to the country, I also took up prepping and firearms training, all with Sarah on my mind. Of course, I also liked the way she dressed, being partial to all black and lots of pockets myself. However, I like more accessories (Celtic-styled, of course).
When Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came out just over a decade later, it was at first disappointing to learn that Sarah Connor was killed off before the movie starts. But it turned out to be so badly written that it was really more of a relief, especially in a way that if anyone felt they had to acknowledge the film as canon it could be that she faked it. Far better than the other options, like killing her off on screen either subjecting Hamilton to being in it or recasting her as they had John Connor. The Sarah Connor Charm School could maintain its own fanon, for us Sarah lived on. All was good. So far….
But Sarah Connor essentially got trapped in that 30ish stage as characters tend to do. In my 30s and early 40s, the issue of age was still peripheral but it was starting to show, after all I note above the realization I was closer to “mom” age than hero age already. Then when That TV Show came around my issues weren’t just that it was miscast and horribly written, but also that having them jump forward in time “Sarah” was kept 30ish when she, like I, would have been early middle aged. Of course, a middle aged woman could not be the title character of an action-scifi tv show, now could she? Seems that is still impossible.
So Sarah’s middle age was something of a mystery, although we got to see Linda in other roles and I even got to meet her in 2010. I was then two years shy of 50 years-old and with my first reading glasses, went to Chicago ComicCon to meet Linda Hamilton, who was then 54. And I remember feeling a bit “connected” as I noted readers on the table top of every woman (and Michael Biehn) I was there to see (with the exception of Kristanna Loken, the token “kid” on my list of the actors I met at the con). Of course, Linda isn’t Sarah, Sarah might have been taking to aging differently.
But there were some hints. Just before that con it was announced that Linda would be playing Chuck‘s mother. A mom-of-an-adult role, but in this case another kick ass mom far more relatable for me than, say BtVS‘s Joyce. And included homage such as “come with me if you want to live” and a shot of “Mary Elizabeth Bartowski” in lock-up doing chin-ups on an overturned bed seen on a monitor. The role was followed by her “mom” appearances in Defiance, which gave her a chance to explore struggles with bipolar disorder as it would be for someone in a post apocalyptic world where treatment was limited, and her “mentor-but-not-bio-mom” Lost Girl role.
Acacia in Lost Girl is my favorite of the three roles, despite my conflicted feelings over this series, which certainly had strong women, lesbian and bisexual characters but also had an annoying mixture of actual Gaelic cultural concepts (including faoladh, a huge part of my ongoing studies) mixed with nonsense (including how faoladh was misrepresented, never mind the horrid misrepresentation of my patron Goddess as an evil “Fae” title). Acacia had a style that was a bit more in keeping with my own than Sarah Connor’s, actually. I mean, I might often wear the basics of Sarah Connor’s T2 look, but I have a Gaelic warrior’s love of adornment as well. So I add a lot of jewelry not to mention tattoos (which you just figure Acacia has hidden under her leather). I do, on occasion, go heavy on eyeliner like Acacia, too. And I have a much loved 30+ year-old leather, more basic style than Acacia’s but decked out in tartan and chain mail. Yeah, I love Acacia…just wish Linda played such a character on a less problematic (for a folklore purist like me) show. But, none of these three were Sarah, exactly. Although clearly all shared different elements.
In the middle of this, of course, was another new “Sarah Connor” in the retconned disaster Genisys, making the character even younger as she starts her time-traveling at 18 (although Emilia Clarke was 29 or there about, as Hamilton had been in T1). (and also extremely horrible writing). Thankfully, this was extremely easy to ignore, even after I finally saw it as it was on a streaming service I already had when it landed there.
With Linda Hamilton appearing in the roles above, and Genisys not even a factor, it wasn’t hard to picture how a middle aged Sarah Connor might be like. It wasn’t the same as having that character right in front of us, though. It wasn’t getting to see her. It still left us with Sarah at 30something, something we could never aspire to be again. There have been few middle aged female action characters until recently, how could there be many when there are still few female action characters of any age or other designation; and even then some are supposedly “older” they’re still often only in their 40s and still often don’t survive long in the movie (I’m looking at you Wonder Woman).
The youthful focus, when we get strong women at all, isn’t surprising. We live in a youth obsessed culture, especially when it comes to women. There isn’t a minute that women living in this society don’t get the message that we’re only “worthy” when we are young and even then only if we are thin enough, pretty enough, “girly enough,” etc. Hollywood gets blamed, but that’s really a reflection, although one that teaches us “our place” and teaches cis het men where to put us. No matter a woman’s “worth” when young, we lose it as we age; first we are supposed to be mothers, then when too old for that we’re supposed to just disappear. Unless we try to hide it, fight it, pretend to be younger, but then we are mocked for that, too. And at some point we either become invisible or people get really cranky to see we’re still around. The ageist attacks on Linda Hamilton’s returning as Sarah Connor show this explicitly.
When you have been wanting representation of women fighters and the industry still falls short, it becomes even more aggravating when you realize that you’ve aged out of the small sampling. You’ve become invisible. You’re seen as decrepit, witj even the return of Linda as Sarah bringing up some seriously problematic misinformation about aging and fitness (I will likely be doing a piece on this, I have been fairly quiet on it but as a middle aged fitness professional with specialty certification in senior fitness, I have thoughts). Oh, yes, there has been some improvement which Dark Fate is part of, but there’s a long way to go to match the number of male action heroes we see of any age, but even more so for over 50.
There is, of course, Helen Mirren in RED, always to be brought up by those who wish to prove that somehow that one character is enough to balance the many older male stars/characters and we should just shut up about now. I love Mirren and I found her character fun, but completely token, and doesn’t even make up for there being three older men on the team. Not only the only woman in the “band” but “the nice little old lady who happens to be an assassin” is essentially the entire character Mirren’s given to work with. The role and the fact it’s trotted out anytime the subject comes up truly does nothing but scream the absence of strong older women in action roles.
We did have the Vuvalini of the Many Mothers in Mad Max: Fury Road and some even survived to the end. Fury Road is really the fist action movie where women were well represented, rather than token. Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is easy to recognize as A Strong Female Character but, along with the Vuvalini, the brides Furiosa is helping escape and the older woman who helped them all show their own strength and skills. While the old women were not central, they were vital, and in a movie with so many strong women, they don’t feel as token. Still, not central.
The return of General Leia in the new Star Wars trilogy was a great blessing, although her character was, again, vital but not centered. Yet she served as a wonderful backbone for the centering of Daisy Ridley’s Rey and then also Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose; a vital improvement from the “only woman in the entire universe” trope that unfortunately marked Leia’s original appearances way back when. I think we all suspected that Leia was meant to be central in the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker, as Han had been in The Force Awakens and Luke in The Last Jedi, if her tragic real-life death had not gotten in the way. This has been confirmed, but I’m not linking because, tbh, I can’t even bear to click on the links themselves it’s so heartbreaking. We have yet to know how much they were able to make her part of with left over footage. Of course, the character would have likely died in this final one by the end, anyway, the generational nature of the trilogy of trilogies is obvious, even if upsetting to many fans. But, personally, I’d much rather have a dead Leia in the franchise and a live Carrie Fisher in the world. We’ll never see quite the movie that might have been planned and that we might have hoped for.
Who knew it would be bookish nerd Laurie Strode who would bring an ass kicking middle-aged woman front and center ? In fact, who knew Laurie Strode in middle age would be conceived as very much the paranoid, prepping, obsessively trained sort of character that Sarah Connor was. That isn’t to say she was an actual copy, she was totally Laurie Strode, not Sarah Connor; she came to this place from and with her own trauma. Jamie Lee Curtis pulled off this off-screen arch beautifully, leading the next two generations of Strode women into the fight for their lives that she always knew would eventually come. Oh, and SPOILER! (but the cat’s kind of out of the bag now …and I’m so there for this too!) She survived. Because old women do not need to die to save the next generation of women warriors!
When Halloween (2018) was announced in Sept. 2017, I still believed that there would be no return for Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor and was perhaps even more annoyed. After seeing T2 3D, I was sure it was the one and only time I’d see Linda in the role in 3D, the last time I’d see her Sarah in a theater. I was never so happy to be wrong when just four days after hearing about Curtis’s Halloween return, Cameron announced Linda was returning as Sarah Connor. Along with a great statement that older badass women are not represented enough in action movies. Followed by the rather ominous note about “passing the baton.”
There is an important factor, of course, in having women of different ages as we do see in the last Skywalker trilogy, Halloween now and Dark Fate. It gives women and girls of all ages someone to reflect themselves. Diversity is still an overall issue (Halloween offers the least diversity, with the three generations being one white family). We’re not there yet, there’s work. That certain people are super mad about it is all the more sign how much we need to break the white cis het male default. That default, itself, no longer hinges on youth as much as it did with so many favorites still in action, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Hollywood still loves pairing older male stars with younger female costars, or younger looking.
Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is not young looking. Given that she’s probably younger than Hamilton (movie is set in 2020, see my mention above about their age difference) but looks older, she totally looks like someone who has faced trauma, has probably not really slept in over two decades and doesn’t give two shits about skin care or hair dye. She does look rough, and she should look rough. And seeing unapologetic aging in a woman who can kick ass is powerful for those of us who also show our age, yet still know that we have ass kicking potential.
Because we do. Sometimes, despite maybe a few more aches and pains (but, some of us have had them all our lives, anyway) and age related wear and tear (although, oddly, the issue I currently have interfering with my training and activity is associated with far younger folk, DeQuervain’s is also known as “New Mother’s Thumb” and more recently “Gamer’s Thumb” …in my case it might be “writer with a sticky space bar on her computer thumb”) mostly we don’t all feel all that different than we did decades ago. Especially given that not many of us who were very active in our youth were injury free then. I was always having to take breaks or work around something, it’s just that now some of those things might be “age related.”
Perhaps because of some of the physical stuff as well as life shit that got in the way, I have to say that I very much needed to see Sarah Connor’s return right now. I needed to see her having gone through (and still in) hell at a time when I’m feeling that. I needed to see her with gray hair and lines in her face, because …me too. I also needed to see a Sarah Connor who kicked ass as only she can. And at the side of another woman who can kick ass in a different way; not because the other woman, Mackenzie Davis’s Grace, is younger, but because she’s got augmentation that Sarah doesn’t. I needed to see each have strengths and weaknesses, that sometimes balanced each other. Grace is stronger and faster, but not so good on the long haul, while for Sarah the long haul is really what she knows.
This movie is part of a yet small trend of ending the single token female character, of women working together, of different aged women working together. This trend needs to grow. Perhaps it won’t in the Terminator series, for the low box office might have now ended it for good. Or, horribly after we waited so long for this, yet another fucking reboot which might appease those boys this upset so much. But I am glad we got a Terminator that was part of this trend, because I needed Sarah, who started as Final Girl and grew as Only One Woman Allowed, to be part of it.
It certainly plays into the mission of The Sarah Connor Charm School. It was our movie. Finally. And maybe when we needed it most.
If you haven’t seen it, get your ass into a theater seat before it’s too late!