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SYFY WIRE San Diego Comic-Con 2019

He’ll be back: Edward Furlong returning as John Connor in Terminator: Dark Fate

By Don Kaye & Matthew Jackson
Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator: Dark Fate is aiming to jumpstart the sci-fi franchise in ways no sequel since Terminator 2: Judgement Day has been able to. It's doing so by ditching those sequels to alternate timelines, bringing back original creator James Cameron and original star Linda Hamilton, and roping in fresh blood in the form of director Tim Miller and stars Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, and Gabriel Luna. So far we've only seen a few glimpses of what this new vision of the Terminator universe aims to be in the form of a single trailer and a few images, but on Thursday the filmmakers showed up in Hall H to start San Diego Comic-Con with a bang and show us exactly what their movie is made of. 

The panel, which SYFY WIRE attended, kicked off with a special video message from Cameron, who couldn't make it to San Diego because he's busy on the set of the Avatar sequels in New Zealand. What started as pretty standard hype generation for the movie, in which Cameron promised they'd made "the best Terminator movie for 2019," quickly turned in real news when Cameron revealed that Edward Furlong has returned to the franchise as a now-grown John Connor.

Yes, the direct connections to Terminator 2 are apparently deeper than the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and the goal of ignoring previous sequels. Dark Fate will also restore Furlong's version of John Connor — who first appeared as a rebellious kid protected by Arnold Schwarzengger's T-800 in T2 — to the franchise.

After Cameron’s video introduction, moderator Grae Drake brought out Dark Fate’s director, Tim Miller, who noted he’s been visiting Comic-Con for 25 years, but it took the success of Deadpool to get him into Hall H. In his introduction, Cameron emphasized that Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor was essential to telling this story, saying "There is no Sarah but Linda."

Miller continued that thread by noting that Dark Fate is all about finishing the story of Hamilton’s version of Sarah Connor. Because Dark Fate is a direct sequel to Terminator 2, that means the new film will deal directly with Sarah’s future-altering decisions at the end of that film, and how those choices have echoed down the intervening years. To further emphasize its direct ties to T2, Miller also told the Hall H crowd that his film will indeed be Rated R.

"The DNA of Terminator is an R-rated f***in' movie,” Miller said. You can get sense of that NSFW edge in the newly released BTS footage below:

Then, it was time for Linda Hamilton to take the stage, who received a raucous ovation from the Hall H fans. In discussing why she chose to return to the franchise, Hamilton echoed Cameron and Miller’s sentiments of curiosity and excitement over how Sarah Connor might feel now.

"I felt there was so much more now we could explore, and rock it as a woman of a certain age,” Hamilton said.

To “rock it” as Sarah Connor, Hamilton put herself through the wringer to get into cyborg-fighting shape, training hard for a “good year” to prepare for the character again. For Hamilton, though, the physical work was just the beginning.

"People will talk about the training, but the hard work I did was the deep exploration of a woman who's an outsider, who's life hasn't worked out so well and who's lost so much,” she said. “I went to my places of deepest sorrow and deepest loss, and that's where I found Sarah Connor."

After Hamilton’s time in the spotlight, the new stars of Dark Fate took the stage: Natalia Reyes (who noted she was not even born yet when the first film was released), Diego Boneta, Makenzie Davis, and Gabriel Luna. One of the joys of the first Dark Fate trailer was watching the meeting of Grace (Davis), the human-machine hybrid guardian, meeting Sarah Connor. It was two generations of badass women converging in one moment, something the film is definitely looking to play up, but who’s the better fighter? Hamilton, of course, had an answer.

"She's definitely stronger and younger, but I'm meaner,” Hamilton said, and Davis had to agree.

Terminator Dark Fate at SDCC

After a brief discussion with the younger cast members, the original Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, made his grand entrance. He’s been involved in more Terminator films than any other actor, he’s basically the franchise mascot, and he’s kept coming back through thick and thin. So, why is he still here? The answer is simple.

"Of course I need to come back,” Schwarzenegger said, “I'm addicted to Terminator!”

Schwarzenegger went on to talk about the joy of the Terminator reunion that is Dark Fate, and revealed that he’s already had a chance to see a cut of the film.

"I feel very indebted to Jim Cameron for having created this character and these movies, and I'm happy he and Linda came back, and that he was smart enough to get Tim Miller to direct it,” he said. “I was blown away when I saw it for the first time three weeks ago."

Terminator: Dark Fate

After a little more discussion of Dark Fate and the surrounding franchise, including a chat about favorite lines in the series (Hamilton’s is, unsurprisingly, “You’re terminated, f***er”) it was time to show some new footage from the film. Here’s what we saw on the Hall H screen.

The footage opens on a car chase in which the new Terminator model, the Rev-9 (Luna) is pursuing Grace, Dani (Reyes), and Miguel (Boneta) in a truck. As with the first trailer, we get a sense of this Terminator's terrifying new powers when it splits into two separate Terminators, but Rev-9's hunt is cut short when none other than Sarah Connor shows up, blows him sky high, and says to Grace and Dani, "I'll be back."

From there, we got a succession of clips from the movie featuring Sarah Connor's life as a Terminator hunter, and a connection with an old friend. The T-800 is living out in a cabin and using the name Carl, which Sarah swears she will never call him. Besides the reluctance to use his adopted name, Sarah also reveals that she still maintains a darker connection to the T-800, one that she's apparently been nurturing ever since the very first film. In one moment, she promises, "When this is over, I'm going to kill you."

In his unemotional, robotic way, the T-800 simply replies, "Understood."

It all culminates in a shootout in a plane's cargo bay in which Rev-9 unloads bullets at Sarah, only to have them blocked by the T-800. Sarah, still not too friendly with her cyborg friend, shouts "Don't touch me!" when the T-800 shields her, but then they team up and start firing at him together. To prove he's still got it, the T-800 caps this all off by pinning down Rev-9 and blowing his face off to reveal that new, black cybernetic skeleton beneath the skin. 

With that, the panel was over, but not before Miller rolled the footage one more time for the audience. 

Terminator: Dark Fate is in theaters Nov. 1.

Click here for SYFY WIRE’s full coverage of San Diego Comic-Con 2019, including up-to-the-minute news, exclusive interviews, and videos.