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Leaving aside the dramatic needs of Terminator the movie, it seems utterly dumb for Kyle Reese to have to play catch-up to T101, and have to convince Sarah Connor he's out to help her. Even though being shot at may help as motivator, it'd likely have been easier to befriend her earlier way before the attack, and build up a level of trust and rapport.

Is there an in-universe explanation for why Kyle Reese was NOT sent back in time earlier than T101 so he'd have more time to prepare?

  • If the Terminator went Through 30 minutes ago! I Would say go through 45minutes Earlier. Like 2:00 I would go Through 1:25 to 1:15pm. – user48865 Jul 28 '15 at 23:46
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From the transcript:

Silberman: Is that when you captured the lab complex and found... What is it called? The time displacement equipment?
Reese: That's right. The Terminator had already gone through. Connor sent me to intercept and they blew the whole place.

Based on that description they entered the facility just after the Terminator had gone through. Connor called for a volunteer to go back and just sent Reese through at the same setting.

Connor probably knew that the story of his father by heart, he knew his mother only had a few days with him before John was conceived and the Terminator killed his father. He's trying to perserve the existing timeline (by making sure he exists) rather than change it. Sending Reese to an earlier time would have been a big gamble. What if his mother didn't like him? What if Reese was imprisioned and failed to protect her? Reese clearly wasn't cut out to lay low in the past. He didn't know how to behave in a civilized society and he clearly didn't understand that the people in the past wouldn't believe his story.

  • 5
    To summarize, self-fulfilling prophecy. – Casey Kuball Aug 17 '12 at 14:48
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I don’t know of an in-universe explanation given, but because I fancy a bit of speculation, it’s quite possible they couldn’t control when Reese was sent back to.

Skynet may have constructed the time machine itself. The humans may not have been able to figure out how to adjust it to send Reese back to a specific time. For all we know, they just hit the “Dial last number” button.

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    Except with a time machine, you have all the time in the world to figure out how it works. Once you do you send the person back to whenever they need to go. – Jack B Nimble Aug 16 '12 at 20:15
  • Oh, don’t start me thinking about temporal logic, my brain will fold in on itself. – Paul D. Waite Aug 16 '12 at 20:19
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    You aren't thinking 4th dimensionally. – Jack B Nimble Aug 16 '12 at 20:19
  • If you take more time to figure out how it works, you're taking the chance of Skynet recapturing it. – Joe White Aug 17 '12 at 2:06
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    @JackBNimble: I would speculate that they attacked a Skynet facility; So it would simply be absurd to try to figure out such complex machinery in the middle of a military operation. They probably had a couple minutes to send Kyle back before the machine manage to reclaim the facility and kill everybody. – bitmask Aug 17 '12 at 4:53
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In universe (at least according to the book) - they did not know enough about the highly complex equipment and maths to safely perform this calculation. They kept the settings the same and just sent him back after the terminator.

  • Which book was it? Thx – DVK-on-Ahch-To Sep 27 '12 at 1:19
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    The novelisation of the first terminator film ... or maybe the second (actually I think it was te second) - it has been a good few years since I read them! – Stefan Sep 27 '12 at 6:19
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I always believed that this most primitive version of the time machine could only send you back a fixed amount of time - so if the Terminator went through 30 minutes ago, you would end up arriving 30 minutes after him.

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    Sorry, this is a oersonal opinion, not an in-universe explanation like I requested. In-universe means it is firmly based on the facts of the works themselves. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Aug 17 '12 at 7:50
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Pure speculation on my part, but I like the idea that the T-1000 was sent first to kill John (which is more logical anyway), and the T-800 sent back to intercept the T-1000.

Perhaps after doing this, there's a brief battle and Skynet has to send a more normalized T-800 back out of desperation, but sends it to an earlier time so nobody will know it is coming. Taking the equipment back for good, John sends Reese back in time with no Terminators prepped to take a human's place and needing to destroy all the equipment so they don't have to do this again in case the Time Displacement Equipment is taken yet again.

This way Reese and the Terminator are actually the final battle he talks about, despite being sent back chronologically before the T-1000 and the T-800 were sent back.

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