The concept of traveling to the past to save the future is a common trope in science fiction. It often involves a hero or group of heroes traveling back in time to prevent a catastrophic event from occurring or to alter a key moment in history that has led to a negative outcome in the present or future. This trope has been explored in various media, from movies like “Back to the Future” and “Terminator” to TV shows like “Doctor Who” and “Quantum Leap” to video games like “Chrono Trigger” and “Life is Strange.” In this essay, we will explore the different variations of this trope and their significance in science fiction.
One variation of the “traveling to the past to save the future” trope is the idea of a time loop. This is where the hero is stuck in a repeating cycle where they keep going back to the same point in time and reliving the same events over and over again. This can be caused by various factors, such as a temporal anomaly, a malfunctioning time machine, or even a curse. In this scenario, the hero must figure out what they need to change in order to break the cycle and save the future.
An example of this trope can be seen in the movie “Edge of Tomorrow.” The protagonist, played by Tom Cruise, is stuck in a time loop where he keeps reliving the same day over and over again, which happens to be the day of a major battle against an alien invasion. He uses the knowledge he gains from each iteration of the loop to become a better fighter and eventually discovers a way to break the cycle and defeat the aliens.
Another variation of this trope is the idea of creating an alternate timeline. This is where the hero travels back in time and alters a key event that leads to a different outcome than what happened in the original timeline. This can be a risky strategy, as the hero risks creating unintended consequences that could be just as bad, if not worse, than the original timeline. This variation is often used in stories that explore the idea of the butterfly effect, where a small change in the past can have far-reaching consequences in the present or future.
An example of this trope can be seen in the movie “Back to the Future.” In this film, the protagonist, played by Michael J. Fox, travels back in time and inadvertently alters the timeline by preventing his parents from meeting and falling in love. This leads to a future where he doesn’t exist, and he must find a way to set things right and ensure that his parents meet and fall in love.
Another variation of this trope is the idea of a predestination paradox. This is where the hero travels back in time and inadvertently causes the very event they were trying to prevent. This is because their actions in the past were actually the cause of the event in the first place, and they were always meant to go back in time and cause it. This variation can be a mind-bending concept, as it raises questions about the nature of free will and destiny.
An example of this trope can be seen in the movie “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” In this film, the protagonist, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, is sent back in time to protect a young John Connor from an advanced terminator sent to kill him. However, it is eventually revealed that the advanced terminator was actually sent back by a future version of John Connor himself, who knew that the events of the first movie had led to the creation of the advanced terminator and sent his own protector back in time to ensure his survival.
The significance of the “traveling to the past to save the future” trope in science fiction lies in its exploration of the consequences of our actions and the potential impact they can have on the course of history. One of my favorite versions of this tale as old as time, well it’s not that old exactly, is Claremont’s and Byrne’s two issue story from the pages of the Uncanny X-Men.
“Days of Future Past” is a two-part storyline that was published in Uncanny X-Men #141 and #142 in 1981. It was written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by John Byrne, two of the most influential creators in the history of the X-Men franchise. The storyline has become one of the most iconic and celebrated in the history of superhero comics and has inspired numerous adaptations in other media, including a successful film adaptation in 2014.
The storyline takes place in a dystopian future where mutants are hunted and killed by the Sentinels, giant robots created by the government to eradicate all mutants. The surviving members of the X-Men, including Wolverine, Storm, and Colossus, are living in a concentration camp and planning a desperate mission to prevent this bleak future from ever happening. Their plan involves sending the consciousness of one of their members, Kitty Pryde, back in time to the present day to prevent a key event that triggered the creation of the Sentinels.
One of the key elements of the storyline is the use of time travel, which was a relatively new concept in superhero comics at the time. Claremont and Byrne were able to use the idea of time travel to explore the consequences of the X-Men’s actions and the potential impact they could have on the course of history. By sending Kitty’s consciousness back in time, they were able to create a ripple effect that would change the entire timeline and prevent the dystopian future from ever happening.
Another important element of the storyline is the exploration of the theme of hope. The X-Men are living in a world that is almost completely devoid of hope, where their very existence is constantly threatened by the Sentinels. Despite this, they are determined to fight back and to find a way to prevent this future from happening. The storyline shows that even in the bleakest of circumstances, there is always hope and the possibility of change.
The success of “Days of Future Past” has led to numerous adaptations in other media, including one of the better live-action films that replaced Kitty Pryde’s consciousness with Logan’s. I do enjoy that entry in the Fox run franchise.