Sylvester Stallone will always be best known for his role as Rocky Balboa. However, through the 1980s and beyond, there was another popular character that Stallone has played numerous times: John Rambo. Stallone first played Rambo in 1982’s First Blood, and now it appears the character will finally bid his own farewell in the aptly named Rambo: Last Blood.
While the name Rambo by itself has become a recognized term for macho combat, considering it’s been nearly 40 years since First Blood, and over 10 years since the last entry in this franchise, there’s a good chance most people don’t even remember everything John Rambo has been through in his life, so here’s everything you need to remember before Last Blood hits screens on Friday.
Rambo Fought In Vietnam And Was A POW
John Rambo fought in the Vietnam War, where he earned multiple commendations, including the Congressional Medal of Honor. However, he, like many unfortunate souls, has many scars as a result of his time there. Some are physical, some are not.
When we meet Rambo in the first film, he discovers that the last living member of his unit has died of cancer as a result of Agent Orange exposure. He drifts into the sleepy town of Hope, Washington, where he runs afoul of a sheriff who sees him as nothing more than a vagrant. After being arrested, Rambo’s body is shown to be covered in scars, and in brief flashback moments, we learn that he was captured and tortured while a prisoner of war. It’s mentioned in the sequel that he was able to escape from the camp.
Rambo Suffers From PTSD
While, even in the early 80s, post traumatic stress disorder wasn’t as well understood as it is now, the fact that people coming back from Vietnam were dealing with psychological and emotional difficulties was certainly known. John Rambo is one of these people. It’s never said outright, but it’s clear.
In First Blood, Rambo is abused by some bad cops, and we see him making mental connections between this abuse and what he suffered while at war. It causes him to lash out and attack, leading to the conflict in the first film, and by association, the entire franchise.
At the end of First Blood Rambo breaks down completely in front of his former commander, talking about the flashbacks that he has and the horrors he witnessed, and it’s clear the man needs help. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that he ever really gets it..
Rambo Went Back To Vietnam
The closest thing to therapy that John Rambo seems to get is being placed back into a situation where he feels more comfortable. Unfortunately, for him, that means fighting in the jungle. 1985’s Rambo: First Blood – Part II sees Rambo in prison following the events of the first movie, but he’s offered a pardon in exchange for going back to the camp where he was a prisoner in order to determine if there are any soldiers left behind who are still there.
Rambo gets captured and tortured again. It turns out there are some POWs who have been held in Vietnam for a decade. Rambo ends up escaping again, but this time he’s able to bring some of the missing soldiers home with him. He also blows up a small chunk of Vietnam on the way out the door.
He Fought in Afghanistan
There are a lot of elements of the Rambo franchise that haven’t necessarily aged well, but the plot of Rambo III may have aged worst of all. The movie, released in 1988, sees Rambo go into Afghanistan in an attempt to rescue his former commander Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna). Trautman was there to help support Afghani freedom fighters against the invading Russian army.
This fits with the politics of the day, as the U.S. military did exactly this. However, with a modern eye, the whole thing is a little unfortunate when you realize just who some of those freedom fighters actually were. Only three years after Rambo III came out, the U.S. would be invading Afghanistan itself and battling some of those same rebels.
Rambo’s Only Friend Is Gone
The only recurring character throughout the Rambo franchise, beyond Rambo himself, is Colonel Sam Trautman. He was played by Richard Crenna in the first three Rambo films. However, Crenna had died before the fourth film went into production. It was dedicated in his memory.
Trautman’s fate isn’t specifically dealt with in Rambo, but with another 20 years having passed since that movie, it seems clear that the colonel, the man who trained Rambo, is canonically dead as well. With Rambo’s unit having all died before the events of First Blood, this makes Rambo truly alone. Nobody alive knows what he has been through.
Rambo Came Home
Throughout the entire Rambo film franchise, Rambo is a drifter. We don’t know where he’s coming from when we first meet him in First Blood, but there’s no indication he has a home at all. Throughout the movies, he holds various jobs and spends most of his life living in Thailand, but it’s clear he never really makes it home.
It’s mentioned more than once that he’s from Arizona, and at the end of the fourth movie, simply titled Rambo, we see him arrive at a ranch belonging to an R. Rambo. He mentions earlier in the movie that his father may or may not still be alive, so this is likely the family homestead. The wandering soldier has decided to stop wandering.
Rambo has had an awfully long road to Last Blood. While the majority of the films have focused on him being an unstoppable super soldier, he’s also a tragic figure. He went through war and then had to deal with the fact that said war was unpopular. All this left scars. Scars,which, through the four movies we have seen, clearly have not yet healed.
Rambo: Last Blood opens in theaters this Friday, September 20.