Why Back to the Future III is the Superior Sequel to the Original


Every American science fiction series involving time travel has to have a Western arc. It’s an unwritten law of storytelling.


And of course, the best time travel movie series is no exception.


Nor was Back to the Future’s take on the Western genre unexpected. Doc and Marty’s trip to the Old West was foreshadowed in the cliffhanger ending of Part II. And the storyline in which the Doc gets stuck in 1885 appeared in early scripts for that movie.


But the film makers decided to spin that particular time journey off into its own installment of the franchise. And we are the richer for it.



In contrast the the previous two films in the series, the synopsis for Back to the Future Part III will be much more straightforward. Because it has a less convoluted plot.


  • A time travel accident strands Doc Brown in 1885. But he’s always wanted to visit the Old West, so he decides to stay.
  • Therefore Marty once again seeks 1955 Doc’s help to get back home. But old newspaper records reveal that Doc was gunned down soon after arriving in the Wild West.
  • Therefore Marty travels back to 1885 to prevent Doc’s murder. But the DeLorean’s fuel line is damaged, leaving it immobile.
  • Therefore Doc hatches a daring plan to hijack a train so it can push the car up to the necessary 88 mph. But Marty’s attempts to save Doc from Biff’s outlaw great-grandfather paint a target on his back instead, while Doc gains a love interest, both of which complicate the plan.
  • Marty outwits “Mad Dog” Tannen to win their gunfight, so he and Doc succeed in stealing the train. But Doc’s new sweetheart Clara intrudes on the proceedings, jeopardizing Marty and Doc’s return trip.
  • Doc saves Clara a second time but is forced to stay in 1885.
  • Marty returns to 1985 and sees the time machine destroyed like Doc wanted.
  • As prophesied in Part II, Needles challenges Marty to a drag race while he and Jennifer are riding in his new truck. But Marty heeds the lessons he’s learned traveling through time and conquers the vice that would have ruined his future.
  • Doc returns in a new time machine made from a train, along with Clara and their two sons. He restates the series’ theme that one’s future is what one makes it, gifts Marty a photograph of them with the then-new city hall clock, and takes off for more adventures.


You can see the secret of this movie’s success. Every transition between two plot points until the conclusion can be described as “therefore” or “but”. That is master-level pacing.



Other commenters have noted that the first two movies in this series never waste a second of screen time. With the third installment, Zemeckis and Gale perfected their approach. Back to the Future III’s plotting and editing are as tight as fiddle strings.


It helps that Part III features even more action than its two predecessors, which is only fitting for a Western. And like all good homages, this isn’t just a Western-flavored sci fi story. The plot works as a Western even if you take out the science fiction tropes.


The same goes for Doc and Clara’s romance subplot.



Speaking of which, the writers made the conscious choice to shift focus from Marty’s family to Doc’s personal conflicts. Giving him a love interest from the past was the perfect way to explore his character, especially given his strict code of scientific ethics. Doc felt like a main character waiting to break out in the first two movies, and the film makers finally let him shine at full intensity in this one.


Not that Marty doesn’t get any closure. This movie manages to close the door on the arbitrary flaw he was given in Part II, and what’s more, do it in a satisfying way.


He lost a DeLorean but gained a Hilux. I’d take that trade.


The one potentially discordant note is Doc building a second time machine after becoming adamant throughout the series that they’re too dangerous to exist. But his change of heart can be overlooked due to Clara’s influence and the story’s demand for the protagonist and the relationship character to complete their arc.


The Conclusion:

People who say that Back to the Future II is the better sequel are tasteless philistines, and maybe insane. Not only is Back to the Future III the cast and crew’s favorite, it’s a less convoluted, more tightly edited, and more satisfying entry than the incomplete transitional installment of Part II.


Dust off your VCR, pop in your Back to the Future III tape, and gather the family for one of the most endearing, entertaining trips through time in history.


Reminder: The form of FTL travel used in my second hit mech series is in fact a form of quantum time travel. The third and final book of the Combat Frame XSeed S arc is on its way. Get ready for the stunning conclusion. Read the first book now!



Originally published here.

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Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is a best selling science fiction author and a John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer finalist. His second book, Souldancer, won the first ever Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel., and its sequel, The Secret Kings, became a 2017 Dragon Award finalist for Best Science Fiction Novel. He's currently crowdfunding his latest work Combat Frame XSeed: CY 40 Second Coming on Indiegogo. Read more of his work at brianniemeier.com or pick up his books via Amazon.