The Back to the Future franchise has earned its place among the classics, and that’s why Costume Discounters is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its release this week. It’s one of those magical movie trilogies that everyone has seen and everyone loves. If, somehow, you’ve managed to befriend someone who does not like Back to the Future, we suggest you revoke that friendship immediately.
While Back to the Future is well-loved, that love primarily extends to only the first and second movies. More often than not, if the third installment comes up, it’s usually so someone can mention that they haven’t seen it, or that they did see it and didn’t like it.
The natural question to ask, of course, is “What went wrong?” Did they change up the light-hearted formula and dive deep into the challenging moral and conceptual issues of time travel? Did the original cast fail to return, leaving us with a forgotten 80’s pop star in the role of Marty McFly? Did they eschew a trippy, hover-boarded version of the future for an old west setting? No, no, and, well, yes, but if you’re trying to say that you wouldn’t use a time machine to go play cowboy, well then there are two things in this article worth unfriending someone over.
In actuality, Back to the Future Part III was filmed back-to-back with Part II. So the same time travel mechanics from the other films are there, along with the same goofy tone and Biff Tannen-buffoonery. But there was one major shift from the first two films: Part III is not Marty McFly’s story—it’s Doc Brown’s.
In Part I, Marty had to get back to his own time, save Doc Brown’s life, and try to ensure his own existence after derailing his parents’ romance by getting his mother to fall for himself rather than his dad. In Part II, with Doc Brown alive and well, and his parents not only in love, but much better off, Marty is tasked with taking the time machine in the other direction and saving his children, his own future, and the entire future timeline. Throughout it all, Doc Brown acts as his trusty mentor and sidekick, providing the tools, supplies, and guidance Marty needs to save the day.
But in Part III, the tables have turned. Ahead of him, Marty has happy parents and a loving girlfriend who will become a loving wife. Sure, he has to slot the final piece in place to erase his own tragic future, but for the most part, his job is done. And while the plot kicks off once again with Marty on a quest to save the good doctor’s life, it’s Doc Brown who takes his turn in the spotlight.
Shortly after Marty arrives in the Old West, he gets stranded… again. So Doc Brown does what he always does and searches for a way to get the time-displaced young man back, once and for all, to 1985. But in the process, the doctor pulls a Marty and interrupts a fateful meeting, this time between a beautiful woman named Clara Clayton, and the bottom of a canyon. Instead of falling for the Grim Reaper, Clara falls for good ol’ Doc and we’re off to the races. We watch as the two characters fall deeper in love, focusing for the first time on Doc Brown’s life.
And because Doc Brown is our hero, it unfortunately falls to him to fail tragically. After revealing his identity as a time-displaced mad doctor from the future, he loses Clara, who writes him off as a liar too cowardly to break things off, and breaks his heart in the process. With our hero seemingly down for the count, it’s time for our noble sidekick to come in and provide a much-needed pep talk. Enter one Marty McFly.
After Marty picks up Doc Brown and dusts him off, we head to the final act. And this time, Marty’s only there to move a few obstacles out of Doc Brown’s way and help him find his courage. For those who may have missed the role reversal, Marty passes the mantle of the hero to Doc Brown in a literal way by giving him the all-important hover board. With it, Doc Brown saves the danger-prone Clara, and sacrifices his own chance at returning to the present to ensure Marty’s safe homecoming.
To provide a final end-note to his dramatic arc, Doc makes a grand return at the end of the film, ditching his trademark DeLorean for a high flying, time traveling steam engine crewed by the doctor, his wife Clara, and their two children.
So to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Back to the Future, do yourself a favor and watch the whole trilogy. And to really get into the spirit for Part III, make sure to don some costumes from the wild west.