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The Entire Rambo Story Explained

In 1982, Sylvester Stallone starred in a film about a homeless Vietnam veteran who was forced to relive his past trauma and return to a life of war after a local sheriff began hassling him. The film was originally supposed to end with Stallone's character, John Rambo, dying rather than continuing to suffer as an outcast, but Stallone resisted that idea, and First Blood was ultimately released with an ending that saw Rambo living to fight another day ... and another day after that. 

Nearly four decades later, John Rambo is still fighting his battles on the big screen. First Blood Part II followed the original film in 1985, Rambo III came along in 1988, and then Stallone carried on the story with Rambo in 2008, proving he still had that classic John Rambo ruthlessness 20 years after the franchise had seemingly come to an end. Now, with Rambo: Last Blood on the horizon, we're retracing every bloody step of John Rambo's harrowing life. This is the Rambo story explained.

Rambo's early life

John Rambo was born in Arizona on July 6, 1947, and what little we know of his early life is cobbled together from various references he and other characters have made to it over the course of the four films so far. We know his mother died when he was very young, and that he grew learning how to work with horses on his estranged father's ranch. His father was an abusive alcoholic who threatened young Rambo's life, and the two nearly killed each other on one occasion. His partial Navajo ancestry meant that he also spent time with the local Navajo elders in Arizona, which is where he learned to use a bow and arrow with such skill. 

Rambo's ongoing problems at home, which ultimately led him to disconnecting from his father almost entirely (in Rambo, he admits that he doesn't even know if his father is still alive), were pushed behind him when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966 at the age of 18. After nine months of training, he was deployed to Vietnam, where he would come to learn his greatest talent might be as a natural warrior.

Rambo was a decorated soldier ... and a prisoner of war

Rambo's initial military service in Vietnam was actually only a small taste of what was coming for him. He served two tours with the 101st Airborne before returning to the United States to begin the kind of training that would ultimately make him a legend. Rambo underwent extensive combat and survival training, learned to speak the many languages of Southeast Asia, and he became proficient in numerous types of weaponry, from vehicles to handguns. He quickly became a Green Beret, and soon after, he was sent back to Vietnam as part of Baker Team, an eight-man group of the Special Forces elite who specialized in classified missions. 

Rambo continued working in deep cover and reconnaissance missions, with some additional training, until he was captured by the Viet Cong after an ambush and became a prisoner of war. For the next several months, he watched as his captors tortured his comrades from Baker Team, as he was tortured himself via hard labor and sleep deprivation. On top of all that, he was tied up and cut with a knife, which gave him his trademark scars. Fortunately, Rambo managed to escape the POW camp. He returned to military service, but the deep trauma he'd suffered began to show through in the form of a nervous breakdown, and eventually, the man was honorably discharged.

Rambo finds trouble in Hope

Over the course of his military career, Rambo was credited with 59 confirmed kills, and he earned four Bronze Stars, two Silver Stars, four Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Cross, and a Congressional Medal of Honor for his service to his country. When he returned home, though, he found America less than hospitable to Vietnam veterans, and he spent the next five years struggling as his post-traumatic stress disorder from the war went untreated. 

In December 1981, Rambo traveled to Washington State to visit Delmar Barry, a friend from Baker Team, only to be told by Barry's family that he'd died as a result of Agent Orange exposure. This made Rambo the last surviving member of Baker Team. 

Rambo moved on, and wandered into the nearby town of Hope, where the local sheriff Will Teasle tried to quickly usher him out of town for fear that he'd cause trouble. Rambo, who was just looking for something to eat, went back into Hope anyway, leading Teasle to arrest him. Teasle's deputies began harassing and threatening Rambo at the station, causing him to have flashbacks to his time as a prisoner of war. And then suddenly, the man just snapped, going into Vietnam War mode. Using his Green Beret skills, Rambo fought his way out of the station before making his getaway on a stolen motorcycle.

In the ensuing search, Teasle's deputy, Art Galt, began firing at Rambo from a helicopter. Desperate, Rambo jumped from a cliff face to a tree, injuring himself in the process. With Galt bearing down on him, Rambo retaliated by hurling a rock at the chopper. As a result, the helicopter pilot lost control, and Galt fell to his death. Yeah, Rambo hand't meant to kill the guy, and yeah, it was self-defense, but now he was wanted for killing a cop. 

Rambo surrenders

Dismayed over the death of Galt, Rambo tried to convince Teasle that it was accidental, and he begged the sheriff for no more trouble. Teasle, driven to rage by the loss of his friend, continued the fight, as Rambo incapacitated his deputies in the woods. The National Guard arrived to help with the search, and with them came Col. Sam Trautman, Rambo's former commanding officer. Via police radio, Trautman tried to convince Rambo to surrender, but Rambo insisted Teasle "drew first blood," and he refused to come in quietly. 

With the manhunt ramping up, the National Guard troops went as far as blowing up an abandoned mine to try to kill Rambo, but he escaped into the town of Hope and blew up a gas station to distract the soldiers and police while he pursued Teasle. Hungry for vengeance, Rambo returned to the police station and managed to nearly kill Teasle as men surrounded the building. Trautman intervened, and tried to convince Rambo to surrender. After Trautman reminded Rambo that he was the only survivor of Baker Team and that he would surely die if he didn't give himself up, Rambo broke down in tears. Weeping and grieving, the veteran poured out all the horrors he'd experienced during and after the war. With Trautman's help, Rambo surrendered to the authorities peacefully, and the great warrior was ultimately sentenced to hard labor in prison.

The Rambo story returns to Vietnam

Rambo spent the next four years in prison, and while he wasn't happy to be behind bars, he did seem to appreciate the structure the life afforded him after years of wandering. That all changed when Col. Trautman returned and offered him a presidential pardon and his freedom. In exchange, Rambo would have to assist in an operation to confirm reports of American prisoners still being held in Vietnam. Rambo was released and introduced to Marshall Murdock, the government official in charge of the mission, who told Rambo that he was only supposed to photograph the POW camps and not to engage the enemy or conduct a rescue. 

Rambo reluctantly agreed to this, but the mission was rocky from the start. An issue with his parachute meant that he was forced to drop into Vietnam with limited weapons and equipment. Once he was on the ground, Rambo met up with Co Bao, a Vietnamese woman working with American intelligence, who led him to the camp. When Rambo spotted an American prisoner tied up out in the open, he disobeyed orders and rescued him. In the ensuing battle, Rambo destroyed a Vietnamese gunboat and asked for extraction by American forces. Murdock, fearing a scandal if the American public found out about the remaining prisoners being left in Vietnam, declined, leaving Rambo to be captured by the Vietnamese and interrogated by their Russian allies within the camp.

Rambo goes rogue

Winding up in a Vietnamese/Russian POW camp is never any fun, especially for John Rambo. And when Lt. Col. Podovsky, the Russian officer in charge at the camp, showed up on the scene, things got nasty for our poor hero. Podovsky tortured Rambo and demanded he send a message to the Americans telling them to cease all intelligence operations at the Vietnamese camp. Rambo agreed, but when he was put in contact with Murdock on the radio, he instead told the bureaucrat that he was coming for him. 

After putting the backstabbing weasel in his place, Rambo began fighting the Russians. Meanwhile, Co had managed to sneak into the camp by posing a sex worker, and she was able to help Rambo fight their way out. Tragically, just as Rambo promised Co that he would take her back to America, she was shot by a Vietnamese soldier. An enraged Rambo buried her, then fought back, eventually destroying the camp and freeing the remaining prisoners there, all while killing dozens of Vietnamese and Soviet soldiers, including Podovsky. 

When he returned to the American base with the POWs, Rambo immediately made for Murdock's office and machine-gunned his entire command center (after the personnel had cleared out) before threatening Murdock with a knife. Trautman, who was also dismayed by Murdock's actions, intervened and asked Rambo to walk away and take his government pardon. Rambo, once again feeling betrayed by his country's treatment of its soldiers, spared Murdock's life, but he didn't return to America.

The Vietnam vet heads to Afghanistan

Three years after things went crazy in Vietnam, Col. Trautman tracked down Rambo, who was living in a kind of self-imposed exile in Thailand, fighting in the streets to earn money. Trautman asked Rambo for help in a CIA mission to provide aide to Afghan fighters battling the Soviets. Of course, Rambo declined, as he was tired of going to war for a country that didn't seem to want him. However, when he later got word that Trautman had been captured in Afghanistan, that totally changed everything. Rambo decided to embark on a rescue mission to bring his mentor and friend home, so he headed over to Afghanistan to infiltrate the Soviet base where Trautman was being held. 

Rambo initially sought help with a local group of Mujahideen, but he found them reluctant to aide him with full force. So Rambo being Rambo, he attempted to proceed alone. He was able to rescue Trautman, but Soviet Colonel Zaysen launched a pursuit, determined to kill Rambo and Trautman both. Zaysen finally seemed to corner the two men at the Pakistani border with the full force of his troops, but that's when the Mujahideen fighters came to Rambo's aide. And after commandeering a Soviet tank, Rambo killed Zaysen in the world's most epic game of chicken. (When it comes to tank versus helicopter, the tank always comes out on top.) With the battle won, Rambo and Trautman left Afghanistan together, and Rambo ultimately returned to isolation in Thailand.

The Green Beret comes out of exile

Around 20 years passed after the incident in Afghanistan, and during all that time, John Rambo managed to maintain his quiet life in Thailand, earning a small living by catching and selling snakes and transporting people on his boat. But that all changed when a group of missionaries from Colorado asked if he would take them into Burma to provide humanitarian aid amid the Saffron Revolution. Rambo was reluctant, but he agreed after one of the missionaries, Sarah Miller, convinced him that they could make a difference. 

After killing a group of pirates who wanted to rape Sarah, Rambo dropped the missionaries off in Burma, only to later be approached by their minister, who informed them of their capture by government soldiers amid a mass slaughter. A big softie at heart, Rambo agreed to aide a group of mercenaries hired by the church to rescue the missionaries. At first, the mercenary leader, Lewis, was reluctant to accept Rambo's help beyond simple transport, but Rambo inserted himself into the operation, determined to rescue Sarah and her friends. And obviously, things got super bloody. In the middle of a fierce firefight, Rambo pretty much single-handedly rescued the mercenaries and the missionaries from essentially every bad guy in Burma. And thanks to his amazing machine gun abilities, he also inspired the local Karen rebels to fight back against the oppressive SPDC regime.

After rescuing Sarah, Rambo took her message of kindness to heart, and he returned home to Arizona to visit his father for the first time in many years.

What will happen next in the Rambo story?

Rambo: Last Blood will pick up roughly a decade after the events of Rambo, and while the film hasn't been released as of this writing, we do know a few things about the plot. Rambo seems to have stayed in Arizona, and he's made at least some kind of peace with his existence there, thanks to "the only family I've ever known." Last Blood will feature Rambo's niece (though we don't yet know if she's a blood relative or more of a chosen family relative) in peril after she's abducted by a Mexican cartel. In an effort to get her back at all costs, Rambo will revisit his old combat skills one last time, heading into Mexico to battle the cartel. We don't yet know exactly how that will unfold, how much we'll learn about Rambo's home and family life, or how well he's dealing with his past trauma even in the peaceful times before the shooting starts again, but we'll find out very soon. However, we do know two things for sure. First, Rambo: Last Blood will hit theaters on September 20, 2019. Second, there will definitely be some blood.