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Cobra Kai Finally Explains This Daniel And Ali Mystery From Karate Kid 2

It can be tough to justify the absence of a major franchise character when the actor who played them doesn't return for a sequel. When The Karate Kid Part II had this problem with actress Elisabeth Shue, who played Daniel LaRusso's (Ralph Macchio) love interest Ali Mills in the first movie, they were a couple of decades early for Rogue One-style digital face replacement. 

The ever-popular "died offscreen" is an easy but often unsatisfying way to solve this problem, and perhaps a little over-the-top for a teenage karate movie. The Karate Kid series uses "gone away for awhile" twice in its sequels to dispatch Daniel's mom to various points across the country and leave him in the care of Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). 

But the story arc of a love interest is a little more complicated than that of a parent. You can break them up, but if you've spent an entire movie trying to get audiences to root for two people to get together as a couple, then severing that suddenly can lead to whiplash. If they're going to call it quits off-screen, you've got to make sure it's for a good reason. 

Now that Cobra Kai has reunited Daniel and Ali decades later, we have a more complete picture of just how their relationship played out.

Why did Daniel and Ali break up?

The Karate Kid Part II left fans of the first movie's romance unsatisfied. Daniel and Ali's breakup happens off-screen on the night of prom at the beginning of the movie, leaving Daniel to relate the story to Mr. Miyagi while still wearing his periwinkle blue tux and frilly blue pirate dress shirt. Somehow, in Daniel's telling, Ali both wrecked the car that Mr. Miyagi gave him in the first movie and revealed she was dating a football player from UCLA over the course of the same night, and that's that.

In terms of '80s movies briskly and efficiently dispatching characters, it's right up there with Indiana Jones drawing his revolver and shooting the swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But unlike that one, this moment falls far short of iconic, and how it plays shortchanges the character of Ali. She wasn't even this cruel to Johnny (William Zabka), who refused to accept their breakup and harassed her and Daniel throughout the entirety of the first movie. The two separate offenses Daniel complains about to Mr. Miyagi feel like a miscalculation, like the movie's trying too hard to garner sympathy points for Daniel. Wouldn't her wanting to date a college kid be enough to end their relationship? Isn't the car just overkill?

What does Ali think happened the night of their breakup?

With Ali Mills Schwarber's return to the Valley during the third season of Cobra Kai, audiences finally get to hear her side of that night, which she explains to Johnny, Daniel, and his wife Amanda (Courtney Henggeler) at a holiday party. With the wisdom of age, the team behind Cobra Kai is smart enough to realize that perhaps you shouldn't trust everything a teenage boy has to say about his breakup.

According to Ali, she had been on Daniel's case for a while about the brakes in that old car, and it was the fault of those, not her own driving, that led to the accident. The football player from UCLA really was just a friend, but Daniel, she explains, "jumps to conclusions" and assumed the worst. 

Ali does admit she egged Daniel on, hoping he'd learn his lesson and realize his lack of trust was his problem, not hers. Unfortunately, even Mr. Miyagi would probably have to admit that Daniel is a pretty slow learner. The ensuing fight ended the relationship, and kept Daniel's misconceptions about it intact for more than 30 years. At least it beats getting killed off-screen. 

Cobra Kai season 3 is now streaming on Netflix.