From ‘TRON’ to ‘TRON:Legacy’ — The Hidden Timeline (Spoilers)

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First, I’ll be upfront and honest here. I do not know much and there’s little doubt that many of you know more than I on the matter, but for all intents and purposes, there are spoilers in this article. If you can deal with that, then read on. Otherwise, immediately close this window, go scrub yourself clean in the shower and forget you ever clicked on this link.

It was the TRON panel at D23 Expo where I was first introduced to the concept. From 1982 to 2010 is a long time and given the advances in technology both on and off-screen, it would be simple enough to just jump from one lightcycle to the next and noone would suspect a thing. But the panel, which included TRON: Legacy director Joe Kosinksi, producer Sean Bailey and TRON director, writer and creator Steven Lisberger, detailed the process: there are not two lightcycles, but several generations of them, as would be expected to happen over 28 years in the ‘real world.’ Even though we may not be exposed to all of what occurs between 1982 and 2010, the TRON: Legacy team meticulously planned the evolution — from the technology to the programs that use it.

So if TRON took place in 1982 and TRON: Legacy will take place in 2010, what happened between now and then? What went wrong in the pixel-perfect world that Kevin Flynn left behind? And if TRON was a security program, how did it end up in every arcade in the 80s? Fortunately Disney is taking full advantage of its wide range of products and resources to fill in all the gaps and I’ve managed to find a few puzzle pieces along the way.

First up, from Disney Press, is TRON: The Betrayal. How ominous is that? A San Diego Comic-con exclusive preview booklet filled with black & white sketches (the final will be in color) describes the graphic novel as a prequel to TRON: Legacy. So for those of you following at home, TRON: Legacy is a sequel to both TRON and  TRON: The Betrayal.

Although the preview itself contains no words, the inside cover explains that it takes place in 1983 and — after returning to the outside world — Kevin Flynn has taken the games from inside the grid and created his own game which he aptly named TRON. The description suggests that Flynn alternates between living outside and inside the TRON universe but eventually things get complicated for Flynn and the TRON world ends up getting more dangerous. The graphic novel also promises to reveal the moment ‘where it all went horribly wrong.

And then there the entries from Disney Interactive Studios, the TRON: Evolution video games. One single title across different platforms, notably the Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii and — as it turns out — two completely different games.

Not just different games, mind you, but the different consoles actually take place during different timelines in the TRON Universe. The Wii version completely takes places inside an approximate 1988 timeline (as it has been explained to me, time in the TRON Universe is measured in cycles, so it’s not a direct translation into people years) while the PS3 version starts off around 1989/1990 and carries through right up until the movie itself in 2010. And while the PS3 version contains a lightcycle without a canopy as in the new film, it’s not quite the same lightcycle as the movie and the Wii version actually has both a canopy version and one of the newer types.

If all that makes sense to you, great. Now just complicate it. Because each game has new characters. Some will be in the film, some won’t. Some exist on one console and not the other. But each contribution to the TRON Universe is consistent with its backstory and timeline, so it literally is a puzzle made up of pieces across all different kinds of technologies (including the printing press).

So the truth is, I really don’t know what happens between then and then. But here are some spoilers since I promised them. There’s no simple good vs. evil here, there are multiple factions. You may have caught a glimpse of the flying vehicle at the end of the new trailer, but there are additional new vehicle types as well including the runner (which is described as a bit of a dune buggy). The PS3 game features a virus which creates zombie-like programs and administrator programs have the ability to use their identity discs as [upgradeable] weapons, even when riding on the canopy-less lightcycle.

And let’s just recognize that lightcycles aren’t the only vehicles that have evolved — or that can leave a light trail behind it.

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