The original ending for Rambo 3 would not hold up in today's geopolitical landscape. In 1988, Rambo III brought the Sylvester Stallone trilogy to a close in bombastic fashion (though it would later be revived for more installments). Rambo III, generally regarded as the worst in the Rambo series, follows the title character as he heads into Afghanistan to save his friend and mentor, Colonel Sam Trautman, played by Richard Crenna.
Trautman went to Afghanistan to aid the Mujahideen rebels in their fight against the Soviet occupation. However, the old soldier was captured by the Soviet invaders, and it's up to Rambo to save his friend and escape the war-torn country. At the end of Rambo 3, Rambo has successfully rescued his oldest friend, killed the villainous Soviet Colonel, and brought a fleeting measure of temporary peace to a small corner of Afghanistan. Rambo and Trautman leave the country, and the movie finishes. Originally, however, the ending would have seen John Rambo decide to stay and fight alongside the Mujahideen in their struggle against the Soviet Union.
Rambo 3's original ending might've made sense in the context of the movie itself, events that have occurred since would've meant that it aged absolutely terribly. In the 1980s, the Soviet Union (at the behest of the pro-Russian local government) was locked in a bitter struggle with the rebel Mujahideen forces. The war in Afghanistan was a tremendous folly for the USSR, and is considered one of the greatest failures in Soviet history. Indeed, Sam Trautman has a provocative line of dialogue in Rambo III, where he directly connects the Soviet-Afghan War to America's misadventure in Southeast Asia, stating to his Soviet captors: "We already had our Vietnam. Now you're gonna have yours."
The bitter irony here should be obvious to any student of recent history, or any veteran of America's more recent foreign wars. After Russia pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989 (before ultimately dissolving in 1991), the various Mujahideen groups were unable to reach a unified consensus for how to move forward. Afghanistan remained locked in civil war for many years, until the United States invaded Afghanistan following the unprecedented events of September 11, 2001.
While this summation significantly simplifies the situation, the original ending of Rambo 3 would have featured Rambo joining up with a group, members of whom would ultimately form the Taliban and join forces with al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Needless to say, this would have caused Rambo III to age horribly in today's geopolitical climate. The premise of Rambo 3 sees Trautman on a CIA mission to support the mujahideen; this is based on unconfirmed allegations that the CIA actually carried out these types of operations to support the rebels and undermine the Soviets. Even without the original ending, Rambo III still lays bare how the United States has spent the last 18 years at war in a country they openly supported back in the 1980s.
Rambo III ends with a dedication, "to the gallant people of Afghanistan." An urban legend falsely stated that the dedication was originally to the mujahideen specifically, but this is untrue, and would have been antithetical to Rambo's character. He is someone who fights to protect people, not to win wars. He genuinely tries to carve out a measure of peace for oppressed people, or at least tip the scales to give them a fighting chance against their oppressors. Between Vietnam and Afghanistan, and the Burmese civil war (as seen in 2008's Rambo), John Rambo knows that he can't win a war by killing lots of people, and he takes no joy from his work, but maybe he can save some innocent lives by doing what he does best. Times change, and global allegiances shift; no matter who is allied with whom, innocent people trapped in the middle inevitably find themselves oppressed. The character of John Rambo exists to give those people a voice. It's what makes Rambo a hero, and not just another guy with a gun.
- Rambo 5: Last Blood (2019) release date: Sep 20, 2019