With the recent streaming-release of Bill and Ted Face the Music, the now 31 year old story comes to an end, and in doing so reveals itself to have been — at it’s core — about something totally different than becoming rock gods. Though the heart of the series has always been about kindness and believing in yourself, we can now see the bigger picture which is the films are about family, and what family can do for us.
The first two films — 1989’s Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, released two years later — introduce us to dim-witted, wholesome teenagers William “Bill” S. Preston, Esquire (Alex Winter), and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves); two best friends who are there for each other no matter what, and given their home lives we can see why. With dreams of becoming rock stars through their two-man band the Wyld Stallions, Bill and Ted have bigger things on their mind than doing well in high school — but when the pair finds out that they’ll flunk out and Ted will be sent off to military school if they don’t pass their history report, it takes a time-traveler from the utopian future to help the boys along through history, and even through hell!
Through the two films, Bill’s father is basically a blank slate. He’s in one scene of the first movie — maybe two shots of the second — and otherwise doesn’t really exist for the viewer, or for Bill, outside of a fleeting physical presence that lets us know Bill isn’t an orphan.
Ted’s father is the nominal driving force in both movies for the duo. In the first he threatens to send Ted to military academy if he doesn’t pass his classes, and in the second, he whips out the exact same threat only this time it is hinged on Bill and Ted winning a battle of the bands so they can get money and pay Ted’s dad back money he fronted them for their apartment.
Their biological mothers are never even mentioned. Missy, first Bill’s step-mother, and then by the second movie, Ted’s, is there but she’s a peer of theirs only being a year or so older.
They have exactly zero adults who believe in them or encourage them – except Rufus.
From the beginning of the first Bill and Ted film, Rufus has been an otherworldly, chill, and constant presence. From giving the boys their first time-traveling phone booth to save themselves from flunking history, to guiding them in how to be excellent to one another and all of those among the history books that they run across, Rufus has been the figurehead of good and logical — even in the face of some out-of-this-world circumstances. And Rufus is the one who sets them on their path toward destiny, giving them the means to figure out what they need to do and leaves them to it, not coddling or pressuring them, but trusting them; something they hadn’t seemingly had before from their respective father figures.
The first two movies see Bill and Ted progress from high school to living with their fiancés and trying to actively become adults and embrace the future they’d been promised. They inch closer each film, but always under the eye of Rufus.
This works, however, because instead of any sort of traditional family, Bill and Ted have built themselves into a family unit by themselves with no real guidance on how to make that work. They live together, they support each other, and they charge forward to be the greatest band ever — together.
And then the third movie happens.
Bill and Ted are the adults now. Their lives are seemingly a record of almost successes. Their marriages are shaky. Their children are becoming adults. This, then, is where they thrive by taking all that they learned from having terrible familial experiences in order to thrive.
Whereas the first movie was about them going through time to pass a history test so they could eventually become what they should be, the third is about them traveling in time to see if there is a way to ensure their marriages stay intact. Their family comes first for them, even as they struggle with needing to save the entire world with their music.
But let’s look at the kids instead for a moment. Thea and Billie love music as much as their dads do. They were raised as one big family, their parents still all living together. Most importantly, they are loved and fully supported by their parents in their endeavors.
So when the dads get in trouble the kids leap right into the fray. Would Bill and Ted leap into trouble to help their respective parents? Of course they would, that’s who they are, but the reverse would possibly not be true.
Their children’s choices leads to one of the most telling, and wonderful, moments in the whole trilogy.
The evil robot (“Dennis Caleb McCoy”, respectfully) has accidentally killed the kids and tells this to Bill and Ted. Their reaction is to force their own deaths to go and get their kids back. There is no hesitation. No flinching. It is a straight, simple, line from “Our children need us” to “risk our own lives without a thought to save them.”
Further still, when Bill and Ted realize the song that has to be written needs to be written by their daughters and not them they joyfully explain. Think about that. They spent their entire adult life to date thinking they were the ones to save everything, they had a destiny in place and believed in it with every fiber of their being. Their entire lives were shaped around it.
And it wasn’t true.
And in that moment, that potentially soul crushing moment of self-realization, they instantly, without a hair of regret shown, pass the torch to their kids because for them, this is the ultimate right in the universe: That their kid’s dreams can be realized and that they can make those dreams happen in a way their family never did for them.
That was all they ever needed, after all: an adult to believe in them. They had one in Rufus, and learned from the example, and when the time came they stepped back, just as Rufus had with them, and pushed the world forward, saving it.
Speaking of Rufus, it isn’t unnoticed the message of generational advancement extends to his family. With the sad death of George Carlin, Rufus himself couldn’t be in the film (outside of a touching, brief, tribute) but instead Rufus’ daughter Kelly is shown to be the driving force that he was. Her mother doesn’t believe in her at all (both mirroring Bill and Ted and also extending the mother issues the films have, oddly enough) but her father did, and she believes in that faith enough to go to any length to ensure the future.
Of course if you look at it even closer it gets better. Rufus started off telling Bill and Ted their fate. Or a version of it. Because in order to know they would save the world he had to know three things:
A) Bill and Ted’s kids would save the day, but only if Bill and Ted themselves believed they could be the people they needed to be. B) His own daughter would prove to be instrumental in the fight. C) Rufus himself would not live to see this happen.
And so he goes off on his mission, never letting on, even to his own family, the secrets he had to have known in order to set this in motion. It never seemed to, in the few short scenes across the films we see of him, to weigh him down, either. Like Bill and Ted in the end, the knowledge that the next generation could be granted not only hope, but also the means of prevailing, pushed him toward his own destiny.
In the end, all of Bill and Ted’s journeys were about building a road to the future, both through phone booths that travel in time as well as internal human struggles. They’re about self-belief, and about passing that forward to instill in the next generation even earlier.
Most importantly, they’re about family, and the sheer power of acceptance and being excellent to people because of who they are, not who we might wish them to be.