Harrison Ford Is Indiana Jones: Why No One Should Inherit the Fedora
Chris Pratt is great. He’s hilarious on Parks and Recreation. He was wonderful in Guardians of the Galaxy. He cracked us up in The Lego Movie. Jurassic World is looking more and more appealing expressly because he will be starring in it. In spite of all this, few recent movie-related headlines have made me sadder than the announcement that Disney is eyeing Pratt to star in a new Indiana Jones film as the title character with Spielberg potentially even helming the next film. The reason for this is simple: Pratt is great, but he’s not Indiana Jones. He isn’t and can never be Indiana Jones – because Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones.
Unlike many other franchise characters, Indiana Jones did not originate in another medium. He was created by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and first appeared in 1981 in the now-beloved classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. That was the first time Indiana Jones became known to any of us – and it was Harrison Ford who portrayed him. Ford embodied the character, brought him to life, and brought enough of himself and his own persona to the role that it is difficult to imagine anyone else originating the character (even though he was not Lucas’s first choice). He then returned for the sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984, and again in 1989 for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
In those three films, Ford established and helped create one of the greatest, most beloved action heroes in cinema history. With his trusty whip, his stylish fedora, and a charming wit that only Ford could bring to the character, Indiana Jones ran, jumped, swung, shot, and fought his way into our hearts. Sure, the movies were a lot of fun regardless. They offered adventure, action, and romance and included mysterious and mystical objects – like the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail – that could only be featured in an adventure series about an archaeologist. But through all of this, it was Ford who made it all work. He was Indiana Jones, the guy who would risk losing an arm just to get his hat back, who could realize that it was easier to just shoot a sword-wielding bad guy than to engage him in a long, choreographed fight scene. That was Harrison Ford, and Harrison Ford was Indiana Jones.
Then, the movies ended. Jones and company rode off into the sunset at the end of Last Crusade, and everyone involved in the franchise moved on to other things. No one tried to make another sequel, with Ford or anyone else in the lead role. Then, 2008 rolled around. Lucas and Spielberg decided to reteam for another sequel, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, set nearly twenty years after Last Crusade (to coincide with the amount of time that had passed in the real world), with Ford returning to portray an older version of the character. Unfortunately, this film was not received very well by fans, generally speaking, and has acquired something of a bad reputation over the years. Sure, Indiana Jones survived a nuclear blast by hopping into a refrigerator, and Shia LeBeouf swung from some vines with a bunch of monkeys, and yes, Lucas got Spielberg to rely a little too heavily on digital effects; but at least Ford was still Indiana Jones, right? Well, apparently not. I didn’t think the film was as bad as the rep it got, but I can certainly see why people weren’t that crazy about it.
Still, for all of its problems, Crystal Skull got one thing absolutely, undeniably right: it showed that Indiana Jones – and by association, Harrison Ford – was not going to pass on the fedora anytime soon. The wind blew the hat off the rack, and young LeBeouf reached down to pick it up. But before he could put it on, who came along and snatched it from him, putting it on its rightful place? That’s right, Harrison Ford – Indiana Jones himself. In spite of everything, and no matter how disappointing the film may have been, one thing was certain: no one was going to take over the hat, the whip, or the franchise anytime soon.
Enter Chris Pratt. Now, apparently, Disney and Lucasfilm have decided that, actually, the fedora will be passed down, not to Ford’s on-screen son played by Shia LeBeouf (and I think we can all agree that would have been a terrible idea), but to a new Indiana Jones. A new Indiana Jones? The phrase itself makes no sense. How can there be a “new” Indiana Jones? The character and the actor who portrayed him are integrally linked. There can’t be a new Indiana Jones, and more importantly, there doesn’t need to be one.
Unlike James Bond, Batman, or (to take a different role that Ford played) Jack Ryan, who all originated in other source material before becoming film characters, Indiana Jones originated in film, and the role has never been played on film by anyone but Harrison Ford. If they had made a fourth Indiana Jones film shortly after Last Crusade with a different actor in the lead role, things might be different. It would have established the fact that the character is supposed to survive beyond any one actor’s portrayal. The James Bond franchise established, relatively early on, that this was the case for that character, and it has led to a very successful, lucrative franchise. But it didn’t happen with Indiana Jones.
When they did finally decide to come back and make another movie, they did it with Harrison Ford in the role again. Now, maybe that movie is partially what led people to start rethinking the possibility of recasting the part, but it would be a mistake to blame a flawed movie on its star. If Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a bad movie, it wasn’t Harrison Ford’s fault. He was the one we could always rely on to make that film worthwhile even in its worst moments. No matter what, we still had Indy.
It is not right to recast the role of Indiana Jones, because you can’t recast it. It just isn’t possible, because Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones. The two are one, and no one – not Chris Pratt or Ryan Gosling or Jeremy Renner or Bradley Cooper or anyone else – can take over the role. Indiana Jones is not James Bond, a character who has been portrayed by multiple suave, handsome British actors over the years; nor is he Batman, a timeless treasure from the comic books who is ultimately larger than any one actor (an idea, a symbol, a legend, right?). He’s Indiana Jones. And everything that brought him into being and made him an interesting, exciting, and fun character is embodied in Harrison Ford. He is the character. It’s too late to change that or to try to reboot the franchise.
Indiana Jones is not a franchise the needs to outlive its lead actor, and the only reason I see for doing it is that Disney wants to make as much money as possible off of its $4 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm. But that’s no excuse. Let’s just leave it be. The Indiana Jones films were a great series of films from the 1980s starring Harrison Ford (yes, we can all just forget Crystal Skull). Can’t we just leave it at that? We don’t need a new Indiana Jones. Perhaps a line from another franchise that Chris Pratt is rebooting can serve as an appropriate warning here: Disney was so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should. They shouldn’t. And, hopefully, they won’t.