Whether he's chasing down Nazis or fighting the Empire, this actor is always believable and always fun to watch

By David Hochman
Updated December 26, 1997 at 05:00 AM EST

It’s easy to imagine Harrison Ford in his former life as a carpenter. During those lean years before Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Wyoming ranch, the struggling actor paid the rent by hammering his way around Hollywood, building bookshelves for Joan Didion, a deck for Sally Kellerman, a recording studio for Sergio Mendes. Knowing what we know now, we picture Ford showing up in his Witness suspenders, wielding his power tools like a lightsaber. His craftsmanship would be solid yet never flashy, dependable without being boring, and it would put the competition to shame.

We can be sure about all this because after watching Ford on screen for nearly 25 years, we feel we know something about him. He is trustworthy. He is a man who cares greatly about detail. He is consistent. And he can probably work wonders with a circular saw and a 2 by 4.

In other words, we believe in Harrison Ford.

This year, we believed not only that he could be President of the United States but that he could single-handedly put down an international terrorist takeover of Air Force One with a few well-placed karate chops and head butts. The movie made $171 million. Sure, Schwarzenegger could have blasted the bad guys, but President Ahnuld? Fugeddaboudit. And yes, Tom Hanks could have led our nation, but drop-kicking Kazakhstanis? Never!

Ford, though, we believe.

We believe, too, that the Force is still with him. Han Solo still seems as cool and funny and relevant today as he did 20 years ago, which is why the rerelease of Star Wars managed to squeeze $138 million out of a film that had already taken in nearly half a billion dollars a long time ago in a film biz far, far away. ”I was a little concerned,” he says. ”After all, it’s 20-year-old acting.”

More than anything, we believe Harrison Ford is one of us, a real person, an ordinary citizen of the republic: modest, hardworking, pleasantly cynical, understandably private, and definitely uncomfortable with all the attention. If we were him, we could only hope we’d be a lot like him.

And there is no sign we are likely to lose faith in Ford anytime soon. We’ll probably believe him in his upcoming film 6 Days/7 Nights, even though his love interest is Anne Heche, the woman who so publicly admitted this year that she is a lesbian. (”I separate the movie from Anne’s personal life,” he says, ”and I think much of the audience has the ability to do the same.”) And if a few years down the road, Ford, 55, decides to suit up as Indiana Jones once again — outrunning Nazi airplanes as a sexagenarian — guess what? We’ll probably buy that too.