Indiana Jones 5: What it can learn from The Force Awakens
Good news: There’s a new Indiana Jones movie! Bad news: There’s a new Indiana Jones movie!
The official announcement that Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford are collaborating on a fifth film about the whip-slashing archeologist is bound to be greeted with a certain degree of ambivalence. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade are generationally beloved adventure films, and some freaks stump for Temple of Doom on the grounds of goofy-weird experimentation. But few will find anything nice to say about Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, except maybe the construction workers who built a money bin to hold Harrison Ford’s reported $65 million paycheck.
Indy 5 will pointedly not involve George Lucas. This is maybe a good sign, though it was Lucas who conceived the hero. A few years ago, Spielberg declared that Crystal Skull‘s extraterrestrial plotline came from Lucas – implicitly making the case that the film’s storytelling issues came from Lucas. (Spielberg also admitted that the infamous refrigerator scene was entirely his own invention.) We’re in a phase now where the culture generally agrees that George Lucas properties are better when George Lucas isn’t involved. Example: The Force Awakens, the first Star Wars film to have zero involvement from Lucas, and the first Star Wars film since 1980 to be unequivocally enjoyed by people older than 10 years old.
What can Indy 5 learn from Force Awakens? What lessons should it not take way?
1. If you’re going to introduce a new young character, that character needs to be as much of a star as Harrison Ford.
Poor Shia LaBeouf. The up-and-coming actor earned lots of Next Big Thing attention when he joined the cast of Crystal Skull. Rumors were flying that his character would be taking on the mantle of Indiana Jones-ness. But the film bungled LaBeouf’s role. Putting aside the fact that he was playing an entirely unappealing character named Mutt, LaBeouf came into the film after a lengthy Act I, and Crystal Skull could never quite figure out to what extent Mutt was Indy’s co-star and to what extent Mutt was Indy’s support staff.
Compare that to Force Awakens, which purposefully starts by focusing on the next generation of Star Wars characters. Finn and Rey are already setting off on their grand adventure by the time they meet Han Solo. If the fifth film decides to pair Ford up with a younger apprentice-figure – a woman? Jennifer Lawrence? MICHAEL B. JORDAN??? – then the film needs to figure out a way to make that character as important as Indy. There’s precedent for this in the series’ history: Karen Allen was a legitimate co-star in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a co-adventurer on Indy’s journey.
2. Turns out you really don’t need to worry too much about continuity.
Crystal Skull was the first Indiana Jones to function as a direct sequel, bringing back Karen Allen and making reference to Indy’s dead friends and loved ones. This arguably missed the point of the original franchise, which was never really an ongoing saga. And based on the success of Force Awakens and last year’s Jurassic World, it turns out that moviegoers maybe don’t care as much about internal continuity as TV fans. Force Awakens ignored broad swaths of Star Wars history – the prequels, the Ewoks, really anything beyond the central idea of X-Wings attacking big space fortresses.
If you’re a fan of the greater Star Wars saga, nothing in Force Awakens really made much sense. (The First Order isn’t the Empire, but it is, and all important planets seem to be in the same solar system, and Leia is just somebody who hangs out in command centers watching holograms.) But Force Awakens clearly tapped a rich vein of nostalgia by zero-ing in on what people liked about the original films.
This doesn’t mean Indy 5 needs to feature Indy chasing a much bigger Ark of the Covenant and fighting Nazis. But it does mean they can just pretend Crystal Skull didn’t happen.
3. Send off Harrison Ford in style.
I didn’t love the end of Han Solo in The Force Awakens. But that just means that Indy 5 offers an excellent moment for a do-over! Ford’s central roguish charm is also Indy’s charm. He’s not a man for grand gestures; he’s the guy who shoots the swordsman just to get the damn thing over with. Ford will be in his mid-70s by the time they start making the new film, and although he will apparently happily take Hollywood’s money to make sequels until he’s 100, this seems like a perfect moment to send Indiana Jones on a final bigscreen adventure.
That doesn’t mean Indy should die, by any means. The template here should be John Wayne in The Searchers, not John Wayne in The Shootist. Indy doesn’t belong in a museum. He belongs out in the great wide world, searching for another adventure.
4. Practical effects, practical effects, practical effects.
Practical effects. Practical. Effects. Practical effects? Practical effects! Practical effects; practical effects: Practical, effects. PRACTICAL EFFECTS. In conclusion: Practical effects.
5. Don’t be afraid to bring Indiana Jones into a very different world.
The one thing about Crystal Skull that should get more credit is how Spielberg and Lucas tried – with occasional success – to shift the context around Indiana Jones. The fourth film was set firmly in the Cold War arms race, and in visual terms, it updated Indiana Jones’ movie-world from 1930s serial to 1950s B-movie. Following that rough timeline, Indy 5 should be set in the late ’60s or even the ’70s. It might be hard for Spielberg to figure out an era-appropriate homage — unless he plans to make Indy 5 a self-reflective homage to his own brilliant ’70s entertainments. But since Spielberg is such a consummate student of film history, there is plenty of material to draw upon from the genre entertainment of the period.
By which I mean: Is there some way for Indiana Jones to approach the space race? I know: No, aliens, no! But Spielberg is an on-the-record Tintin fan, and I wonder if he has conceived of a way to fit an Explorers on the Moon-esque adventure into the Indiana Jones journey.
Hardcore fans of LucasArts will recall Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, the best Indiana Jones product since Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fate of Atlantis made much merry out of the mythic notion of Atlantis as a city-state with radically advanced science – a mixture of the supernatural elements of the earlier Indiana Jones films with some actual-kinda-vaguely archeological notions of lost technologies from earlier civilizations. Maybe Indy finds Atlantis; Maybe it’s up, not down.
What do you need to see in Indiana Jones 5? What do you badly not need to see? Email your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll discuss it in this week’s episode of the Entertainment Geekly podcast!