How George Lucas will ruin Indiana Jones

It occurred to me, while reading the cover story on Indiana Jones 4 in the new Vanity Fair, that I haven’t watched the complete trilogy during my adult life. I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark on DVD a few years ago and have caught bits and pieces of Temple of Doom on its many syndicated showings over the years. But I haven’t seen Temple of Doom or Last Crusade in full since I was a kid.

I mention this because of a passage from the Vanity Fair story that should scare Indy fans even more than snakes terrify their hero:

While filming a 1993 episode [of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles] in which Ford made a cameo appearance, Lucas happened on something that gave him the idea for a fourth movie installment. He mentioned it to the actor, who wasn’t too impressed. Lucas later told Spielberg about his new concept, only to find that the director wasn’t so hot on the idea, either, although generally warm to the notion of a fourth film.But Lucas was adamant. It was this idea or nothing.

Great. Because we all know how well things turn out when George Lucas has brilliant ideas that nobody else likes but can’t veto because they aren’t George Lucas. Even Steven Spielberg inevitably bows to Darth Lucas’ power, it seems:

When Ford and Spielberg both rejected the idea, Lucas dug in. He hired screenwriter after screenwriter to make his MacGuffin the linchpin of a new Indy story. “So this went on for 15 years,” he says. “And finally we got to a point where everybody said, ‘Look, we’re not doing that movie.’ And I said, ‘Well, look, I can’t think of another MacGuffin. This is it. This works. I know this works.’ And then we stopped. I just said, ‘O.K.,’ and that’s about the time I started Star Wars again. But then Harrison was kind of interested. And I said, ‘I won’t do it unless we can have that MacGuffin. Without the MacGuffin, I will not go near this thing.’ ”

Needless to say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the story of Lucas’ MacGuffin (i.e. “an object or goal that kicks the story into action and drives it to the third act”). No doubt the title is Lucas’ creation, too.

Lucas’ obstinacy made me wonder: Is the original Indiana Jones trilogy really as good as I remember, or did Lucas pull a Star Wars Episode 1 on those too? Which got me further thinking: How does Indiana Jones stack up to the other great popcorn trilogies of the ’80s: Star Wars and Back to the Future (Star Wars [’77] and Back to the Future III [’90] don’t keep them from being ’80s trilogies.) So over the next couple months I’ll be rewatching those trilogies to see how they really hold up and compare to one another — and to see how obvious the Lucas Touch was before anyone had heard of Jar Jar Binks.

Here’s my initial ranking, based on my memories of the movies (and more recent Star Wars viewings):

1. Empire Strikes Back
2. Star Wars (A New Hope)
3. Back to the Future
4. Raiders of the Lost Ark
5. Back to the Future II
6. Temple of Doom
7. Return of the Jedi
8. Last Crusade
9. Back to the Future III

6 responses to “How George Lucas will ruin Indiana Jones

  1. nomananisland

    Dude, Back to the Future was Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, Lucas had nothing ot do with it. I just checked on wikipedia to make sure.

    But, I totally agree with what you’re saying about Lucas being full of himself, and I’m equally worried about Indy 4. One of the reasons Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, were any good was that they had different directors: Lucas only directed New Hope.

    Likewise with Indy – Spielberg directed and probably kept Lucas from screwing it up too much. Left on his own, Lucas is crazy to think he can direct anything when the last movie he made on his own was 1977.

  2. Yeah, I was just including Back to the Future as one of the great 80s trilogies overall, not as a Lucas-Spielberg collaboration (which it isn’t).

    My only hope is that Spielberg is the one person in Hollywood powerful and trusted enough to stand up to Lucas and tell him the same thing you just said. But judging by how Spielberg and Harrison Ford both apparently gave into Lucas’ story idea for Indy 4, I won’t hope too much…

  3. nomananisland

    Oops, sorry about the mix-up. I see what you’re saying — The Adventures of Marty McFly were the other “big” trilogy of the 80s. I think I’d rank my preferences only slightly differently than yours:

    1. Empire Strikes Back
    2. Last Crusade (what can I say? I liked Connery)
    3. Back to the Future
    4. Raiders of the Lost Ark
    5. Return of the Jedi
    6. Back to the Future 3 (I oddly enjoyed the Western)
    7. New Hope
    8. Temple of Doom
    9. Back to the Future 2

    I found your site because mine included yours as an “automatic” link when I ranted about Lucas screwing up Star Wars Episode 1-3.

  4. Cool. What’s your site? Your name isn’t linking back…

  5. nomananisland

    That’s weird, I thought WordPress automatically linked names. Anyway, I have two sights that are relevant: one is , and that’s where I recently criticized Lucas and his motivations for Star Wars Episode 1-3.

    The other site is my online novel, . It’s relevant in a weird way: Star Wars and Indiana Jones influenced my imagination and so influence the text in subtextual ways, and so does my sci-fi affection: alternate dimensions isn’t explicitly mentioned in the text, but certainly is part of the meaning by the end. However, the final chapter won’t post until June 7th, so that it’s not immediately apparent why I’m even bringing it up…

    Sorry, it’s 7:17 am and I just worked a midnight shift.

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