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