When reports surfaced last week that Disney was considering Chris Pratt as the new Indiana Jones, the internet reacted - well, the way we've come to expect.
My own reaction? Positive, and that surprised me. I'm and Indy fan, a die hard Indy fan. Last Crusade was the first film I saw in a theater. On my tenth birthday, I got a fedora and a real ten-foot bullwhip. I still have a full run of Dark Horse's Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis comics. If anyone was going to hate this idea, it was me.
And yet I didn't hate it.
It took me several days to unpack why I wasn't crying heresy, and when I did I learned this: to me, Indy is bigger than Harrison Ford. And we need Dr. Jones now more than ever.
Ford's as Human As the Next Man
People love to say that there's only one Indiana Jones, but that's demonstrably not the case - and as a kid, I accepted that.
Five actors have played Indiana Jones. Ford and River Phoenix took the role in the movies, and three actors portrayed Indy in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. The show had an 11-year-old Indy traveling the world, a teenage Indy in the Great War, and the infamous "Old Indy" who hung around in the 1990s teaching people moral lessons. (Lucas cut Old Indy out of the DVD release so that the scenes didn't clash with Crystal Skull - presumably because Lucas is an android who will self-destruct if he detects contradictory information). As a kid I completely accepted that all these different people were Indy, and the fact that they didn't look like Ford (or even much like each other) didn't bother me one bit. And when I revisited the series a couple of years ago, it still held up. While Corey Carrier did a creditable job as young-young Indy and George Hall made a fine old Indy, it was Sean Patrick Flanery that nailed the character. Sure, he had a lot of help from costuming, Indy-like action scenes and a few borrowed mannerisms, but when I looked at him I still thought that's Indy. This realization softened my previous assumption that no one except Harrison Ford could wear the hat. Other actors have done it, and it's entirely possible others will do it.
And to those who aren't convinced, I have two words: Crystal Skull.
This is How We Say Goodbye at Lucasfilm, Doctor Jones
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is the movie we deserve for our "no recasting" rule. Why Russians? Because Harrison Ford's in his mid-sixties. Why UFOs and mind control? Because it's the '50s, Soviets don't give a damn about religious artifacts, and you work with what you have. You can trace almost every poor choice in the film back to Ford being in it.
Having said that, I don't hate Crystal Skull the way some fans do. Skull has a lot of cool moments between the lighter-than-air CGI and confusing plot. The motorcycle chase and bare-knuckle brawl on the anthill captured that old Indy magic. Parts of the warehouse scene stick with me. It's more just okay than actively bad, but that isn't what bugs me. I can live with a sub-par Indy adventure. The movies are self-contained enough that one weak link doesn't detract from Raiders or Crusade in the same way the Star Wars prequels messed with what came before. No, to me the tragedy of Crystal Skull would be seeing Indy go out on a down note. I'd rather risk a new Indy film - even with a recast Indy - than have Crystal Skull stand as the finale. A recasting would be the perfect opportunity to take a mulligan.
And let's be clear that if there's going to be another film, a recast must happen. Absolutely. Must.
It's Not the Years, It's the Mileage
Hard truth: Harrison Ford isn't Indiana Jones anymore. Not like he was twenty-five years ago. Sure, he still looks good in the hat and jacket, but I never wanted to be the Indy in Crystal Skull. And that's the key with Indiana Jones. Much like the Bond movies, Indy's a wish fulfillment character. He's bold, lucky, handsome, smart and worldly. He travels to exotic places and beats up bad guys while stealing legendary treasures. He's handsome and gets the girl. Ford could still barely pull this off in 2008, but even then it was inconsistent. Action scenes didn't feel as virile as they should have. The youthful comic delivery and facial expressions from Ford's younger days seemed a little off. It still felt like Indy, but an aging Indy who was off his game.
Let's agree that, if we're really going to do Indy again, we can't go back to that well. Ford had his shot. He will always be the definitive Indiana Jones like Connery's still the definitive Bond. It's time to look for someone else.