Earlier this month, Disney announced the inevitable: a new Indiana Jones movie starring Harrison Ford and directed by Steven Spielberg, slated for a January 2018 release date. Rumors of a fifth adventure for Indy had been rumbling ever since Disney bought Lucasfilm, which produces the series, in 2012. Since Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a resounding success for Lucasfilm last December, Disney figured why not redeem another franchise for a few billion dollars more and mold it like their Star Wars cash cow?
The still-untitled movie has a lot to live up to, especially since not many people can find anything nice to say about the series’ last film, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which was released nearly 20 years after the previous movie in the series, The Last Crusade, and did not approach that film’s critical praise.
But Crystal Skull haters who loved The Force Awakens should wise up. Indy’s unfairly maligned last adventure has a lot more in common with the multi-billion dollar new fan favorite than they realize. With the Blu-ray for The Force Awakens releasing this Tuesday, here’s five reasons why.
5. Harrison Ford Tried
Unless they decide to bring old Harrison back for one more go-round as Jack Ryan, Ford will have starred in all of his franchises’ reboots after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, The Force Awakens, and the upcoming Blade Runner sequel. Ford just embodies those characters — specifically Han Solo and Indiana Jones — and it shows. Even in her tepid Force Awakens review for Time, critic Stephanie Zacharek singled out his gruff performance saying, “Han, on the other hand, looks like he’s been ’round the galaxy a few hundred times, but damned if he doesnt wear it well.” The same could be said for Ford in Crystal Skull. The dude has a reputation for being gruff and removed, but you can’t deny that he’s all there, charmingly mugging it up in Crystal Skull just like he did in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
4. More CGI Despite Promises of Less CGI
The filmmakers behind The Force Awakens made a concerted effort prevent CGI from dominating the screen in the same way that plagued George Lucas’ prequels. At the 2015 Star Wars Celebration, director J.J. Abrams stressed, “We needed a standard. You want it to be legitimate and authentic,” to honor the feel of the original movies. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t CGI all over the place. The film even had more CGI than The Phantom Menace — it was just less conspicuous.
That same mentality goes for Crystal Skull, which tried to revisit the down-and- dirty practical effects that defined the first movies. Though Spielberg claimed 70 percent the movie’s effects are practical, those CG prairie dogs and Shia LaBoeuf swinging from vines with CG monkeys may suggest otherwise.
3. It Re-contextualized Its Story for a New Age
Don’t even mention “nuking the fridge.” Crystal Skull handled the gap between movies in its own clever way before The Force Awakens. 30 years have passed after the Empire fell in the latter film, causing Rey and Finn to even question if once-important figures like Luke Skywalker were even real. It’s those kinds of angles that add newfound credence to that galaxy far, far away. Crystal Skull’s similar decades-long leap saw Indy entering the atomic age of the 1950s. The controversial scene of the character staring up at a nuclear mushroom cloud introduced a new historical and narrative context for the series that embraced the emergence of post-war sci-fi pulp. What’s old is new again.
2. It Brought Back Classic Characters, But Made Sure to Introduce New Ones
Aging lead characters can’t go on the same kinds of adventures as they did 30 years ago, but they can sure as hell try — or at least their stunt doubles will. Having Han, Leia, and Luke in The Force Awakens was a gimme, and you obviously can’t have Indiana Jones without Henry Jones Jr., so both movies wisely included newer, younger characters who would ostensibly appeal to the younger audiences and extend the franchise.
The thing is, The Force Awakens actually remembered to make characters like Finn, Rey, Poe, and Kylo Ren interesting, in and of themselves. Crystal Skull got away with reintroducing Marion Ravenwood, but Mutt Williams was a whiny ersatz hero, whose own potential spinoff movie was rejected by even George Lucas. Still, the roots of an idea were there.
1. All the Blatant Callbacks
Fan service is a powerful thing, and when it’s done right it tickles the nostalgia in all of us devotees. When it’s done poorly, it’s a lazy way to stand on the shoulders of those far-superior movies that came before. The Indiana Jones series is no callback rookie (the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders of the Lost Ark makes a humorous appearance as a fresco in The Last Crusade), so it makes sense that Spielberg would incorporate the icons of his infamous archaeologist into Crystal Skull. From the shadow silhouette to the mysterious Area 51 warehouse, to an actual peek at the Ark itself, Crystal Skull is awash in overt references to the early films, much like The Force Awakens. The holo-chess board; the remote training ball; someone saying, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this;” and more. All of them are enough to warm the cockles of a Star Wars fan’s Jedi-loving heart.