Will the fifth Indiana Jones movie be the franchise’s “The Force Awakens,” or a total dumpster fire?

He’s back. Again.
He’s back. Again.
Image: Lucasfilm
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Indiana Jones will return for a fifth movie in 2019, Disney announced yesterday (March 15). Harrison Ford will once again reprise his role as the titular archaeologist adventurer, and Steven Spielberg will return to direct. The first “Indy” film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, debuted in 1981. Since then, the franchise has raked in over $2 billion at the global box office and has inspired TV spinoffs, theme park rides, and mounds of merchandise.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Disney has done this already with one of its other massively popular franchises—Star Wars.

The parallels between the two are abundant: Both were created by George Lucas in the 1980s (Star Wars technically premiered in 1977). Both franchises were revived in the 2000s, when the much-loathed Star Wars prequels were released, followed a few years later by the fourth Indiana Jones movie, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in which Jones survived a nuclear attack by hiding inside of a refrigerator. Both reboots feature Harrison Ford playing characters he first inhabited over 35 years ago. 

And, of course, both became Disney properties when the company acquired Lucasfilm in 2012. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, released last December, has been a resounding success, redeeming the franchise in the eyes of many fans. Now Disney will try to do the same for Indiana Jones.

But will it succeed the same way that The Force Awakens did? It’s possible, but there are a lot of factors to consider:

No one is asking for this sequel

This may prove to be the most crucial difference between this Indiana Jones revival and the Star Wars one. Most fans wanted more Star Wars. They wanted something to cement the franchise’s legacy that could make up for the underwhelming sequels.

No one is clamoring for more Indiana Jones. While it’s a popular franchise, its fan base isn’t nearly as zealous as that of Star Wars. 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with its tired tropes and recycled plot elements, disappointed a lot of people, but that disappointment never turned to heartbreak. Fans were fine letting the franchise end there. Disney is relying on people’s appetite for adventure films and nostalgia to pique their interest in this latest Indy iteration—but how nostalgic are they really?

Harrison Ford will be 77 years old when the movie comes out

Ford was 38 when the first Indiana Jones movie was released. Twitter has already had a lot of fun speculating titles for the upcoming sequelIndiana Jones and the Afternoon NapRaiders of the Social Security Trust FundIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doomed Franchises.

Despite his age, the legendary actor can still act. He was terrific reprising his role as Han Solo in The Force Awakens. He was not terrific, however, at not getting injured. Ford broke his leg when he was hit by a heavy hydraulic door on the set of the Millennium Falcon. It’s clear that he can’t do the stunts and athletic feats that he did as a younger man. But he very well may not have to.

Another actor, or actress, might assume the mantle

We don’t yet know if this fifth film will wrap up the series, or if it will set the stage for more sequels to come (with younger actors) like the Star Wars revival did. It’s difficult to imagine more Indy films after this one that still include Ford.

The franchise tried to do this with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and actor Shia Labeouf, but it didn’t work. While Labeouf may have just been the wrong actor, it would be risky for Disney to employ the same strategy a second time. Disney hasn’t said what other actors will be cast in the upcoming film, apart from Ford.

Another (and arguably better) way that the movie could give Ford his proper send-off and introduce new characters is to float between two time periods, with Ford playing an older Indy and flashbacks to another actor playing the character in the past. It worked for The Godfather Part II.

Yes, it’s a cash grab—but it can still be good

Moviegoers have every right to be skeptical of this film—and they should be. Originality in Hollywood is dead. Why create a new character when you can use an old one? Disney ultimately wants to make money. But it also wants to make the movie good, and it succeeds at doing so more often than it doesn’t. Star Wars worked (and made an unfathomable amount of money at the same time)—Indiana Jones can, in theory, do the same.

Don’t bet against Steven Spielberg

The legendary director of Schindler’s ListJawsSaving Private RyanJurassic Park, and countless other classics deserves the benefit of the doubt. His last two films, Bridge of Spies and Lincoln, were both nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards. He probably wants to make up for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as much as anyone.

George Lucas probably won’t be involved

Lucas, who created the Indiana Jones character, was not mentioned in Disney’s press release announcing the film. Star Wars fans have long argued that the filmmaker lost his way making the prequels. He was only peripherally involved in The Force Awakens.

Fans also blame Lucas for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so they’re probably happy that he doesn’t appear to be involved in the upcoming sequel. We’ll know in 2019 whether or not Lucas was part of the problem.

Disney’s challenge is to imbue the film with a sense of wonder and discovery while still honoring the franchise’s past (essentially, what they did with Star Wars). It’s not likely that this tanks at the box office given Spielberg and Ford’s involvement. Even if critics and fans are displeased yet again, it won’t be the end of franchise reboots.

Hollywood has a serious addiction to redoing things they got right the first time, thereby profiting off of the same material for a second (or third or fourth) time once it’s introduced to a generation of nostalgic adults and their wide-eyed children. A successful Indy 5 all but guarantees there will be an Indy 6 immediately after. And if it’s unsuccessful, look for the reboot of this reboot sometime in the 2030s.