I’ve been doing plot analysis on some of my favorite stories and movies in order to try to boil down what makes a great arc (at least subjectively in my mind). In so doing I’ve come to a disheartening realization: Indiana Jones is not the badass I grew up thinking he was.
I will admit that Temple of Doom may fall outside of these conclusions, because I’ve never finished watching it as an adult. In my head it fits in the same space as the Star Wars Prequels, ie – never happened. But for the three others, Raiders, Last Crusade, and Crystal Skull, it is not Indy that defeats the bad guys. Sure, along the way he gets some good licks in: shooting the sword dude in the market, beating the giant mechanic into the airplane propeller, etc. All of that is great fun, but by the end of it Indy doesn’t win. It’s just good old Deus Ex Machina (or Deus Ex Aliens in Crystal Skull) that wins the day. The Nazis are not out done by Indy’s lighting whip, gun, or brains – no they fall prey to hubris and look directly at the Ark. Similarly, they choose poorly when it comes time to drink from a grail. I think at this point you get the point.
I’ll admit, I’m kind of bummed. I grew up with this character, thinking of him as some sort of ultimate badass – but really when it comes down to it the stories are telling us that he’s just along for the ride. He’s just like the rest of us, surviving on the whim of something else…possibly luck, God, or inter-dimensional aliens.
Comparing Indy to the ‘whiny’ Luke Skywalker, a hero that Indy is connected to by far fewer than six degrees of separation, highlights the issue at hand. Luke’s ultimate triumph in his first movie comes when he pulls the trigger and blows up the baddies super weapon mcguffin. You can argue ‘the Force’ did it, but ultimately Luke pulled the trigger. When all the Nazis died Indiana was tied to a post.