We have another wonderful guest post, this time from Brad Monastiere who explains why the Indiana Jones movies are so important to him.Outside of my family, I don’t think any three real-life individuals influenced me as a boy the way George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and John Williams did.
I was born in 1973, making me the ripe-old age of 4 when Star Wars: A New Hope was released. I still vividly recall to this day, being so angry that Darth Vader got away. He was the bad guy, and well, it just wasn’t fair! If only a soothsayer had been present that early summer day in Southeast Michigan to assure me that because of his survival, no fewer than five more Star Wars films would be coming out.
As I was able to understand the timeless story that is Star Wars at such a young age, so I was also able to get caught up in the thrills of the Indiana Jones saga at a similar stage in my life. Looking back, I am astonished at how the release of each of those four films has coincided with a stage, an emotional place I was in at life in 1981, 1984, 1989 and 2008. Please, allow me to explain.
Raiders of the Lost Ark – June 1981
This was truly a golden age of my childhood. My father spend his career in the banking business, and he was quickly moving up the ladder. We lived in a nice suburb of Detroit called Farmington Hills, on the west side of the area. I was 8 years old in the summer of 1981, and already had the trans-formative experience of Star Wars: A New Hope, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back shape me into a lifetime of fandom.
In the lead-up to the release of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I recall the marketing push emphasizing the involvement of George Lucas (THE GU Y WHO MADE STAR WARS!), Harrison Ford (HAN SOLO!) and a relative unknown (to me) by the name of Steven Spielberg. I heard he and George were friends, which made me naturally want to accept anything Spielberg was doing.
My dad and I went to the theater, I’m sure sometime in that first month of June, to watch Raiders. Maybe it came from my parents, but I also knew a lot of the same people who made Star Wars also made this new Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. That made me intuitively want to accept it going in.
I see Raiders today as Exhibit A in Film School for the class “This Is How You Make The Perfect Film.” I happily jumped on that roller coaster through Peru and Egypt. The film seemed to have a certain signature to it. A something that 8-year-old me probably couldn’t verbalize, but most definitely recognized. Let’s start with the two known quantities to me at that time, Lucas and Williams.
I understood Lucas to be the storyteller of this movie. His work with Star Wars allowed me to be totally open and accepting of the story he was telling that was clearly much more reality-based. I instantly recognized Harrison Ford even with three-days’ beard growth and the hat. “Han Solo needs to shave” I whispered to my dad in the theater that day.
Raiders had just enough of that supernatural element for me to accept this as part of the Lucas-verse in that he was telling stories that allowed you the element of escapism. Ford’s performance was of course, spectacular, and hearing that familiar voice and seeing that familiar heroic face, made it easy for me to adopt Indy into my short but intense list of heroes.
By this time I was starting to wear out the double record album of the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack. So I was very familiar with the utter magic John Williams was capable of. The first two Star Wars films (all of them, really) amount to the total visual and audio experience. Raiders of the Lost Ark delivered exactly the same thing, but with very different packaging. The brass elements, especially, echoed of Star Wars to me, when enjoying the music of Raiders. The “language” of the music John Williams made for Raiders was so new and exciting, yet so familiar to me.
At the time, I didn’t have a clue on how to separate the role of executive producer, screenwriter and director. And truthfully, my appreciation for the directorial talents of Spielberg probably didn’t blossom for me until the next year, when E.T. was released.
Taken in total, the experience of Raiders of the Lost Ark simply enhanced what was already the most fun roller coaster ride of films when I was that age. “You already have two Star Wars movies, but now you get THIS too!” is what I heard in my head. Gosh, what a gift Raiders was.
The themes and situations were a touch “older” than Empire Strikes Back, particularly with elements of Marion’s story. Which in turn, validated me aging from 7 to 8. I was growing, and these amazing stories are growing with me. I can’t tell you how powerful that element was.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – May 1984
Just three years later, I got another gift from Lucas, Williams and Spielberg in the form of Temple of Doom. However, this gift came at a hefty price.
Just as Raiders aged with me form Star Wars and Empire, so too did Temple of Doom. Anyone reading this surely is familiar with the darkness of this chapter of the saga. It was also more “adult” with the Thugee, the more blatant sexual bi-play going on between Indy and Willie Scott, and the sheer violence of this film.
I was now 11 years old when this film came out, and I would say today, it’s the most “cartoonish” of the original three Indy films. But it was the kind of stuff that was right in the wheelhouse of any 11-year-old. Bugs for lunch! Lava pits! WATER!
Again, as it related to Lucas, Williams, Spielberg and Ford, it was even more of a good thing. John Williams composed more “Indiana Jones music” only with a twist, a new flavor. By this time, I also clearly understood Spielberg to be a storyteller at every bit the level of his friend Lucas.
I found Indy to be even more heroic in this movie. In Raiders, he was working to defeat the Nazis. But in this movie, he performed more selflessly, saving dozens of children he didn’t know from an underground slave labor camp. I was probably close in age at the time to many of the extras cast as those children, so I could identify with them. When I watched this movie in the theater with my dad in 1984, I even got choked up at the reunion scene at the end with the children and their parents. There’s a shot where a dad with an orange headpiece and a moustache who kisses and hugs his son with the most intense love. I even tear up writing these words, because I am lucky enough to have a father who loves me in that way, just like I saw on the screen.
Earlier I mentioned a hefty price. In the late fall of 1983, my dad received an incredible promotion at his work, necessitating a move to a town I’d never heard of 2 hours away called Midland. He’d come home on weekends, but by early April 1984, my mom, sister and I made the move up to join my dad in Midland. That event was the trans-formative event of my life, really until I graduated from high school in 1991.
Temple of Doom came out less than two months after that move. It was for me, a recall to what I already identified as better times, when I lived in Farmington Hills and I got 3 Star Wars movies, Raiders and E.T. in a six-year period from 1977-83. So here was Temple of Doom, one more gift, only it came at a time when my school and personal life had been flipped upside down. I lived in a city I didn’t know, sat in class with kids who mocked me on a daily basis (when they remembered I existed) and I had nothing stable to set my feet upon.
I remember watching Temple of Doom in the theater, and I did something I had never done before – sit through the end credits. I smiled (and still do today) at seeing so many familiar names in those credits. Ben Burtt. Dennis Muren. Joe Johnston. Lorne Peterson. Phil Tippett. And of course the three this site recognizes. I knew these names. They thrilled me with their genius talents. I listened to them. I watched them. I felt them from the inside out. They were my friends, when suddenly, in real life, my friends were gone.
I listen to the end credit musical cue now; I watch the credits roll on Temple of Doom, and it says to me “Goodbye, Brad.”
And then those friends were gone. I couldn’t have known of the devastation George Lucas was experiencing in 1984, going through his divorce. I couldn’t have envisioned his deep desire to step away from making these movies for a while. I had no idea Spielberg’s next move would be in a completely different direction with movies like The Color Purple and Empire of the Sun.
The years of 1985, 1986, 1987 dragged by. There were no more Indy movies. No more Star Wars movies. No John Williams soundtrack I would wear out. I had no real-life friends. My “imaginary” friends had moved on. We Star Wars fans refer to 1984-1991 as “The Dark Years,” when there were no products coming out from the franchise. They certainly were dark years for me, spilling over into the start of my time in high school in 1988.
In the summer of 1988, I read a newspaper article that mentioned the filming of a new Indiana Jones movie. This took me completely by surprise, and was the first light breaking through a dark cave I was inhabiting. Through the winter of 1988 and spring of 1989, I largely forgot about the movie coming out. It would have been late April or early May when commercials for the third Indy movie started hitting television.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – May 1989
Friday, May 26, 1989. I was 16 years old now. Drove my hand-me-down 1983 black Cutlass to the theater in Midland with a couple friends to experience a part of my childhood that was long forgotten. I had aged far more significantly from the last Indy film than I had throughout those aforementioned “Golden Years” even though we’re talking five years (1984-89) instead of six (1977-83.)
Harrison Ford described Crusade as the “most polished” of the three Indy films, and I connected with it just as effectively, being older now.
Unlike the previous two films, I didn’t go see this with my dad. I was 16, driving my own car. I was moving into adulthood, ever so slowly, and starting to heal from the scars my Dark Years had inflicted upon me. I could tell Indy was older too. Less impetuous. More cerebral. He thought his way through the three challenges to find the Grail. He didn’t need his whip or his punch. He needed his brains and his wits. It was a timely lesson for me to absorb at that age.
And the weird thing was, even though this was the first Indy movie I experienced without my dad right next to me, the father-son dynamic helped me relate to my dad in a new, older way. My dad always pushed me pretty hard when I was a kid. “You’re an adult now. You’re 15.” Is something I heard a lot back then. But I knew relationships had to grow and evolve as we got older. The older I got, the more respect I had for my dad, as a good, hard-working and selfless man. I could now see that relationship through Indy’s eyes, and it was again, perfect timing of story and my age to understand it.
More than anything else, Crusade represented for me, a return to the present day of the best part of my childhood, a part I was sure was gone forever.
My friends came back to me. I saw Dennis Muren’s name. Ben Burtt’s name. These incredible individuals who defined my childhood in the most fantastic way still had it, were still doing it, and were back to be there for me again
It was like I grouped all these people together into one consciousness. It spoke to me. It went silent. Then it came back.
“We were here for you, Brad. We were so happy we entertained you so much and compelled your parents to spend so much money on us. But we had to go away. I’m sorry you experienced so much pain while we were gone. But your pain is over now. We’re back. We’re here for you again.”
When Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, I somehow linked the end of the Star Wars saga to the end of my childhood. I wrote into the Star Wars Insider magazine with that exact thought, and it was kind enough to publish that comment in an issue commemorating that film’s 20th anniversary in 2003. As I look back now, my “childhood” really ended in May 1984. My childhood was burned away by age 16, but it was also a welcome back. A reward for all the pain, misery and loneliness I experienced in those five years.
Indy and his friends rode off into the sunset in the finest closing shot in the history of cinema. But this wasn’t a goodbye for me. This was a “you made it.”
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – May 2008
The story of this film is much simpler. It was the first movie I watched in the theater with my then-girlfriend, a lovely woman who, less than a month after this film’s release, would become my fiancée. How appropriate was it, for that movie to end with a wedding scene. It’s almost as if this franchise has been speaking to me all my life.
I thank all of you for joining me on this careful walk through a Peruvian jungle – I mean, my life – and to the people at thebeardedtrio.com for this opportunity. And thank you to George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, John Williams, Harrison Ford, Ben Burtt, etc. etc. for the friendship of a lifetime.
I live in Michigan and work in higher education. Been an unconditional fan of Star Wars and Indiana Jones for decades
The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.