Craft

Elder Indy, as only Ford can do it.

Doubtless, there are other movie actors who've pulled off Harrison Ford's career-spanning trifecta of replaying youthful characters from their biggest hits as elder men fraying around the edges.

We just can't think of any at the moment.

But surely no other actor has had the good luck to replay three of the most iconic characters in three of the most hallowed franchises of all time ... all of which turned up back-to-back over a solid-gold career arc three summers in a row.

In this case, the one arching over the summers of 1981-2-3.

It began in the summer of ‘81 with Ford's debut as Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" ... followed in the summer of ’82 by his first time out as Deckard in "Blade Runner" ... trailed the summer next (‘83) by his third time ’round as H. Solo in "Return of the Jedi."

That warm-weather triad pretty much defines The Three Faces Of Ford — cocky (Solo), mock-heroic (Indy), deadly serious (Deckard).

They are the ones that have been juggled, rejuggled and finessed over the course of a 50-year career.

It all began, ignobly and uncharacteristically, with his first credited role, one that took us years to track down before striking, if not gold, at least a curious artifact: the future Indy Jones as a skinny Confederate wannbe named Willie Bill Bearden (would we make that up?) in the 1968 Civil War opus, "Journey to Shiloh," shot on the cheap on the Universal Pictures back lot, between passing tour trams, no doubt.

The ostensible star of "Journey to Shiloh" was James Caan, who also was moving up the ladder. Ford was still lodged three or four rungs below ... around where Caan had been just a few years earlier.

But within a decade, Ford would hold the upper rung: Caan's "Godfather" turn in 1972 was the closest he ever came to blockbuster status. Nothing after measured up (no, not even "Freebie and the Bean").

"Journey to Shiloh" notwithstanding, the first place any of us of a certain age likely remembers seeing Ford is in what could fairly be called "The Movie That Changed My Life": 1973's "American Graffiti," cast as Saturday night cruiser Bob Falfa, he of the black ’55 Chevy and perfectly administered smirk. 

We're guessing it was the latter that George Lucas remembered three years later when he was casting the part of Han Solo for his little no-star space opera set in a galaxy far, far away ... with beat-up Millennium Falcons instead of well-worn '55 Chevys.

Ford was 36, 39 and 42 his first three times out as Han, and then he revisited the part, against all odds, at age 72 (with, as we all know now, no escape pod for a fifth revisit).

That cycle was repeated, more or less with Indy: Ford was 40, 43 and 48 the first three times around, then returned, at long last, at 66, for the senior years encore involving ill-advised Kingdoms of Crystal Skulls (another Indy return is in the works, we're told, which would find the character on the octogenarian ledge ... not something we're convinced we need to witness).

All of which brings us to the latest Fordian-redux moment at hand: the return, after 35 years, of his furrow-browed Deckard in "Blade Runner 2049" (the screen chronology of which posits that only 30 years have passed since last we we encountered him).

"Bade Runner 1982" had the misfortune of being released the same summer as Steven Spielberg's ultimate exercise in feel-good fun, "E.T.," so nobody was in the mood to have their parade rained on. 

It was the Spielberg film's good karma, we are assured, that worked against not only the perpetually raining, heavily downbeat "Blade Runner" but also its even badder-karma cohort, John Carpenter's remake of "The Thing."

Maybe it's just the bad karma that's gushing from every pore of our existence these strange days, but we'd take both "Blade Runner" and "The Thing" for a revisit over that stranded alien opus any old day of the week.

But that's another argument for another day.

Let's just agree to agree that not too many actors could pull off what Ford has managed three times in a row with three characters wildly removed in time from where we first met them.

Just six years separates John Wayne's Oscar-winning turn in "True Grit" from his failed 1975 attempt to go home again in "Rooster Cogburn," but the gap is glaring, the results almost painful to behold.

When Al Pacino returned to the "Godfather" fold in 1990, with a 26-year gulf separating the Michael Corleone we thought we knew, the reunion was more reductive than productive. He couldn't, and shouldn't, go home again.

Each of Ford's returns, though, has been part of an artful balancing act that, in the twilight of his career, seems to have become his true forte as an actor.

So if anyone could pull off an 80-year-old adventurer in a fedora and leather jacket, well, we know who can.

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.

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