“Defining Moments” is a continuing series exploring key scenes or sequences from Lucasfilm’s many productions. It examines storytelling craft, behind-the-scenes insights, and cultural legacies from each selection. Revisit an old favorite or discover something brand new…
An Opening Fit for a One-of-a-Kind Hero
Production: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
George Lucas had envisioned Indiana Jones as a hero in over his head. Challenges seem too big; enemies seem too powerful; yet somehow the persistent archaeologist breaks through to win the day, or at least to fighter another one.
Audiences first met Indiana Jones in silence, traipsing through a jungle both ominous and inviting. He projects confidence. Entering a hidden temple with his timid companion, Satipo, Indy keeps his cool and avoids danger. But after he swaps a golden idol from its place with a bag of sand, the tides shift and booby traps come to life.
Indy evades falling debris and rapid-firing darts, only to be tricked by Satipo, who takes the idol and leaves him stranded across a wide pit. Indy jumps for it, barely reaches, slips and grabs a vine, which starts to loosen. Could anything else go wrong?
Just making it safely under a collapsing stone door, he finds Satipo dead, the idol at his feet. A momentary win. Another booming sound erupts. Indy turns and can only gasp before high-tailing it. A gigantic boulder rolls after him. He trips and stumbles as it gains distance. The boulder slams hard across the opening as Indy leaps and tumbles down the hillside, idol in hand, only to discover a group of warriors and rival archaeologist René Belloq. He has lost again.
No sooner has he given up his prize is Indy racing through the same jungle, no longer silent, but shouting his pilot’s name, desperate for him to start the engine. The warriors shooting arrows just past him, he grabs a vine, and clumsily swings into a river, barely reaching the seaplane and climbing inside. The pilot’s snake Reggie greets him in his seat, and the exhausted Indy is startled out of his wits.
The opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark teased not only the film’s appetite for adventure and suspense, but also the weary determination of its hero. Like the film itself barreling from one action sequence to another, Indy keeps on, for it is indeed not the years, but the mileage that most counts.