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Indy gallops through Mexico in “Spring Break Adventure.”

Young Indiana Jones: A Beginner’s Guide

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Learn more about the series making its storied return on Disney+.

“Before the world discovered Indiana, Indiana discovered the world.” Back in 1992, those words introduced audiences to Lucasfilm’s newest television series, The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones (known at the time as The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles). Today, this one-of-a-kind story is available once again on Disney+. As it meets a new audience, let’s peel back the curtain on one of George Lucas’ passion projects.

After completing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) in partnership with director Steven Spielberg and actor Harrison Ford, Lucasfilm was venturing into live-action television. The company’s first project, Maniac Mansion (an adaptation of a popular Lucasfilm computer game), aired on The Family Channel in 1990.

George Lucas was also passionate about education. Committed to experimenting with alternative forms of classroom study, the Lucasfilm Learning division helped innovate new technology, including partnering with Apple Computer to bring their machines into schools. Lucas was also interested, however, in using storytelling itself as a learning tool.

The Last Crusade had featured a memorable prologue where actor River Phoenix portrayed a teenaged Indiana Jones. Joining this concept with his educational interest, Lucas devised the idea for a television series involving young Indy’s adventures around the world, from boyhood to young adulthood. In each episode, he would encounter historical figures inspired by their true-life counterparts, witnessing and participating in events that have shaped the culture, politics, science, and philosophy of our world today.

Lucas himself had been inspired to learn about the past by reading narrative history books when he was a child. Young Indy would be a new spark of curiosity for another generation, with all the fun and entertainment value of a Lucasfilm production.

The Story

The Young Indy series comprises 22 feature-length episodes that span Indy’s life between roughly 1908 and 1920. The early episodes depict Indy around the age of 10 (played by Corey Carrier) when he joins his parents and tutor on a world lecture tour, visiting locations as varied as the Egyptian pyramids, the streets of Paris, and the Great Wall of China.

The majority of episodes follow Indy as a teenager into his early adulthood (played by Sean Patrick Flanery). Running away from home, he gets caught up in the Mexican Revolution before joining the Belgian army in World War I. These adventures take Indy to innumerable locales from the Congolese jungles to the islands of the southern Pacific Ocean. As the series ends, Indy is back in the United States studying archaeology, on the cusp of becoming the hero we know from Harrison Ford’s portrayal on the big screen.

For Indy fans, the series adds layers of background to this alluring character. What inspired him to become an archaeologist? How did he learn to make things up as he goes? When did he first fall in love? There are important insights into Indy’s relationship with his father, which is often tragic but ultimately redeemed. Entirely absent from the movies is Indy’s mother Anna. Young Indy viewers discover how she taught her son compassion and sensitivity. There are other original characters who help shape the man, including his teacher Helen Seymour, his friend Remy Baudouin, as well as the many historical figures. In short, this series can change the way you watch the Indy movies.

For those less familiar with Indy’s big screen adventures, Young Indy is of equal interest. Each episode is unique in its subject matter and storytelling style. It’s full of close-up looks at diverse lands and peoples. To embrace the cliché, there’s truly something for everyone in Young Indy. Although George Lucas primarily aimed to inspire young people to learn more about history, grown-ups are by no means immune to its many wonders and lessons, from the ecological ideas of Theodore Roosevelt to the noble sacrifices of the English Suffragettes to the Black pioneers of jazz in 1920s Chicago.

Making Young Indy 

Realizing such a peculiar idea – especially amongst the landscape of early 1990s primetime television – was audacious to say the least. Young Indy was almost entirely an international operation. Producer Rick McCallum (who would later join Lucas on the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Radioland Murders, and Red Tails) oversaw a cast and crew that crisscrossed the globe for as many as 50 weeks a year of continued shooting. The cast included guest stars as varied as Catherine Zeta Jones, Daniel Craig, and Christopher Lee (Harrison Ford even reprised his role in one episode). The crew were seasoned, mostly British professionals who formed the core group to subsequently make the Star Wars prequels. Over more than five years of production, they visited some two dozen countries around the world, hiring local support at every location.

Back at Skywalker Ranch in Northern California, George Lucas crafted the stories with an eclectic group of British and American screenwriters. Their ranks included Rosemary Anne Sisson, the English writer behind the iconic series Upstairs, Downstairs, and an upstart filmmaker named Frank Darabont, who would soon write and direct the adaptation of a Stephen King novel, The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Their work was informed by intensive historical research prepared by Lucasfilm’s team of librarians. At a time when most Hollywood studios were trashing or selling their old library stocks, Lucasfilm was rapidly growing its collection under the leadership of head librarian Debbie Fine.

Young Indy also became an important testing ground for Lucasfilm’s newest production tools. The series was primarily cut using the EditDroid, one of the first non-linear computer editors, which had been in development at the company for over a decade. In a similar category was the SoundDroid, a digital audio tool used at Skywalker Sound. To help create enveloping historical scenes of cities and landscapes, Young Indy’s visual effects included digital background extensions and composites. Today the standard industry practice, all of these techniques were still rarely used in feature films at the time, let alone for a television series.

Legacy

Initially airing on ABC in the United States, Young Indy moved to The Family Channel before concluding in 1996, having won nine Emmy Awards with 11 more nominations. Lucasfilm’s work on the series was far from complete. Under George Lucas’ direction, the series was re-edited from its broadcast form into 22 feature-length episodes, allowing viewers to experience Indy’s story chronologically. At times, new scenes and bookends were shot, including while on location for Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999). The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones first arrived on VHS in 1999, followed by a DVD release in 2007-08. This later release included nearly 100 historical documentaries made by a dedicated Lucasfilm team covering the topics explored in the main series.

Today’s Disney+ release marks the first time Young Indy has been made available by Lucasfilm in 15 years. “I wanted young people to realize that history is really about people more than it’s about events,” George Lucas said 2007. “I wanted to show that those people are just like we are, regardless of their impact on philosophy, music, religion, and culture. And Indy’s childhood was a natural vehicle for the kinds of stories I had envisioned.”

Lucasfilm | Timeless stories. Innovative storytelling.

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