Films featuring
Harrison Ford

The Return of the Jedi

The wrap-up to the first trilogy (chronologically, not narratively) should have served as a warning of the pain we were to endure upon the release of the prequels twenty years later. All of the flaws that dogged episodes I through III were visible in Episode VI for anyone who cared to look.

Of course, back then we simply assumed that it was George Lucas unable to top the success of The Empire Strikes Back. Maybe he hired the wrong director in Richard Marquand or, as we have often seen in the case of movie trilogies, the filmmakers can’t always write an ending that lives up to the promise of what’s gone before.

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Clear and Present Danger

The course of action I’d suggest is a course of action I can’t suggest.

The Hunt for Red October is still the gold standard for film adaptations of Tom Clancy novels, but this third installment, the second with Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, is only second by a narrow margin and widely superior to the previous Patriot Games and the subsequent Sum of All Fears.

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The Empire Strikes Back

Why, you stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder.

While the 1977 original may have launched the Star Wars phenomenon, I would make the case that this film was responsible for creating the enduring franchise. Had The Empire Strikes Back fallen flat on its face, had it not been, in many eyes, a superior film to the original (or equal in quality at the very worst), there would have been no special editions, no prequels, no Disney sale, and no one would be talking about whether J. J. Abrams wants to direct a seventh film.

I think the strength of this film lies in one simple fact. This is Darth Vader’s movie, more than any other in the franchise. Continue reading

Star Wars

Luke's just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him.

Looking back on it from more than 30 years, it’s hard to imagine a time when Star Wars did not permeate our culture. It informs both our popular arts as well as high-level policy debate during the Cold War. It rewrote the rules of summer movies only two years after Jaws wrote them in the first place. This one movie took merchandising from a tidy little sideline to a stratospheric cash cow for Hollywood.

In short, a little movie made for less than $10 million, of which the studio thought so little that they willingly parted with all the ancillary rights that studios normally hang on to until hell freezes over, ended up being the greatest single act of creative destruction in the history of the business since The Jazz Singer. After Star Wars, the artistically ambitious films that were a hallmark of the early-to-mid-seventies were shuffled off to the independent filmmakers, while Hollywood became a factory for blockbusters.

At this juncture, it’s pointless to review this movie like I would a “normal” film, other than to offer my conjecture on why this little movie worked like no other movie before it and few since. And yes, I’m calling it Star Wars, not Episode IV or A New Hope. The movie that hit theaters in 1977 was called Star Wars, so that is the name of the movie.

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Cowboys and Aliens

If I didn’t already know this was based on an existing graphic novel, I might have assumed that the title was a leftover “working” title, and no one could be bothered to come up with anything better when the film was completed. Despite the major-league production values and the marquee value of Indiana Jones and James Bond in the cast, this is a forgettable pot-boiler that does proper service to only one half of its title.

A nameless stranger (Daniel Craig) wakes up with no memory of who he is, a wound in his side, and a large and strangely unremovable metal bracelet on one wrist. He reaches the nearest town, where people recognize him as Jake Lonergan, notorious stagecoach robber. Awkward.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark


As a standalone movie, judged apart from its lesser sequels, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a pure, unfiltered dose of joyful escapism. Rarely has the medium of film been so successfully used for the purpose of pure entertainment. Free from director Steven Spielberg’s tendency for suburban navel-gazing, cute kids and distant parents, as well as producer George Lucas’s later bloated mythic pretensions, Raiders tosses overboard every piece of narrative flab as the story hums along like a well-tuned V-8 engine.

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Blade Runner

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Blade Runner is the exception that proves the rule that filmmakers should not be allowed to revisit their earlier work, like George Lucas did with Star Wars. Unlike Lucas’s popcorn trilogy, Ridley Scott‘s visionary adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electic Sheep has always seemed like it really was only partially finished.

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Apocalypse Now

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Francis Ford Coppola’s feverish anti-war epic Apocalypse Now actually began its journey to screen in the late sixties when Über-macho filmmaker John Milius attempted to meet the challenge presented to him when he was informed that no one had successfully adapted Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, although several had tried, including luminaries such as Orson Welles. His original screenplay was true to Milius’s conservative, pro-military outlook, containing a great deal of praise for the warrior lifestyle and nothing but contempt for the hippies he saw protesting against the Vietnam War.

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The Frisco Kid


The Frisco Kid is a genial comedy desperately in search of a narrative thread. This story of a hapless Polish rabbi (Gene Wilder) finding his way across the American Old West with the help of a genial bank robber (Harrison Ford) has a good heart and some funny moments, but no sense of direction. It hits the high points of western clichés, like train robbers, Chinese railroad workers, a hanging posses, horse being spooked by a rattlesnake and a climatic showdown on a dusty street. The real problem is that the central relationship, between Wilder’s Rabbi Avram Belinski and Ford’s Tommy Lillard, has no story arc. They meet, they bicker, they reach San Francisco.

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The Fugitive


When Hollywood announces that it’s going to rape the collective childhood memories of the baby boomer generation and desecrate another television classic for the big screen, the results usually resemble what comes out of the southbound end of a northbound horse. There are rare exceptions, like The Addams Family, which take on a new life of their own when translated to the movies, but having that level of talent on board is pretty rare for such an enterprise. Speaking of enterprises, the Star Trek films are a different kind of exception, being more of a resurrection using the original cast than an actual adaptation.

Hollywood often likes to say they are “re-imagining” these TV shows, which is a laugh. Between the TV adapations, the endless sequels and remakes, “imagine” is a dirty word in that town. For them to re-imagine anything is not only an execise in futile absurdity, but also a violation of the laws of physics.

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