Indiana Jones and the Curse of the ‘Legends’ Label: The Future of the Franchise

Since its acquisition of Lucasfilm in 2012, Disney has not released a single piece of new Indiana Jones content. This, of course, was due to their emphasis on fast-tracking the Star Wars saga, specifically making and releasing episodes 7, 8, and 9. However, in the subsequent years, the marketing of the Indiana Jones franchise has been wanting, to say the least. Though the fandom isn’t quite as large as Star Wars, there is still a lot of overlap and certainly, a fanbase does remain (particularly for the original trilogy).

Read: Toby Jones Joins Cast of ‘Indiana Jones 5’; More Hints Point to De-aged Ford

They have tried to reboot the franchise once before, in 2008. During the promotions for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Lucasfilm churned out new products left and right. Toy lines, a brand-new (now defunct) official Indiana Jones Magazine, DVD sets of Young Indiana Jones, and video games were all released between 2008 and 2010. Since that time, no new content has been released. But everybody, Lucasfilm included, fully expected a fifth Indy film in the near future and that the franchise would continue in that form. However, delay upon delay prevented that from happening before Disney acquired Lucasfilm and, as I said before, Indiana Jones was simply not Disney’s priority in 2012. Consequently, the beloved property simply sat there, untouched and unloved for several years.

This brings us to now, 2021, with the fifth film currently filming, making it an exciting time as an Indy fan. However, the question must be asked: will Disney follow in their own footsteps with Indiana Jones? Will they rebrand all of the previous “canon” to “Legends’, as they did for Star Wars? It wouldn’t be altogether surprising. After all, Lucasfilm has already re-written Indy canon before- at least twice. The first time was in the late 1990s when they were preparing The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles for home video. The original episodes aired with an old Indiana Jones, played by George Hall, “bookending” each story. The bookends portrayed Indy in his old age as he told the tales of his adventures to those who were willing to listen (usually children). However, these versions of the episodes are nowhere to be found on home video. To prepare them for their home video releases, each episode of the series was re-edited to present the series chronologically, thereby removing all of the bookends. Since then, the Old Indy scenes have been unofficially considered obsolete.

The second time that Lucasfilm changed canon was as recent as 2008. Rob MacGregor, author of several Indiana Jones novels, recalls the circumstances in an interview from 2019:

“Much later, however, I did encounter concerns about the fact that Indy had gotten married for a brief time in my series. That happened during a meeting at the LucasFilm headquarters at the Presidio when I met the Indiana Jones “historian.” The meeting took place shortly before the release of Kingdom, and I was there mainly to talk about adapting the latest version of the Indy game. He was concerned about the marriage and said it was a mistake that wouldn’t be included in the Indiana Jones bible. I could tell he hadn’t read my novel—in spite of his job—and someone had told him about the marriage.”

Rob MacGregor

In terms of the canon v. legends debate, Indiana Jones is at somewhat of a disadvantage to begin with, one that Star Wars didn’t suffer from. When Disney bought Lucasfilm, the majority of the best-selling Star Wars novels and comics were still in print. This is no longer true of Indiana Jones. The original novels- of which there are about a dozen- have been out of print for years. Published by Bantam, they were released between the years of 1991 and 1999. Only one more Indiana Jones novel was ever released. Indiana Jones and the Army of the Dead, published by Del Ray in 2009, is currently the only novel still in print. A novelization based on the Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings video game was planned to be released in 2010 but was ultimately canceled due to a schedule change and the lack of audience interest (according to the publisher).

After examining all of this history, it wouldn’t be all too surprising if Disney de-canonized all of the classic Indiana Jones books, comics, and video games. However, there is still the question of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Lucasfilm put a lot of time into re-editing (sometimes with new footage) those episodes and releasing them on DVD with a plethora of historical documentaries. Furthermore, in one of those episodes, Harrison Ford even appears as Indy. A different episode of the series is referenced in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

This all makes me wonder if Disney will simply go the route of Star Wars by canonizing only the films and a show. In this case, the four films and the Young Indy show, but render everything else as “Legends” material. Yes, keeping the show would remove some of their storytelling freedom, but it would still allow them to create many new adventures in adult Indy’s life (and altogether remove the issue of his first wife).

As of June 2021, the only two pieces of Disney/Lucasfilm Indiana Jones content in development are the upcoming film and a new video game that was announced earlier this year. Because neither Disney nor Lucasfilm itself has any allegiance to the prior non-film Indiana Jones stories, rebooting the canon- and hence the franchise- may be in its future.

Post-Script: Disney+?

Within the last year, all episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles were removed from Prime Video. This may hint that Disney is attempting to move the streaming rights to their own platform; a smart move if they are planning ahead. Eventually, it is likely that all the feature films will make their way to Disney+ as well, provided they can obtain those rights from Paramount for the first four. Either way, Disney+ could easily be the place for the future of the franchise and stand alongside Marvel and Star Wars as the hub to watch both new and old Indiana Jones content.

Update: The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles have just appeared on Paramount+, save for the episode featuring Harrison Ford’s appearance. Given that Paramount+ is a direct competitor of Disney+, it may make it more difficult for Disney to gain those streaming rights for the show.

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