This weekend sees the release of the fifth and supposedly final chapter of the Indiana Jones saga with the Dial of Destiny, starring the now-80-year-old Harrison Ford in the role that – along with Han Solo – made him a film legend.
But, he’s actually only one of five actors to play the role in a series of films and TV programs, which frequently saw Indy interacting with objects and themes of faith.
Here, we take a chronological look at Indiana Jones' relationship to faith through the TV series and movies.
The Return of 'Young Indiana Jones'
In preparation for the release of Dial of Destiny, all of the four previous films, as well as the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (now retitled The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones) – a short-lived 1990s TV spin-off, also helmed by creator George Lucas – are now streaming on Disney+.
Globe-trotting archaeologist Jones remains my favorite film/TV character of all time. The title character’s search for historical facts and sacred relics inspired one of my ordination classmates to study anthropology, of which archaeology comprises one of the four subfields.
Let's take a look at this faith-filled series.
The three-volume DVD sets of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles feature two episodes combined thematically, with connecting scenes and sometimes bookend scenes shot using de-aging technology. They now play as 22 feature films.
References to the TV show below are specific to the DVD versions, which were all that was available when this was written.
George Lucas, for all his creative genius, credits Young Indy as his greatest achievement, in his own words.
The Evolving Faith of Indiana Jones Over the Character's Chronology
1908-10: Young Indiana Jones: The Early Years (Corey Carrier)
Medieval history professor Dr. Henry Jones Sr. (Lloyd Owen of later Rings of Power fame) presents his latest research on a worldwide academic tour. He brings along his wife Anna (Ruth de Sosa) and son, Henry Jones, Jr., leaving their husky dog, “Indiana” back in Princeton, New Jersey.
Tutor Miss Seymour (Margaret Tyzack) proves most influential to the 9-year-old Jones. The Carrier films establish the family as Anglican, with Seymour a godmother of sorts, making sure Indy stays on the Christian path given his exposure to many different ethnicities, cultures and religions.
1912: Utah (River Phoenix)
The opening segment of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade shows a teenage Indy beginning his obsession with recovering lost artifacts, the object in this mini adventure being the Catholic Cross of Coronado.
We’re introduced to Sean Connery playing the role of Indy’s father, at his desk researching the Holy Grail as a side hobby. We don’t see the mother here, but it’s in the film (and TV show) that she died a year after this time frame, creating a rift between father and son.
1916-18: Young Indiana Jones: The War Years (Sean Patrick Flanery)
Teen Indiana skips his senior year of high school and fakes his age to enter the Belgian army, citing this great conflict “must be fought and, above all, won.”
The trench warfare disillusions his previous idealism and sense of adventure, So, he deserts the army and signs up for French intelligence, working as a spy to end the war. The viewer gets the sense that Indy begins to lose faith.
Only a locket holding a picture of his first crush (from a Carrier episode) and real-life Princess Sophie of Hohenberg, worn as a pseudo-scapular depicts some remnant of faith.
Sophie is not the only Catholic Hapsburg Indy encounters. He meets the now Blessed Charles I and Servant of God, Empress Consort Zita of Austria in a spy mission where the Allied Powers unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate a separate peace with Central Power, Austria-Hungary.
1919-20: Young Indiana Jones: Years of Change (Sean Patrick Flanery)
Following the Treaty of Versailles, Jones returns to the States and quickly enrolls in university studies, majoring in archaeology. We witness a more permanent fissure between father and son, neither of whom have overcome the loss of wife and mother, respectively.
In a poignant scene, Jones toots away on a soprano sax while the University of Chicago’s chapel church bells ring in the distance. If he hasn’t lost belief, he’s clearly lost the practice of the faith.
Bonus: Harrison Ford makes his only TV appearance, bookending the Mystery of the Blues film in scenes set in 1950 Wyoming.
1935: Temple of Doom (Harrison Ford, star of the five feature films).
The second film in the trilogy actually comes first in the temporal timeline. I think this distinction is important because the original trilogy establishes a theological arc, moving from fragments of truth in this film to revelation in Raiders to the fullness of truth in Last Crusade.
I’m rather generous in saying fragments of faith in Temple, for at the religious center of the film is a weird syncretism of Hinduism and native religions resulting in caste slave labor and human sacrifice.
It’s no coincidence, either, that this film is the least travel-oriented of the four. Indy, singer and reluctant participant Willie (Kate Capshaw) and feisty kid sidekick Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), begin their story in China and only travel to India.
They’re literally stuck and constrained in the Temple and its bizarre rituals.
1936: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones searches for the Ark of the Covenant, once entrusted to God’s chosen people. In one of the finest pieces of film exposition, he explains the story of God, the Hebrews and the Ark to federal agents, snarking, “if you believe in that sort of thing."
His overt agnosticism is put to the test at film’s end. The Nazis brazenly open the Ark. In contrast, will Indy and romantic interest Marion (Karen Allen) close their eyes in humility before God and His angels?
1938: Last Crusade
Another great exposition scene has American museum benefactor Donovan (Julian Glover) explaining to Indy the story of the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper.
Devoid of smugness this time, Indy joins in the conversation with more of a schoolboy giddiness, perhaps believing in "that sort of thing."
Indy also reconciles with his father (Sean Connery), the elder Jones having found illumination, a confirmation of his long-held Christian beliefs.
Indy remains mum on what he discovered internally, but we get the sense a decades-long rift with his father, may heal, too, any beef he had with God the Father.
1957: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Indy goes in search of a lost alien kingdom. The enemies here are the Cold War Soviets. The cynical part of me thinks that this most-poorly-reviewed of the films (the late, greatest of all time, Roger Ebert being an exception) was because communists were portrayed as villains, usually a “no-no” for left-leaning critics.
Be that as it may, Indy here is clearly rooted in belief, referring a couple of times to his father (Sean Connery in a desk photo) in Heaven and eventually marrying Marion (Karen Allen, reprising her role) in a Christian service.
1969: Dial of Destiny
One humorous tidbit early in the film shows Harrison Ford and Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge from Fleabag) questioned by adversaries as to how they know each other.
Simultaneously, they offer different answers. Indy proudly responds, “I’m her godfather!” She mumbles, “We’re barely related.”
In an even earlier scene, we spot an icon of the Crucifixion.
Indy is settled in Christian belief, yet, like much of his generation coming out of the tumultuous ‘60s, had little idea how to love as a spouse and father figure.
This latest film is the first one that overtly incorporates logical truth. I’m usually not a fan of time-travel stories, but this film considers the mathematics of it.
Invisible, logical truth, after all, runs parallel to the notion of an invisible God of revelation. They exist, whether one believes in them or not.
1992-93 Old Indy
The original TV episodes were bookended with a nonagenarian Indy, played by George Hall (in an eyepatch). They are watchable on YouTube.
When one is most settled and steeped in faith, you can offer life lessons without even mentioning God, and that’s what the viewer witnesses here: Indy’s tall tales with fact, truth and logic at their core.
Click here to visit USC-film-school graduate Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.