Debate Club: Who is Harrison Ford's best character: Han Solo or Indiana Jones?

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Dec 15, 2017

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle both sides of the greatest arguments in pop culture.

In this installment, we're looking at two of the best movie characters of the last 40 years. And as it just so happens, they're played by the same actor. So who's better: Han Solo or Indiana Jones?

THE CASE FOR HAN SOLO

In the Star Wars story, Luke Skywalker is obviously the protagonist: It's his journey to becoming a Jedi that's the franchise's emotional center. But, c'mon, who's the character who's the most fun? That's clearly Han Solo, the platonic ideal of the rascal-y, swashbuckling hero who gets to deliver smart-ass quips, fire a blaster and rescue the damsel in distress — all without breaking a sweat.

George Lucas may have created this universe with its wide-eyed sense of adventure and iconic portrayals of good and evil, but it's Harrison Ford who gave Star Wars its swagger and sense of humor. And when Han finally admits to his feelings for Princess Leia, he also becomes one-half of the trilogy's great love story, allowing Ford to show a softer side to this scruffy-looking nerf herder. Sure, Han's a scoundrel, but he's a scoundrel with a heart of gold. That's why his death in The Force Awakens stings so much: No one in the galaxy could ever take his place.

 

THE CASE FOR INDIANA JONES

It's all right there in the name, isn't it? Indiana Jones. How in the world did we go through centuries of human existence without having Indiana Jones in it? It was easy for Han Solo to stand out in the often-wooden world of Star Wars. Indiana Jones has to be at the center of everything. He's the reason we're all there.

And what a hero! Sure, he can throw a punch or handle himself in a car chase, but this is, after all, Doctor Jones. Indiana Jones is ultimately about the science of it all: He gets in adventures because of a greater purpose than money or gold or women or drink (though those are not-unpleasant diversions along the way). He's here for science, and for archeology, and for history. And he'll knock the hell out of a Nazi or two if he has to as well. Indiana Jones is everything you want him to be. And he's even human: Everybody hates snakes.

THE CASE AGAINST HAN SOLO

Well, if you're looking for the case against Han Solo, we've got a guy you can ask: Harrison Ford. It has been obvious for years that Ford was tired of Han Solo in a way he was never tired of Indiana Jones: Remember his famous "you can type this s— but you sure can't say it" line. For all the love Ford got for Star Wars, by the final movie, you could see his enthusiasm start to wane.

But he was comfortably putting on that hat and whip for decades and is apparently willing to do it again. Han Solo always felt like a burden to him, a youthful indulgence that kept following him around: You sensed he signed on for The Force Awakens just to finally make it go away. Han Solo is like an antihero test run for Indiana Jones: He's the beta version before Indiana Jones 2.0.

THE CASE AGAINST INDIANA JONES

The main objection to Indiana Jones isn't so much Indiana Jones as a character but the Indiana Jones movies as a whole. Everybody agrees that Raiders of the Lost Ark is a stone-cold classic. But after that? We actually like Temple of Doom, which is a pretty divisive film. But by Last Crusade, what was once so fresh about Indiana Jones was starting to feel awfully stale. (Not for nothing: The introduction of his comedic-sidekick dad, played memorably by Sean Connery, was partly a way to breathe a little life into Indy.)

Ford may be partial to Indiana Jones, but his return in the atrocious Kingdom of the Crystal Skull suggests that his instincts shouldn't be trusted. That sequel reduced the once-great hero to a collection of lame tics. Yeah, Indy still had the hat and the bullwhip, but the inspiration was long gone. At least Han Solo stayed funny and compelling throughout all those Star Wars sequels. Also, be honest: Who's the deeper, more nuanced character?

 

DECISION

Man, this is tough. You have the handsome go-it-alone rogue who ultimately learns, through his new friends, to understand that there are things bigger than himself and joins the Rebellion. Or you have the handsome go-it-alone rogue who is always looking out for the world, the guy who saves the day, gets the girl and lives for another adventure.

You really can't go wrong either way, but in a pinch, we'll take the guy who can hold every movie by himself, who stands at the center of every frame as a shining example of the American ideal, a fighter for history, for science, for justice. And he's the only guy who can wear the hell out of that fedora.

Indiana Jones is the pick. But barely.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.