The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The third film in Lucasfilm's other saga took from and gave influence to Star Wars.

Indiana Jones movies have long been a staple of inspiration for Star Wars. We’ve talked about the inspiration of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in this column a few times before (once for The Lost Missions, once for Gunga Din, and a third time for the musicals of Busby Berkeley), but we’ve not yet explored Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by George Lucas, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the third theatrical installment of the adventures of everyone’s favorite archeologist and professor and this outing took him to Italy, Germany, and Jordan, where he sought both his father and the Holy Grail.

The second season of Star Wars Rebels has been taking more than a few cues from the film as it reached the second half of Season Two. Many episodes are structured like an Indiana Jones film, with an almost out of context pre-adventure setting up the characters and situations before getting into the real story. In Last Crusade, we’re treated to Indy’s first adventure trying to steal the Cross of Coronado from grave robbers in Utah.

Star Wars Rebels - Kanan and Ezra fight the Inquisitors

Episodes of Star Wars Rebels that begin at the tail end of an adventure we don’t quite see are commonplace, and this is a structural device popularized by Indiana Jones (and James Bond before that, which was a chief inspiration for Indy’s exploits.) “The Honorable Ones,” “The Forgotten Droid,” and even “The Call,” are examples of that exciting opening that establishes themes and ideas through the rest of the episode, but start “in medias res.” My favorite this season was the beginning of “Shroud of Darkness.” This episode dropped us into the middle of a lightsaber duel between Kanan and Ezra and the Inquisitors as they searched for a base for the Rebel Alliance. It ties to the emotional core of the rest of the episode, but gives us that kick in the pants to start with that no one had previously done better than Indiana Jones.

That episode also has one of the most striking moments ripped right from the climax of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as well. In the film, Indiana Jones is told by the Grail Knight who guards the cup of Christ that if he crosses the seal of the temple, it will collapse. As the temple is collapsing, Indiana Jones turns and sees the knight there, offering something of an apology with the look he gives.

Star Wars Rebels - Yoda in the Jedi Temple on Lothal

In “Shroud of Darkness,” Ahsoka and Yoda share a similarly silent moment. But is she apologizing to him, as Indy seems to do for the Grail Knight? Or is Yoda apologizing to her with that look and wave, for his part in expelling her from the Jedi Order? Or for what he knew was to come by sending Ahsoka, Kanan, and Ezra to Malachor?

It’s going to be a mystery we may never know the answer to.

Star Wars Rebels - Sith Temple on Malachor

But Malachor itself in the episode “Twilight of the Apprentice” is designed as the sort of temple you’d find in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade if it was designed by ancient Sith believers. In the film, the temple that holds the Grail is created with tests that are designed to test the worthiness of those who would seek the prize. In the case of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it was the Holy Grail, in Rebels, the object of their desire was a Sith Holocron.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - Indy walking to the Holy Grail

Star Wars Rebels - Ezra jumping to reach Sith holocron

The one test on Malachor that most resembled the ones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the final one, the leap of faith. In the Indy picture it was called “The Leap from the Lion’s Head,” and it’s faith that’s required in both cases to pass. Whether that’s the faith in god or the dark side, but our heroes both pass the test and are able to collect the prize they seek, be it the Holy Grail or the knowledge of the Sith.

Star Wars Rebels - Sith temple collapsing

In both cases, the temples transform when the object is removed, crumbling behind the heroes. The crumbling temple behind Indiana Jones is something common to all four of the films he starred in, but it was Rebels that picked up that motif in both “Shroud of Darkness” and “Twilight of the Apprentice.”

Walter Donovan stands amidst his henchmen

The Empire Strikes Back - General Veers

These aren’t the only ties to Star Wars that Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade have. If you set aside George Lucas, John Williams, and Harrison Ford’s involvement, the largest tie between Star Wars and Last Crusade is Julian Glover. Glover played General Veers in The Empire Strikes Back and was the principal bad guy, Walter Donavan, in Last Crusade. He’s a brilliant actor and both franchises are lucky to have him. It’s no wonder he’s not been involved just with these two movie series, but Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, and James Bond as well.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a must see film for anyone who loves movies, though I wouldn’t recommend it being your first outing with Dr. Jones. Definitely watch Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom first. Though this film is my third favorite in the series (after Raiders and Temple of Doom), it’s a classic piece of cinema that is inherently re-watchable and entertaining, just like the other three films in the series.

It’s rated PG-13 by the MPAA for action/adventure violence and some sensuality, though I think that rating is harsh for this film by today’s standards. I’ve watched it many times with the whole family and it was never the wrong choice.

Availability: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is widely available on DVD and Blu-ray. It’s available to stream with a modest rental fee on most streaming media platforms.

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmakerjournalist, and the editor in chief of BigShinyRobot.comHe’s also the co-host of the Star Wars podcast, Full of Sith.