Harrison Ford keeps his own hangar at the Santa Monica Municipal Airport. Among his inventory are a helicopter, a jet, and an immaculately painted blue-and-green biplane. He's a skilled pilot, and sometimes he goes for rides between earthly appointments. Today's a helicopter day. In fact, Ford's been out choppering around on this clear, calm mid-March afternoon, touching down only now to do an interview. Wearing jeans, a navy blue T-shirt, and dark aviator glasses, he strides across the landing area so purposefully you can almost hear a military march.
Seeing him in person, up close, makes the hard fact that Ford will turn 66 this July seem like a clerical mistake. He looks strikingly younger than he has lately on film. There's a big vein showing down the middle of each of his sizable biceps. Yet hard-bodied as he keeps himself, he's only mortal. And so for every punch he throws as the world's best-known archaeologist in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, audiences will be thinking about a different, offscreen battle: the one between Ford and Father Time.
Ford first played the whip-wielding, globe-trotting Dr. Jones in 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, returned in 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and seemingly wrapped up the series playing son to Sean Connery in 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But prospects for a post-trilogy resurrection got going in the early 1990s and never stopped. Early in the twisty-turny development process, executive producer George Lucas (who created the character) and director Steven Spielberg realized that if they ever did incubate a story good enough to justify taking that fedora out of mothballs, so much time would have passed that it would look silly to pretend Indy was the same old that is, young guy. They ultimately set Crystal Skull in 1957, 19 years after the events of Last Crusade. In a neat real-world parallel, it's been exactly 19 years since that movie was released.
''That's one of the things I was most keen about,'' says Ford, sitting down for an indoors talk shortly after landing. ''Just acknowledge the years, without reservation. What's the big deal? The guy's 18, 20 years older. So what?'' There it is, the question on which hundreds of millions in grosses are riding. So what? Well, some people might not want to see a beloved action icon reaching AARP eligibility. ''Yeah, I've heard it,'' Ford says. '''Aaaaw, he's older.' Well, s---, yes. And by the way? So are you. So...are... you! Take a look in the f---ing mirror!''
NEXT PAGE: Per Spielberg's strict decree, not even the Paramount marketing team has been allowed to see any work-in-progress versions. But we do have inside intelligence on what it's about.