When George Lucas launched The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles on ABC in 1992, it didn't click like the Indy feature films that were a huge 1980s box office force. The hour-long series tried to gene-splice early-20th-century history lessons into a boy's-adventure milieu, and it worked only fitfully as entertainment. Indy portrayed as both a tiresomely headstrong kid (Corey Carrier), circa 1908-10, and a charming teen (Sean Patrick Flanery) from 1916 to 1920 became a freakishly well-connected Zelig-cum-Candide. He chatted up great politicians, artists, scientists, and philosophers wherever he went. (Sample pileup: In Paris, prepubescent Indy meets teenage Norman Rockwell, who takes him to a café where Pablo Picasso and Edgar Degas hang out. Voilà!
While some of this was grand, dorky fun and certainly lavishly visualized audiences wondered, Why isn't there more whip cracking and less lecturing? Does this golly-gee Carrier kid really grow up to be Harrison Ford? Never a ratings champ, Chronicles lasted less than two seasons, then managed a truncated season 3 on cable's Family Channel. In the mid-1990s, Lucas had the shows reedited. He renamed them The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, excised the creaky intros by ''Old Indy'' (a 93-year-old narrator), inserted new bridging material, and configured it all chronologically into 22 ninety-minute telefilms. You might have spotted them on cable or on VHS (they were released in 1999) and now they're complete on DVD in three massive collections, with Vol. 3: The Years of Change arriving just in time to cap the cross-promotion of Indiana Jones and the Kindgom of the Crystal Skull, in theaters May 22. (Vol. 1: The Early Years and Vol. 2: The War Years came out in late 2007.)
The big news of the DVD sets is the huge assortment of original documentaries 94 of them over the three volumes that fill in the details on the VIPs Indiana is forever meeting. Some Vol. 3 examples: In ''The Winds of Change,'' Indy attends his pal Paul Robeson's valedictory speech; an accompanying profile of the actor-singer-activist features James Earl Jones, among others, recounting the tragic arc of Robeson's later life. ''Hollywood Follies'' has Indy working with filmmaker John Ford, and in a companion piece, experts like Martin Scorsese parse Ford's career. These background dossiers more than 40 hours' worth are copiously researched and consistently engrossing, with lots of academics and authors in the talking-heads mix.
The shows themselves remain wildly uneven. Vol. 1, a European grand tour with Indy largely still in short pants, can get tedious, while much of Vol. 3, which immerses Indy in popular culture jazz, Broadway, the movies veers way off the world-events beat. The strongest is Vol. 2, charting Indy's sad, sobering-life-lessons education as a soldier and spy in Europe during World War I. No temples here. Plenty of doom. Vol. 3: B; Vol. 1: B-; Vol. 2: B+