I recently purchased a VCR because nostalgia has been hitting me hard lately. My fiance and I rescued one of these archaic machines from a local Goodwill and as many VHS tapes as we could carry, confusing nearly every sincere and unironic midwesterner we saw.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I was casually bragging about my newfound VHS collection to a friend that I realized over half of the videotapes I had acquired starred Harrison Ford. I didn’t realize how pivotal he was to my formative adolescence. Turns out he showed up nearly everywhere; throughout the original three Star Wars films, teaching me how to portray the right balance of snark and softness; (a generational quality we’ve all seemed to pick up, perhaps due to Han) he was there as Indiana Jones, (sans Temple of Doom cuz, yikes) living out my more adventure-seeking only-child fantasies. And there he was yet again, at some point in middle school, at Jake Reed’s sleepover birthday party, starring in the first Rated R film I would ever see, snarling at Gary Oldman’s Russian accent to get off his plane.
At first this reflection came over me with some confusion, I couldn’t think of the last time I saw him in a movie. But perhaps it was because he was so present and important for only a handful of malleable years that I hadn’t seen him in anything for so long. Perhaps I didn’t want to disturb that. After all, what can compare to our glass menagerie of the past? So the more I thought about it, I realize it was no surprise at all to see his videos show up in my newly formed birdsnest of nostalgia. Because wherever I went in the 90s, there was Harrison Ford, checking in and providing a blueprint.
I guess the title of this was probably misleading. I really have no intentions of drawing deep and thoughtful connections between Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood. I suppose I just used him as a stand in or cultural signifier of what it means to be A Man (like John Wayne before him). But I never cared for Clint. His posture of stoicism, his detached and even handed one dimensionality never appealed to me. Perhaps this is why I was more drawn to Harrison Ford and his movies. Within Han and Indiana always lied a duality, the smart ass and the romantic; the academic and the adventurer – it is this duality that made his roles more interesting, more human.
It’s funny, drifting off on these nostalgic night time fever dreams and rewatching scenes that I haven’t seen in over fifteen years, still remembering exact lines (laugh it off, fuzzball) and exact musical cues (this essay could have just as easily been called Thanks John Williams for Soundtracking my Youth). There are the obvious and unignorable qualities of camp that exist in most of these films now, but that’s the great thing about nostalgia, we get the best of both worlds. We can still get goosebumps when Indy takes that leap of faith in The Last Crusade, and eye roll when he throws the Nazi officer off the Hindenburg (no ticket!). That’s what makes nostalgia so sweet and sting a little at the same time, we know the things that make up our youth aren’t as pure or simple as we thought they were, but as Lady Ashley laments to Jake in the final line of The Sun Also Rises, “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”