Today I learned that The Karate Kid turned fifty. Fifty! That cannot possibly be right. Like most kids of my era, I enjoyed the unlikely tale of underdog turned champion. I cheered in triumph when that lanky loser kicked the mean kid’s ass, winning both the tournament and the girl. I watched that movie more times than I’d care to admit, and I may even have had a teeny tiny crush on Ralph Macchio at some point. Give me a break; I was ten. How is it possible that the fresh-faced, crane-posing hero of my youth could be fifty years old?
I grew up watching Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Back to the Future. Marty McFly was the goof I wanted to hang out with, Indy was the guy I could always depend on to save the day and Luke, Han and Leia were the totally cool kids I wanted to be. Well, mostly Leia really .. I’m a girl after all, and Leia taught us little girls a really important lesson. She taught us that just because we get around in a bikini, doesn’t mean we can’t kick some serious ass! I’m not likely to be getting around in a bikini any time soon, (let’s face it, neither is Ms. Fisher, even though I hear she is hopeful) but the rest of that lesson I took to heart.
These are my heroes; the characters from the movies of my teenaged years. They took me on amazing adventures, and allowed me to escape from my real life. No matter how crappy things got, I could always count on Marty McFly to take me Back to the Future. I knew that all I needed was a Flux Capacitor and 1.21 gigawatts of electricity, and I could get the hell out of dodge. Now Marty McFly is fifty years old. Worse than that, he suffers from a debilitating disease that makes it painful to watch him. Now more than ever I wish he really did have a time machine. Maybe then he could travel forward far enough to find a cure. It’s tough to see your hero the way we are forced to see Marty today.
It isn’t only age and illness that reveals the bitter reality of time to us, and robs us of our childhood naïveté. Filmmakers have a lot to answer for as well. For instance, if you never saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and if you love Indy the way that I always have, do yourself a favour and pretend that they never made that fourth film. Preserve your nostalgic love of these stories, as I now wish I had. Like the original Star Wars trilogy, the Indy series was perfect and complete as it was. Watching irreverent, fearless Indiana Jones in the role of rickety old man, limping towards some ill-conceived passing of the torch, (and the iconic hat) was painful and embarrassing. Worse than watching him play this role is the realisation that he is not playing. He is that rickety old man.
Indiana Jones is almost seventy years old! That take-no-shit, “Will somebody get this big walking carpet out of my way ..” princess, who taught me that I did not need rescuing, is fifty-five years old. Indy is that old man and Leia is the chubby, middle-aged matron, lamenting the long-lost days of the metal bikini. That being said, she’s still kicking ass and taking names, so don’t tell her I mentioned the bikini.
The saddest thing is not that these guys are old. It’s not even that I’m old (even though that is pretty crappy). No, the saddest thing is that there is no one to replace them. Where is today’s Indiana Jones? Where is Princess Leia for the new generation of little girls who need someone to teach them they can be tough as well as pretty? There isn’t one, and perhaps that is why these films, and their characters, are timeless.