Indy’s Boy Scout Rank Explained

Indy begins Last Crusade as a Boy Scout, but what rank is he? And how did Steven Spielberg’s Scouting career influence Indy’s portrayal?

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade reveals that young Indy was a Boy Scout, and given that Steven Spielberg is an Eagle Scout himself, his familiarity with the organization undoubtedly informed the adventurer’s portrayal. During the opening flashback sequence, young Henry Jones, Jr. is on a Scouting trip, wearing a badge that denotes his rank on his uniform. The trip goes awry, leading young Indy to develop several of his defining characteristics, including his scout-like valor and integrity. Certainly, Spielberg’s own experiences shaped the sequence, but his choice of rank for Indy changed during different production phases.

The third in a then-trilogy, Last Crusade (1989), takes its cues from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) by beginning with a sequence somewhat separate from the main plot, but it still provides useful characterization. Rather than showing Indy the swashbuckling archeologist in the field, Last Crusade turns back the clock, showing how Henry Jones, Jr. (River Phoenix) developed some of his trademark beliefs and talents: everything from “it belongs in a museum” to wielding a whip, to his fear of snakes—even the iconic fedora has its origins on this Scouting adventure.

Related: The Last Crusade Explained How Indiana Jones Got His Iconic Hat & Whip

Indy’s interest in archeology, his bravery and morals, and his wilderness acumen all make sense as products of a Scouting background. The badge Indy wears on his scout uniform in the opening to Last Crusade indicates that Indy is a Life Scout—the second-highest rank in Scouting, and the last before achieving the distinction of Eagle Scout. By 1912, the year in which this opening is set, the Boy Scouts of America were hardly two years old, and the Eagle Scout rank was even younger, first originating in 1911. In fact, further anachronisms present themselves when dissecting the timeline. In 1912, Star Scout actually superseded Life Scout; the two weren’t switched in the hierarchy until the 1920s. Additionally, cloth badges, like the red-hearted one Indy wears above his left breast pocket, weren’t introduced until 1913. Legend has it that writers originally wanted Indy to be an Eagle Scout, but the Eagle cloth badge (also not technically available in 1912) could only be purchased for verifiable Eagles, and so his rank was lowered to Life.

River Phoenix in the opening of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

While the props department surely could’ve manufactured an Eagle badge of their own, it’s possible Indiana Jones director Steven Spielberg had too much scout-like integrity of his own to fake an Eagle Scout achievement. Spielberg was a scout himself in his youth. At age 11, he shot a short film on his 8mm camera to earn the Photography Merit Badge, and in 1961, he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. He’s now celebrated as a distinguished Eagle Scout for his exceptional success in the world of film. Despite disavowing the organization in the early 2000s for their discrimination against gay youth, he has credited his Scouting experience in part with inspiring his passion for filmmaking.

So whether the Life rank was chosen for Indy because of Spielberg’s scout’s honor, or whether the historic anachronisms render the whole portrayal inaccurate, the central backstory remains strong. Scouting clearly helped Henry, Jr. to become Indiana Jones, as it helped Steven Spielberg to create him. Even Harrison Ford brought his own Scouting experience to the character, having reached as far as Life Scout in the late 50s. The depth of this characterization is what makes Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade an enduring classic to this day.

More: Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Old Indy’s Daughter & Grandkids Explained

  • Indiana Jones 5 (2022)Release date: Jul 29, 2022

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