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Han Solo vs. Indiana Jones: Which one is Harrison Ford’s greatest role?

Few actors have given more to popular culture than Harrison Ford. Over the course of his decades in Hollywood, Ford has starred in everything from high-minded prestige movies to some of the most well-known blockbusters in the history of movies. In that career, Harrison has given us two different all-time great blockbuster characters.

First, he was Han Solo in the Star Wars films, and then, a few years later, he introduced us to Indiana Jones. Both franchises have had long legacies that extended all the way into the present, but the question of which character is Ford’s greatest role is still hotly debated. Thankfully, we’ve come up with a foolproof way to arrive at an answer.

Which character is more central to the franchise?

Harrison Ford holds a sword in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Perhaps the first method we should use for considering which role is which character is more essential to the movies he’s featured in. Han Solo is critical to what Star Wars is. Without him, there would be no skeptic or cynic in this story, no regular guy who is thrown into a world beyond his imagination.

In spite of that central role, though, Han is not the hero of that franchise. Indiana Jones has much of the same wit that Han does, but he’s the essential character of his franchise. Without him, the franchise wouldn’t even exist.

Winner: Indiana Jones

Which character has a better pop culture legacy?

han solo in star wars a new hope
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Although Indiana Jones has lasted for decades and made a massive impact, Star Wars has a bigger legacy than any other franchise on the planet. It essentially launched the blockbuster movie era in its current form, and a broad array of stories are still being told in this universe decades later.

Indiana Jones is a franchise built around a single character that is likely to disappear as soon as that character does. Star Wars may well live on forever, whether Harrison is involved in any future projects or not.

Winner: Han Solo

Which character is smarter?

Sean Connery and Harrison Ford put their hands up in Last Crusade.
Paramount Pictures

Both Han and Indy have gotten out of the kinds of scrapes that suggest they have plenty of wit. Han is definitely much more working-class than Indy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s less intelligent. Han is the kind of guy who knows how to survive, and that kind of knowledge is invaluable in a world as dangerous as the one he lives in.

Still, we have to go with Indy in this category, both because of his knowledge of various rare artifacts, and because so much of his work involves solving intricate puzzles on the road to his next quest.

Winner: Indiana Jones

Which character has a better crew supporting him?

Chewbacca and Han Solo aiming guns.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Although Ford can certainly do plenty on his own, it always helps to have great supporting actors working around you. The Indiana Jones ensemble changes pretty wildly from movie to movie, and as a result, the quality of the supporting casts also shifts substantially. Raiders of the Lost Ark has a wonderful ensemble, while Temple of Doom is much more of a mixed bag. (Sorry, Short Round!)

Star Wars, meanwhile, features tons of British acting legends in supporting roles, as well as the always-reliable Carrie Fisher. Some people hate on Mark Hamill’s performance, but if he was as bad as everyone claims, these movies would not be the major motion pictures they’ve become.

Winner: Han Solo

Which character presents more acting challenges?

Harrison Ford holds a whip in a scene from Indiana Jones 5.
Image via Lucasfilm

Especially in the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Ford gets a few moments to genuinely emote. For the most part, though, Han’s role is to be the cool skeptic and occasionally the comic relief. He gets genuine movie star moments, but not tons of them.

Indy is, by contrast, a character tailor-made to play to all of Ford’s strengths. He’s charismatic and cool, but also much less put together than his roguish looks may suggest. He gets moments of genuine wonder and amazement, and some that are genuinely moving. He may be a serial character, but Indy has also been an opportunity for Harrison to turn in a genuinely great performance.

Winner: Indiana Jones

Which is Harrison Ford’s greatest role: Han Solo or Indiana Jones?

Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

By a hair, Ford’s great role is Indiana Jones. Few actors in the history of motion pictures have left a more indelible impact than Ford. Han and Indy are both parts that will put him in the movie star pantheon, but in the end, it’s Indy we’re likely to remember first when we think about his career.

Indy is the character that seems to have been tailor-made for him, and for all of his strengths as Han, we’ve already seen that Star Wars can exist without him. Indiana Jones, by contrast, seems likely to fade away along with Harrison.

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Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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