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Indiana Jones' Entire Backstory Explained

We've seen him battle Nazis, discover the Ark of the Covenant, drink from the Holy Grail, survive a nuclear blast, tangle with inter-dimensional travelers, and do some pretty cool stuff with a whip. But for all the adventures we've watched Indiana Jones undertake, by the time we meet him in Raiders of the Lost Ark, he's already pushing into middle age. At that point he could speak a slew of languages, had traveled all over the world, and knew more than a thing or two about handling himself in a fight. That being the case, it's probably safe to assume that he'd experienced his fair share of action in the years leading up to the period in which the movies are set.

So how did Indiana Jones become the capable adventurer we all know and love? Where did he garner so much knowledge and so many skills? And what's with the bullwhip? All shall be revealed as we dive into the backstory of Indiana Jones, the world's most butt-kicking professor.

An adventurer is born

Most of our knowledge of Indy's childhood comes from the 1992 TV series The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. While we know him as Indiana Jones, our roguish protagonist was actually born Henry Walton Jones Jr. on July 1, 1899. As his father Henry Walton Jones Sr. famously explains in The Last Crusade, Henry took his moniker from his dog, an Alaskan Malamute called "Indiana."

According to The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones, Indy was a skillful child who was adept at a range of physical activities such as climbing and horseback riding. His interest in whips was picked up upon visiting a traveling circus, where he was fascinated by a whip act. Later, as we see in The Last Crusade, this talent is honed by necessity when he finds himself trapped in a train full of circus animals with nothing but a whip for protection.

When Indiana was nine, his father, a highly successful professor of medieval history, embarked on a two-year lecture tour around the globe and decided to have his son accompany him. This was to be the beginning of Indy's adventurous lifestyle.

His first adventure

The Jones family, along with Indiana's tutor Helen Seymour, began their journey in Egypt, where Indy and Miss Seymour went to explore the pyramids while Professor Jones delivered his lecture. It was here that Indiana first met the renowned archaeologist and soldier T.E. Lawrence — better known as Lawrence of Arabia — who invited the duo to join him on an excavation in the Valley of the Kings.

There, Indiana was the first to enter the tomb of the ancient Egyptian engineer Kha, where he had his first run-in with a booby-trap in the form of poison gas. After some shady shenanigans at the hands of a member of the excavation team, Indy went on to help solve a murder, recover a stolen artifact, and expose and capture a murderer and thief. The whole experience solidified his desire to become a globe-trotting archaeologist — after you've cheated ancient death at the age of nine, you can't really dream of paperwork.

Indy's teenage years

As he grew, Indiana Jones experienced a slew of wide-ranging adventures, chronicled in the Young Indiana Jones novels: Learning to hunt with former president Teddy Roosevelt, dealing art with Pablo Picasso, falling in love with the daughter of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, helping famed Russian writer Tolstoy evade the police, and studying meditation with Krishnamurti. But it was in his early teenage years that he first met companions we recognize from the adventures immortalized in his films: Marcus Brody and Sallah Mohammed Faisel el-Hahir.

Indy had returned to Egypt with his father, where he embarked on an archaeological expedition with Marcus and Sallah. There, the trio excavated an invaluable ring from the then-undiscovered tomb of King Tut, foiled a German plot to establish a weapons storage bunker in the Valley of the Kings, and only barely managed to escape the last major outbreak of the bubonic plague.

Indy's youthful escapes didn't end there. Over the next few years he helped the Dalai Lama battle demons, discovered a ring that belonged to King Arthur and a knife linked to Cain and Abel, and helped his father begin his infamous quest for the Holy Grail.

The Mexican Revolution

Indiana's final years of high school were anything but typical. While his classmates were attending prom, Indy was once again foiling a German plot, this time to steal Thomas Edison's plans for a car battery.

Shortly after that, Jones decided to hitchhike down to Mexico, "to have a little fun with the senoritas." While in the process, he of course attempted to stop a bank robbery, and was taken prisoner in the process. Moments before he was executed, a man arrived and ordered him set free. That man was Pancho Villa, one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution.

Indy threw in with the rebels, and in doing so, met a Belgian named Remy Baudouin who would go on to be one of Indiana's closest comrades-in-arms. The pair rode with Villa and the rebels in a series of adventures that had them cross paths with the likes of future U.S. general George Patton and newspaperman William Randolph Hearst.

Eventually, while watching a news reel about the war raging in Europe, Indiana and Remy decided they wanted to join the effort, so they took jobs on a ship crossing the Atlantic. During the journey, Indy prevented a German agent from causing war between Mexico and the United States.

The Great War

Indy and Remy arrived in London, where it took them awhile to get enlisted. In the meantime, Indiana worked at a pub, became loosely involved with the Irish struggle for independence, and had a romantic fling that nearly ended in marriage.

When they were finally called up to fight, Indiana and Remy were attached to a Belgian battalion that started off fighting in Flanders before being relocated to the Somme, where they took part in the Battle of the Somme, one of the most deadly battles in history. There, Indy got his first taste of hard fighting, experiencing the worst that trench warfare has to offer.

Following a number of dramatic offensive attacks, Indiana found himself separated from a wounded Remy and was eventually taken prisoner by the Germans. While in captivity, Indy became involved in several escape attempts, one of which involved the future French president Charles de Gaulle. While de Gaulle was recaptured, Indiana managed to escape.

After returning to the French army, Indiana witnessed a slew of the war's horrors, becoming increasingly disillusioned by the whole ordeal. After reuniting with his friend Remy, the pair went on leave to Paris where they hoped to find a reprieve from all the violence.

Affair with Mata Hari

While hobnobbing in Paris, Indiana crossed paths with the infamous Mata Hari. It wasn't long before the two became lovers — but their path never ran smooth. Guess that's what happens when one person is an infamous spy and the other is, well, Indiana Jones.

For one thing, Indiana kept finding gifts from Mata Hari's admirers. His suspicions grew when he spotted a man who seemed to follow the couple everywhere they went. Eventually, Indy's jealousy got the best of him, and he followed Mata Hari to a hotel where he saw her kiss another man.

Just then, he spotted the man who had been shadowing them, and after a brief scuffle, he learned that their pursuer was with the police. Indy was arrested and questioned about the false name and age on his enlistment papers and accused of being a spy. The police then told him that Mata Hari was suspected of spying before canceling his leave and giving him 24 hours to report to his unit for duty.

He returned to Mata Hari, and the two spent a final night together before Indy went back to the war. Before they parted, Mata Hari urged Indy to head to Africa where the fighting wasn't as fierce. Indiana and Remy found wisdom in this and requested a transfer. As a result, they spent the next year blowing up train lines and generally sowing chaos for the Germans all over the continent.

Secret agent man

Indy returned to Europe near the end of the war. Shaken and disillusioned, he decided that he must do whatever was necessary to put an end to the war once and for all. This motivated him to join the French intelligence services, so he and Remy forged the papers necessary to secure the appointment.

Indy started out as a reconnaissance photographer for the air force, a role that resulted in he and his pilot being shot down and taken prisoner by the Red Baron himself. Indy successfully escaped German captivity, and began to work as an undercover spy.

Indy embarked upon missions throughout the world. In Romania, things took a turn for the supernatural when he battled and ultimately killed a vampire going by the name of Targo who locals believed was actually Vlad the Impaler.

Eventually, Indy and Remy returned to England, where they resigned their commissions and began to search for a diamond called the Eye of the Peacock, which had been owned by Alexander the Great. This search proved unsuccessful, but Indiana would have a brush with the diamond years later in events portrayed in the opening of Temple of Doom.

After this failed adventure, Indy and Remy parted ways for good. Indiana went to France where he witnessed the Paris Peace Conference. There, he was offered a job with the U.S. State Department, which he turned down in favor of returning home to study archaeology.

College, jazz, and the mob

After receiving a decidedly cold welcome home from his father, Indiana enrolled at the University of Chicago where he began studying archaeology under the guidance of Professor Abner Ravenwood, father of Marion Ravenwood, who would one day join him on some of his most famous adventures.

While studying, Indy waited tables at a jazz club called Colosimo's Restaurant, which later became a front for the infamous gangster Al Capone. During this period, Indy's roommate was Eliot Ness, who would one day be credited with bringing down Capone. Indy's work at the club instilled in him a passion for jazz. He had learned a bit of saxophone during the war, and ended up jamming with renowned Chicago musicians, an experience that helped to shape his progressive views on civil rights. Later, he got tied up with efforts to investigate the Chicago mob alongside Ness and a then-unknown reporter named Ernest Hemingway, who Indy had met during the war.

That summer, Indiana left Chicago for New York where he enjoyed a successful stint as a saxophonist playing alongside George Gershwin and other renowned composers.

The Hollywood Follies

Indy left New York for a job at Universal Studios in Hollywood, in a chapter of his life detailed in Young Indiana Jones and the Hollywood Follies, a made-for-TV movie drawn from The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones. There he started out by helping a new director named John Ford cut his movie, which got him a gig as an assistant director and stuntman in future Ford productions.

These constituted the high points in Indy's brief Hollywood career, however, as the majority of his time there was marked by failed movie endeavors, a tumultuous romance, and a bizarre plot to kidnap Prince Massimo of Italy. It did, however, afford him the opportunity to meet the famous gunfighter Wyatt Earp, who was consulting John Ford on a western he was filming.

All in all, Indy's time in Hollywood was a bust — hence the word "follies" in the movie title — and he returned to Chicago with a broken leg he'd earned performing a stunt in one of Ford's films. He might be the star of a beloved movie franchise to us, but in his own universe, Indy isn't much for appearing on the silver screen.

Courting Marion

Indiana's studies sent him on expeditions to Greece, Iraq, and Egypt. These relatively minor escapades gave him a thirst for adventure that he just couldn't quench in the classroom. According to The Lost Journal of Indiana Jones and Indiana Jones: the Ultimate Guide, it was during this period that he became romantically attracted to Marion Ravenwood. Audiences might meet her in Raiders as a capable woman with street smarts and an insane alcohol tolerance, but when she was being romanced by Indy, she was only a naive young girl.

Marion would watch Indy as he practiced his bullwhip every day, and this time together turned into an intense, though brief, courtship. It came to an abrupt end when Jones took a job at London University. It is revealed in the novelization of Raiders of the Lost Ark that Indy had promised Marion that he would be back soon — a promise he did not keep. The next time he saw Marion came ten years later, in the events depicted in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark.

A life of adventure

Now a well-rounded, fully-accredited archaeologist, Indy searched for the legendary lost city of El Dorado, attempted to find Noah's Ark, and discovered an artifact that had once belonged to a unicorn. That's right — in Indy's universe, unicorns are a thing. It wasn't long after this that he went on an expedition to find UFOs referred to as "Sky Pirates."

Jones later had his first run-in with the Nazis, who were out to find a scroll that would teach them how to create a drug that would produce "Men of Odin," essentially modern-day berserkers. This was followed by a slew of supernatural adventures, notably his first encounter with a crystal skull, which, of course, he acquired by foiling a Nazi plot.

Not long after the crystal skull incident, while searching for an artifact in Shanghai, Indy's pocket was picked by a young Chinese orphan who he captured and befriended. The boy turned out to be Wan Li, better known as Short Round, to whom we were introduced in Temple of Doom.

For all practical purposes, that catches us up. Indy's greatest adventures were then portrayed in the classic films we all know and love. And with a fifth Indy flick scheduled for release in 2021, it looks as if there is no shortage of adventures to come.