As the Cannes Film Festival crowd stood in rapturous applause, a visibly moved Harrison Ford stood on the stage, trying to keep his emotions in check.
The warmth of the audience and a clip reel that had just played had left Ford shaken.
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“They say that when you’re about to die, you see your life flash before your eyes,” he said. “And I just saw my life flash before my eyes — a great part of my life, but not all of my life.”
If last year’s Cannes was partially defined by its tribute to “Top Gun Maverick” star Tom Cruise, this year’s has belonged to Ford. This time, it’s been far more poignant. Ford, 80, is retiring Indiana Jones, saying goodbye to the iconic swashbuckling archeologist more than 40 years after he first debuted, with fedora, whip and a modest snake phobia.
It’s been a moving farewell tour — most of all for Ford, who has teared up frequently along the way. Speaking to reporters Friday, Ford was asked: Why give up Indy now?
“Is it not evident?” he replied with a characteristically sheepish grin. “I need to sit down and rest a little bit. I love to work. And I love this character. And I love what it brought into my life. That’s all I can say.”
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” the fifth Indiana Jones film, premiered Thursday night in Cannes, bringing an affecting coda to the franchise begun with 1981′s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” While that film and the next three were all directed by Steven Spielberg from a story by George Lucas, Ford’s final chapter is directed and co-written by James Mangold, the “Ford vs. Ferrari” filmmaker.
The gala, one of the most sought-after tickets at Cannes this year, also included an honorary Palme d’Or given to Ford. The next day, Ford was still struggling to articulate the experience of unveiling his final turn as Indiana Jones.
“It was indescribable. I can’t even tell you,” said Ford. “It’s just extraordinary to see a kind of relic of your life as it passes by.”
Following the disappointment of 2008′s little-loved “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull,” the possibilities for a fifth film lingered for years and went through many iterations. Ford said he was intent on seeing a different, less youthful version of Jones. “Dial of Destiny” is set in the 1960s and finds Indiana as a retiring professor whose long-ago exploits no longer seem so special in the age of space exploration.
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“I wanted to see the weight of life on him. I wanted to see him require reinvention and support. And I wanted him to have a relationship that was not a flirty movie relationship,” said Ford, who stars alongside Phoebe Waller-Bridge. “I wanted an equal relationship.”
Ford is clearly deeply pleased with the movie. He was especially complimentary of his castmates and Mangold, whom he said did more than “fill the shoes that Steven left for us.”
“Everything has come together to support me in my old age,” said Ford with a wry grin.
The movie begins with an extended sequence set back in the final days of WWII. In those scenes, Ford has been de-aged to appear much younger. Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy was quick to say that an AI-crafted Ford won’t be used by the company in the future. Ford called the employment of a de-aged version of him “skilled and assiduous” — and didn’t make him jealous.
“I don’t look back and say I wish I was that guy. I’m real happy with age,” said Ford. He then added, with an expletive, that it could be worse. “I could be dead.”
Ford isn’t retiring from acting. He has two ongoing TV series (“Shrinking,” “1923”) and he said he remains committed to working.
“My luck has been been to work with incredibly talented people and find my way into this crowd of geniuses and not get my ass kicked out,” said Ford. “And I’ve apparently still got a chance to work and I want that. I need that in my life, that challenge.”
Ford, like Indiana, isn’t departing without his hat. He’s kept one, Ford said, but he more prizes the experience of making the films. “The stuff is great but it’s not about the stuff.”
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And Ford can still turn heads. One female reporter declared that the 80-year-old was “still hot” and asked Ford — who briefly appears shirtless in the movie — how he stays fit. After a few chuckles and some mention of his avid cycling, Ford answered with mock pomposity.
“I’ve been blessed with this body,” he replied. “Thanks for noticing.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.