Duh! is a weekly column that gives circuitous answers to obvious questions. If you dig it, you can find 100 more of these essays in the Geeks Who Drink book, Duh!.
The story of the most influential Alaskan malamute1 in cinema history starts with Marcia Lucas, not her weird-beard husband. In fact, it’s more her story than his in more ways than one. And if you’re looking for the reason why “We named the dog Indiana,” well, spoiler alert: It isn’t here.
Like George (and his parents), Marcia was born in California in the 1940s, and never left for too long – her only foray was Florida, where her dad, an Air Force officer, was stationed for a minute. She happened into a film editing job at a stock-footage library, and met George a few years later working on, of all things, a government-funded documentary about LBJ’s trip to the Far East. They married in 1969 and worked together off-and-on, with Marcia getting her first Oscar nomination for George’s American Graffiti (1973).
This was about the time that Indiana the (female) dog entered the picture, and her first act of inspiration had nothing to do with any fedora’d archaeologist, but rather a Wookiee. “A Malamute is a very large dog—like 130 pounds and bigger than a human being and very long-haired,” Lucas once told Star Wars Galaxy magazine. “Having her with me all the time inspired me to give Han Solo a sidekick who was like a big, furry dog.2 Not quite like a dog, but intelligent.”3
The resulting movie – you know, the one that went from being called Star Wars to Star Wars: Episode IV-A New Hope – won six Oscars, including one for Marcia Lucas … but not George. Mind you, Marcia totally deserved it – her tasks as one of the three editors on the film included cutting the entire climactic Death Star dogfight … and away from her official duties, she had a big influence on a lot of the best story beats.
Marcia also did some editing on Episodes V and VI – and became the one who named that aforementioned archaeologist character, during the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark – before divorcing George and leaving the editing business entirely. In fact, that’s the reason why we may never know where the dog’s name came from – she stopped doing interviews, resurfacing only briefly in 2021 to join the rest of the world in complaining that the sequel trilogy sucks.
Some other things named for the 19th United State:
- Sung by Robert Preston and then li’l Ron Howard in the 1962 movie version of The Music Man, “Gary, Indiana” is probably the world’s least-funky tribute to the home of the Jackson Five.
- Stretching just a few blocks from 3rd to 7th Avenue in Washington, D.C., Indiana Avenue is confusingly home to a condo complex called The Pennsylvania. Of course, there’s also a town called Indiana, Pennsylvania, and that’s the birthplace of Jimmy Stewart… the star of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Did you just get goosebumps?
- Long before stranger things were happening in fictional Hawkins, Indiana, strange things were happening on fictional Eerie, Indiana. “Nobody believes me,” said the teen protagonist during the title sequence on this early-’90s family sci-fi/horror series. “But this is the center of weirdness for the entire planet.”
By the way: at its nearest point, Indiana’s a good 70 miles from Lake Erie… but you know what’s right up against it? PENNSYLVANIA.
- Before you look it up, no, there’s no dog breed named for the Hoosier State. According to the American Kennel Club, the only recognized breeds named for places east of the Mississippi are the Boston Terrier, Carolina Dog, Catahoula Leopard Dog, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and Treeing Tennessee Brindle. Several of those would also be great band names.
- That’s right: Barf from Spaceballs, played by John Candy, is more faithful to the “source material” than Chewie himself.
- Inspiring a huge intelligent canoid means that Indiana also, by extension, inspired the Ewoks. As the story goes, the Wookiees were originally meant to be the primitive rebel-allies who wrecked the Empire at the end of the trilogy, but Lucas had already established that Chewbacca was anything but a backwoods Luddite, and so he “cut them in half and called them Ewoks.” (though the word is never actually mentioned in Episode VI.)