David James
Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Allen played the same part in 1981's first Indiana Jones adventure, "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

The eyes still have that twinkle, though they twinkle behind wrinkles these days. The freckled girl-next-door grin is still infectious, the voice and laugh as plucky as we remember them.

Karen Allen is 56 now, her "Animal House"-"Starman"-"Shoot the Moon" days long behind her. The same could be said for Harrison Ford, who at 65 is decades removed from his 1980s heyday. But there's something magical, something so right about Indiana Jones hooking back up with "the only girl" he "ever loved," Marion Ravenwood, for the first Indy movie in nearly 25 years, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

"This was a HUGE surprise," Allen says of returning to Indyworld. "I was so pleased that they wanted me to come back and be a part of this all again."

She's been living with Marion for more than 25 years since "Raiders of the Lost Ar," getting stopped on the street, customers dropping into her Massachusetts knitwear design business (Karen Allen Fiber Arts), people wanting to meet the gal (the only word for her) who could take a punch, throw a punch and hold her spiked punch with the best of them.

"I don't think Marion will ever be out of my life," she says, laughing. "That's a great thing, too, I have to say. She's a wonderful character, and it's a film that is very beloved. There's a resilience and a resonance to her that kind of spills over into my own life that I like. It's great having a character like her shape my relationship to the world, particularly the film world."

Fans erupted when Allen made a surprise teleconference appearance at San Diego's ComicCon last summer. And Clint Morris, editor of moviehole.net, describes her return as "very exciting," noting that in this one instance, at least, George Lucas "thought of the fans."

Karen Allen's Marion had us at: "Indiana Jones. I always knew some day you'd come walking back through my door." But in "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," it's been two decades since that quest for the "lost ark." What's Marion been up to?

"I wanted to fill in the blanks, just for myself," Allen says. "I didn't reveal any of the history I came up with for her to anybody else. But I felt that one knows one's own history, even if you don't tell anyone else. Where's she been? What have circumstances been like? One thing we do know is that they haven't been together. What's she been doing?"

So, you're not saying? Was she in rehab?

"Nooo. Hahaha! When Shia (LaBeouf, a co-star) first met me, he was doing his own work on the character for himself, and he was trying to imagine his own history and stuff. He was asking me about Marion and had some real concerns about, um, her problem with alcohol. I said 'Absolutely not!' I mean, I don't see her as that kind of character at all. The drinking thing was just this fun skill she had, right? She could hold her liquor, and she'd use that to pull herself out of bad situations."

Allen, who made her debut in "Animal House" (1978), has had roles in many other films, from "Starman" and "Scrooged" to "In the Bedroom." She played Christa McAuliffe in the TV movie "Challenger." But she has spent most of the years since "Raiders" making a different life for herself, raising her son, Nicholas, with now ex-husband Kale Browne.

"At a certain point after my son was born, I just made some choices that involved making being in my son's life more important than my film career," she says. "Do you want to constantly be ripping a kid out of school so that he can live with you in a hotel with a baby sitter? Or do you want him to have a more normal, healthy life? And having had my son later in life, by the time he was starting school I was in my mid-40s, and a lot of the interesting roles I'd been offered in my 20s, 30s and early 40s were gone. For me.

"It seemed like a natural transition. It wasn't like I was being offered fascinating parts that I was turning down to be in my son's life, parenting him."

She started her knitwear design company, set up in Great Barrington, Mass. Design was what the Illinois native studied in college, at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She's also been teaching acting there.

Last year Spielberg called. Allen had just enough time to "do a little training" before she "dove right back in, driving these big dusty, clanking old trucks."

The hardest adjustment?

"In the beginning, I was saying, 'Oh, I don't need the knee pads. Nooo, I don't need elbow pads!' After a few days, though, you're like, 'If I put a double set on the knees, will the camera see them through my pants?' All that flinging yourself around is the hard part."

Allen says that, unlike Indy fans, she never expected Marion to be in the 1980s sequels to "Raiders," something she says director Spielberg and producer George Lucas made clear to her right from the start. But she had a sense, like any Indy fan, that there was something special in the chemistry between the two-fisted archaeologist and the plucky saloon owner. Might there be a happily-ever-after for Marion and Indy?

"You know, we'll just have to see!"

© The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.). Dist. by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services