It’s been 34 years since Willow first debuted in cinemas. The Lucasfilm fantasy story directed by Ron Howard was Warwick Davis’ first feature-led film alongside Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley and Kevin Pollak. While this sword-and-sorcery style film may not have landed with a big splash with critics, and even audiences at first, it grew in stature and became a favorite fan movie with a wealth of dedicated fans.
Decades later and the fans have been rewarded with a brand new series coming to Disney+ with both Davis, and Whalley returning to the realm once more. At a press junket, we got to listen as Head Writer Jonathan Kasdan, Warwick Davis, Ruby Cruz, Erin Kellyman, Ellie Bamber, Tony Revolori, Amar Chadha-Patel, Dempsey Bryk told us why this franchise deserved to be resurrected and how it honors the original and expands the world as we knew it as well as some other fun little tidbits.
Continuing Where Ron Howard Left Off
With the original movie, fans have often felt there was a lot more left of this story to be told. When Elora Danan was saved from the wicked Queen Bavmorda, everyone just went on with their lives all while this child had this prophecy thrust upon her to save the world in very non-explicit terms. For Jon Kasdan who fell in love with the story as a child, he always felt like there was a further narrative to explore explaining, “The movie ended with a sort of bittersweet moment of Warwick kissing this baby and then saying, ‘okay, goodbye, I’ll never see you again.’ And as an eight-year-old I was sort of like, well … you mean, they’re not going to have a life together? And how is she going to find out about all this stuff that happened to her? And that felt like a great jumping-off place for a series”
The early exploration of the narrative for this series actually took place during the filming of Solo: A Star Wars Story between Jon Kasdan, Warwick Davis, and Ron Howard. Kasdan admits to being a huge fan of Willow and what his driving factors were, “there was the impulse certainly between Ron and Warwick and myself to continue this story, and return to this world. And I came at it as a fan, and they came at it both as the creators, and they found a champion in me, and I kept fighting and sort of hoping that we’d get a chance to go back here, and my ace was always that Warwick would be back”.
Throughout the series, there are many nods to the prior film, and connective tissue, that are handled in a very genuine and tender manner. These moments highlight the nuance of understanding not just the story at large, but the intricate relationships between the characters, and the environment to which the audience is having to become reacquainted with. As the story progresses there are a wide variety of references, characters, and landscapes for fans to latch on to.
Deeper Exploration of Magic, Wizards, and Sword Fights
Willow as a fantasy story always excelled in fusing various elements of action into one fluid throughline. The original quest felt very much inspired by a D’n’D campaign but with a George Lucas, and Ron Howard spin. Now with eight-episode series coming to Disney+, Kasdan and his cast had to find a new direction, while still honoring what had come before it. Kasdan wastes very little time even within the first episode by setting the stakes, world-building, and unleashing his new monsters upon the world as the call to action is sounded. For Kasdan, he explained how this fusion became his daily challenge, “with every episode you’re sort of walking the line between, between making it familiar and satisfying what fans expect from the brand ‘Willow,’ and then trying to push it forward and tell a story that’s surprising and unexpected. And you know, the great weapon we had with us was Warwick, who just lent the whole universe of ‘Willow’ credibility, and the moment you see him on screen, you suddenly believe these six other foolish kids could somehow fit into that world, and really inhabit it.”
That moment when Davis first reveals himself on screen is emphasized with such a triumphant declaration. There’s certainly no way that a Willow series would ever have been as successful without the involvement of Davis from the beginning and he really throws himself right back into the character encapsulating all of that heart, and the good-natured and quick-witted spirit of Willow Ufgood.
The series certainly doesn’t slouch on the action either as Davis told us about the obstacles of the physical aspects of shooting, which were hard for him at 17 and even harder now crediting his son Harrison Davis as his stunt double to help him through. The show really does dial up some of the aspects of the original film from the fantasy element in significant ways. The cast regaled us with some anecdotes of the boot camp they had to complete before shooting began. The fight sequences themselves vary in quality as there are some very high-quality shots, whereas there are others that you can feel where there was a need to utilize multiple sequences cut together to form the shot. Visually, however, this show goes above and beyond and captures a variety of beautiful sequences that accentuates the world like the original film never captured. Truly stupendous stuff that draws you into the fight, the quest of these young characters.
Moving past the more fantasy elements of Willow, the story also introduces us to a host of new characters who we meet very early on. This rag-tag group is thrown together after a new evil has announced itself, and once more the realm is threatened. This is where Willow spends a significant time as it explores their backstories, and motivations. This is as much a coming-of-age story on multiple fronts, from multiple vantage points. When asked what the cast hope the fans take away from the series, Tony Revolori explained, “I think it’s the relatability of the characters, you know? Credit to, you know, Jon Kasdan, our writer … But he wrote every single character to have, you know, multiple layers, and we all got to play and have fun with them, and they’re very unique, and I think … that you can sit around with your family and watch, and point and go, ‘you’re like him, you’re like him, or her’ ”
Amar Chadha-Patel echoed similar comments stating, “One of my favorite things about the show is that no character has it figured out at all. And that is so true to life. The entire quest is not just a physical one to, you know, rescue someone, it’s also about us figuring out what the hell we’re doing.” Which results in a really charming, and authentic experience for the audience. That response embodied the very essence of Val Kilmer’s Madmartigan who routinely, and with an abundance of confidence, charged headway into a fight only to realize he was too hasty, or fall on his ass. Chadha-Patel really strikes at the heart of what Kasdan has created bringing truth to light that even the most heroic among us is still trying to to learn on the fly, and it’s brilliant to see that reflected on screen.
Erin Kellyman also voiced her love of Jade saying, “But Jade, I think has been the person that I’ve put the most work into. I think me and Jon had the time to like really go back into her past and, you know, created that space where we could make time and I could understand her a bit more. Yeah, I really can’t wait for people to, to see her.”
It was quite a positive sight to see so many actors speak so highly of not only the roles that had been created for them, but the agency they were given to explore them further over time and have such a positive experience.
Obviously, we had to dedicate some time to Warwick who took on this role at the young age of 17. The actor credits the fans and one person in particular for bringing the show into existence, “For years it’s been talked about, not by anyone official but by the fans. They’ve constantly pestered me, saying “when are we going to see a sequel to that movie?” And it’s a question that I could never answer. Until I met Jon Kasdan”.
Warwick not only lends the show credibility, and authenticity by being involved, but his presence on set was huge importance to the other actors as Ruby Cruz explains, “I think getting to just be around someone who’s so good at what he does, and someone who’s such a professional in what they do, like Warwick, you taught me, watching you be able to just switch it on and off, which is something I really struggle with, was a huge… honestly like I really admire you for that.” Davis doesn’t miss a beat either. He really poured himself into this role again as he’d done before and it feels just as impactful. It’s fascinating to watch him now as the elder character passing on wisdom to those around him as a contrast to when he was the younger character. For an audience that grew up with this film it leaves you with that sense of coming full circle, and appreciating what Willow as a character has done to get there.
Kasdan explained how his own experience as a showrunner was channeled into the humor of Willow’s experience as he steps into this leadership role, “You’re surrounded by people who are looking at you like, ‘you know what you’re doing, don’t you?’ And you’re just saying, like ‘yeah, no, kind of, maybe.’ And that, that was something I was able to channel”
Willow premieres on Disney+ on November 30th as a weekly series with eight episodes to sink your teeth into. The first two episodes will launch together, with the rest landing every Wednesday.
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