On a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in Burbank, on the Walt Disney Studios lot — with the perfect weather for the day’s event: golden sunshine and just enough breeze — I had the very special honor of being invited to a screening of, and a Q&A with, the showrunner of Disney+’s upcoming Willow series, Jonathan Kasdan and executive producer Michelle Rejwan.
Myself and eight other journalists moved to the Frank G. Wells Theater for the sneak peek. A long-awaited and labor-intensive sequel to the 1988 Ron Howard/George Lucas film, Willow the series picks up where the movie left off, following the whereabouts of the aspiring sorcerer Willow Ufgood, the off-spring of Madmartigan, the legacy of Bavmorda, and more.
EP Jonathan Kasdan began by detailing the backstory of the entire production, stating “the two people who really wanted this all along are George [Lucas] and Ron [Howard],” and that “George had always imagined the TV space as somewhere Willow could continue,” since its inception. That said, when asked about Lucas having any hands-on involvement, he explained that “on a philosophical level” Lucas had given the impression that he was either going to be fully “in or out” in regards to spearheading the series, and that he had decided he was going to leave Willow’s second life in other, equally capable hands.
Lucas was, however, very interested in the show’s progress once production got underway, with Kasdan recalling moments where series executive producer Ron Howard would often relay production updates to Lucas, who asked about it often when the two would talk. On deciding to resurrect the Willow franchise for this day and age — and what approach they were going to take — Kasdan once again praised Lucas for his creative output between the ’70s and ’90s for “distilling the fun of movies,” with Kasdan wanting to “honor that tone.”
When I asked about the decision to film on location in Wales for the sweeping backgrounds as opposed to using ILM’s newly pioneered StageCraft technology (developed concurrently as Willow was in production), Kasdan jokingly stated “you never feel more acutely as when you’re standing in Wales and it’s pouring rain and the light won’t match between takes.”
“Favreau figured it out,” he conceded in regards to the LED sound stages used on The Mandalorian. He immediately followed up with the virtues of shooting on-site, saying that the digital backgrounds have yet to achieve what the original film had: “grit and realism of photography.”
“You could feel Warwick sloshing through the mud… you felt like you were really with him in this cold and bitter world,” he recounted of the cinematography of the original ’80s film. Regarding Val Kilmer’s absence from the revived property, Kasdan explained that it was primarily a technicality: “It was a reality of Covid that prevented him from coming to Wales at that critical moment.”
“The challenge with these things… is balancing how you move it forward with how you honor people’s relationship to it,” the executive producer concluded of infusing pop music and modern remixes into the musical score, as opposed to sticking with a wholly orchestral score a la James Horner’s compositions for the Willow soundtrack. “For us, because we felt like the show deals so specifically with teenagers… because we leaned into that so heavily, it felt like a natural fit to be the first time Lucasfilm ever incorporated rock music into it’s world.”
On what they want viewers to take away from the show, Kasdan referenced Harry Potter and again evoked Star Wars in saying the “through-line” of both is that “friendship is the greatest power of all.” The showrunners hope the eight-hour format allows them time to explore the nuances of friendship in ways “that maybe George’s movies weren’t able to do simply because they didn’t have the space.”
“What we hoped to do here was… to take a slightly more sentimental part of what George does which is how people relate… and face adversity in their lives and either buckle to it or stand strong and build that out in a similar way,” Kasdan proclaimed.
After spending an hour and some change with Kasdan and Rejwan and catching a glimpse of what’s in store firsthand, it feels safe to safe that George Lucas and Ron Howard did indeed leave Willow in some very capable hands.