Nearly 35 years after the release of Lucasfilm’s fantasy epic Willow, the film comes back as an all-new and exciting sequel series streaming on Disney+.
Of course, the series follows in the footsteps of other fantasy series based on film franchises like The Lord of the Rings, and while expectations are high, note that Willow doesn’t try to replicate or mimic what other fantasy series have done. Instead, it charts its own path by taking audiences on an epic quest full of adventure, danger, excitement, romance, and magic.
And since over three decades have passed since the release of Willow, it allows us to see how the sequel series came to be. One, it shows that interest in Willow never withered but instead flourished throughout the years. Two, since all that time has passed, it gave Jonathan Kasdan the time he needed to further develop the surrounding world, populate it with new characters, throw in a bit of mystery behind characters’ absences, and give a slightly modern touch while staying true to the genre.
To keep this review as spoiler free as possible, we won’t delve too far into the plot or surprises seen in the seven episodes provided for review purposes. Instead, the review spotlights the core story and the evolution of Willow.
While fans and those new to the Willow franchise will revisit familiar places like Tir Asleen and Newlyn, they will also be introduced to the unseen settings surrounding it. Kasdan does a great job of taking the old but making it feel new with worlds we’ve never seen before. Additionally, the sequel series addresses some of the changes that make the epic fantasy adventure set in an age of swords, sorcery, myths and monsters contemporary.
Of course, the most familiar of names is its titular character, Willow. Warwick Davis reprises the role as the courageous and aspiring wizard with the biggest heart who tends to worry too much. His story remained a legend to many new characters that we will see as a wizard who saved Tir Asleen Queen Bavmorda of Nockmaar. Of course, only Willow knows the truth of how he defeated the evil queen and saved Elora before returning home as a hero.
Developed by Kasdan, who co-wrote Solo: A Star Wars Story, Willow follows a group of unlikely heroes who embark on a dangerous quest to rescue Arik (Dempsy Byrk). This dashing young prince was kidnapped by the disciples of the evil Withered Crone. The fellowship is comprised of Kit (Ruby Cruz), a princess and daughter of Sorsha, who sets in motion a quest to rescue her twin brother. Jade (Erin Kellyman), a knight-in-training and Kit’s best friend who joins in the quest. Graydon (Tony Revolori), a young scholar. Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel) is a thief and swordsman who is offered freedom from prison if he joins the quest. And finally, Dove (Ellie Bamber), a young kitchen maid smitten by Aryk. All six venture on the perilous quest, fighting possessed knights, trolls, and deadly creatures while facing their inner demons and confronting their fears to save the world.
While the quest expands the world and the populous of Tir Aisleen, it also reveals locations and groups that were never seen in the original film. As the series progresses with each episode, it fleshes out many of the characters, their backstories, and their dynamics. We watch them evolve into new people as they face their inner and sometimes literal demons. Other times, the series uses mystery and secrecy in order for us to stay engaged and keep the characters moving. For example, one of the significant plots we see is Elora Danan’s identity has been concealed from everyone and herself to protect Tir Aisleen from any villains who are threatened by her world-saving destiny.
Of course, fans will be excited to know that the sequel series will follow up on her whereabouts as well as the whereabouts of characters like Madmartigan (Val Kilmer). Every new revelation brings a new level of excitement and increases our intrigue about where the story is headed. With so many questions posed at the end of the theatrical Willow, it only makes sense that the series tries to answer them. In a way, the series is a lot like the intro because it is a page-turning fantasy epic that you can’t stop reading. Audiences are whisked away on an adventure full of peril, romance, and action. The fact that we don’t know where Madmartigan also serves as the heart of the show and Kit’s quest to connect with the father she never knew.
And the fellowship’s quest throughout the kingdom of Tir Aisleen only offers a small glimpse of the scope of the series. Sosha’s castle is just as majestic as it is incredible, and the underground troll caverns are claustrophobic. And shooting on location in Wales adds a great deal of realism to the fantasy world. The gorgeous greenery that fills the screen is breathtaking to look at and almost makes me want to reach out and touch the grass or even go out on an adventure, just like the characters. Throw in James Newton Howard’s composition, and Willow feels like an even bigger sequel series that took too long to hit the screen.
Aside from some of the characters falling into old archetypes, Willow is wonderfully contemporary with its diverse cast, resonating themes, engaging stories, and needle drops. Kit and Ruby’s relationship presents LGBTQ relationships organically and doesn’t feel like an agenda. Likewise, Revolori and Chadha-Patel’s characters are a welcome addition to a genre that lacked diversity in its past cinematic and televised iterations. What’s more, the series doesn’t go about giving these characters any unnecessary accents or explaining key relationships. What you see is what you get, there’s no need to explain it, because it wants to be the reflection that we see in the world today.
In the end, the heart of Willow is more than its titular character. It’s in the supporting cast and their quest to save Aryk and the world from certain doom. The series does a great job of keeping you interested in watching the fellowship accomplish its goal while also throwing in questions that fans want answers to. It also uses what we love so much about the fantasy genre while modernizing it with relatable characters and modern themes. And it further deepens with its emotional nuance and character development. It will be interesting to see how it ends and whether Willow deserves to get a second season. With a world as uncharted as Tir Aisleen, one has to wonder whether or not our brave and valiant young heroes led by a courageous wizard with a heart of gold, deserve to find out what lies beyond the horizon.
The first episode of Willow premieres exclusively on Disney+ today, November 30, with subsequent episodes dropping every Wednesday after.