2022 will have marked a strong comeback for elves, dragons and other wizards! After Sandman on Netflix, House of the Dragon on HBO and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power on Amazon Prime Video, it’s Disney+’s turn to draw what could become its great heroic fantasy saga. Willow, an eight-part series launched this Wednesday on the big-eared platform, is the sequel to Ron Howard’s 1988 eponymous feature film. Why is this sequel so expected?
Willow is a cult film for an entire generation. It’s this VHS that we played over and over again, children, with The never-ending storythem IndianaJones or Star Wars. The idea of Willow was born in 1972 in the imagination of the creator of the galaxy far, far away…
A tribute to Tolkien’s Middle Earth
George Lucas dreamed of doing his Lord of the Rings, but does not get the rights. He decides to invent a story, initially titled Munchkins.
Once upon a time there was the kingdom of the Daikinis, ruled by the cruel Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). While a prediction announces the birth of a princess called to dethrone her, the terrible queen orders all the newborns to be killed here. Elora, the baby of the prophecy, will escape the massacre like Moses.
She was taken in by a Nelwin, a small farmer named Willow Ufgoo. This unlikely hero will embark on a quest, which will culminate in the downfall of the evil queen, aided by a cast of friends including the fairy Cherlindrea (Maria Holvoe), the bushy knight Madmartigan (Val Kilmer, at the top of her game) and the Queen’s own daughter, Sorsha (Joanne Whalley).
Its pitch pays homage to Middle-earth: the Shire of the Hobbits becomes the country of the Nelwyns, the elf Galadriel gives way to the fairy Cherlindrea, etc.
A work related to “Star Wars”
The family ties with Star Wars don’t stop at George Lucas. Madmartigan, a slyly phlegmatic antihero, recalls Han Solo, Sorsha, the rebellious and warrior princess, Leia Organa and the candid and courageous Willow, who will discover that he has a power over the epic, Luke Skywalker.
George Lucas is waiting for the end of his successful trilogy to devote himself fully to Willow. On the set of Return of the Jedi, George Lucas sees potential in a young English actor, Warwick Davis, who plays the role of the ewok Wicket. He shapes his story around him and offers him the role of Willow Ufgoo. George Lucas also offers a cameo to Kenny Baker, the eternal R2D2.
Innovative special effects
He entrusts the direction to Ron Howard during the post-production of cocoon. The two men have known each other since Howard starred in American Graffiti. The script is entrusted to Bob Dolman, whose work Lucas appreciated on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati.
In sound design, we find Ben Burtt – the sound engineer who created Chewbacca’s cry, in music, James Horner, who will subsequently sign the soundtracks of Braveheart, Jumanji, Titanic, Stalingrador Avatar.
Animatronics, mate paintings, superimposition and stop motion… In 1988, the special effects of Willow impress. Willow inaugurates the first special morphing effects, reused in the famous music video Black or White by Michael Jackson in 1991. The sublime landscapes of New Zealand, too.
One of the few fantasy films of the 1980s
After the failures of Krull, Legend and Labyrinth, fantasy was considered too risky a genre by Hollywood in those years. George Lucas struggled to find a co-producer, but managed to get the film distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Willow, presented at Cannes in 1988, plunges the viewer into a very classic fantasy world. This ode to childhood, mixed with a good dose of humor and second degree, acquires the status of cult film alongside the rare fantasy films of the time such as the virile Conan the Barbarian of John Milius, the bloody Excalibur by John Boorman, or the dark dark-crystal by Jim Henson.
Three video games were taken from the film. Chris Claremont even offers a sequel to the film in the form of novels, a trilogy published between 1995 and 2000 under the name of Chronicles of the Shadow War.
A series with the same creative team as the film
“Hopefully we get to see an older Willow in action,” Ron Howard said to variety in 2019. In 2020, Lucasfilm announced that the series Willow will see the light of day on Disney + in 2022 with always Warwick Davis in the costume of Willow Ufgood.
If Ron Howard does not take over the director’s chair for the series, he is an executive producer alongside Lucasfilm regulars Kathleen Kennedy and Jonathan Kasdan. The latter, co-screenwriter of Solo: A Star Wars Story, serves as showrunner. The film’s screenwriter Bob Dolman serves as a consulting producer.
The production was entrusted to Stephen Woolfenden (Outlander), Jamie Childs (His Dark Materials), Philippa Lowthorpe (The Crown) and Debs Paterson (A Discovery of Witches).
Joanne Whalley reprises her role as Sorsha, the daughter of Bavmorda, the antagonist, who has become a staunch ally and protector of the child Willow was carrying. Val Kilmer, will not be part of the cast due to his health problems, but his character will be part of the story. Christian Slater (Mr Robot) is announced in a role that would be linked to Madmartigan.
A new quest for Willow
Twenty years after the events of the film, Queen Sorsha’s son is kidnapped by evil creatures. Her sister Kit (Ruby Cruz seen in Mare of Easttown), Jade, aspiring knight (Erin Kellyman seen in Falcon and the Winter Soldier) and Dove, a maid (Ellie Bamber seen in The snake) go to meet Willow, who has become a powerful wizard, to ask for his help. Once again, Willow will embark on a new quest against the forces of evil. A saga that promises to be epic, funny, family… and cult?