When Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, it was easy to get swept up in the excitement and trepidation of more Star Wars movies and overlook all the other stuff that came with the deal. Willow was one of the treasures of Lucas’ content war chest, returning to Disney+ as a series on November 30.
Of all the talk about lightsabers and whips, perhaps the most valuable asset of the transaction was the very concept of nostalgia. For many, it’s this rosy ethereal concept that has since come to define Willow, the 1988 fantasy epic that has since become happily embedded in the psyche of many movie fans thanks to years spent reviewing battered VHS tapes.
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As the first original story Lucas has written since Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and his first big screen project since Return of the Jedi, a lot was riding this big movie with a little hero. In it, we met Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), an aspiring sorcerer who finds a human child named Elora Danan who is destined to become the ruler of his mystical realm.
With an ancient witch also after the child, it’s up to this unlikely hero and his frantic new villain Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) to stop the wicked hag and ensure both the child’s safety and a happy ending.
Directed by Ron Howard, it was a moderate success. However, despite emerging as a defining moment for people with dwarfism and a major leap forward for the CGI wizards of Industrial Light and Magic, the film was far from a Star Wars-level success.
However, as the years passed, the love for Willow and her heroic theme written by James Horner grew along with the levels of nostalgia that surrounded the film itself. When we suddenly find ourselves in this world more than thirty years later, this same sense of love emerges as a kind of pop culture energy source used to fuel one of the funniest Disney+ series ever, especially after the high-flying tension of Andor.
Watch a trailer of Willow
Picking up chronologically after Howard’s film, series developer and Solo: A Star Wars Story writer Jonathan Kasdan wastes no time setting the scene for a new quest. Like any good legacy sequel, we first meet a new cast tasked with carrying the story forward.
There’s Kit (Ruby Cruz), princess and daughter of original film character Sorcha (Joanne Whalley), who is expected to marry book-loving prince Gradyon (Tony Revolori) but seems much more interested in her sparring partner Jade (Erin Kellyman) . However, when her brother Prince Airk (Dempsey Byrk) is suddenly kidnapped by the forces of evil, Willow resurfaces and warns of the return of an ancient evil that must be stopped.
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From here, the powers that be summon a Fellowship-style crew of Kit, Jade, Gradyon, humble scullery maid Dove (Ellie Bamber), and a fast-talking warrior and ex-criminal named Boorman (Amer Chadha-Patel) and send them out beyond the magical barrier that protects their citadel to save Airk and their world too.
Many questions and secrets remain – such as the whereabouts of the now-grown Elora Danan and the whereabouts of Kilmer’s Madmartigan – but as their quest unfolds, Kasdan and his cast enjoy providing answers and fan service in equal measure, while combining the wholesome feel of Howard’s film with saucy humor and scary old-school practical effects.
While it’s hard not to wonder why Kasdan’s series wasn’t just a movie (perhaps Willow’s relative cult status is to blame for this serialized sequel and safer bet) and some comedic styles seem a little more rusty than others, his movie-split-in-Chunks atmosphere makes it hard not to get swept up in the speed of this colorful fantasy adventure.
It’s undeniably fun to see Davis back in his old garb — this time as a gruff, flamboyant wizard with dry comedic wit — but thankfully, it’s just as fun to hang out with the show’s newcomers, with Chadha-Patel’s bad-good boy Boorman provided much of the show’s lasting laughs.
Read more: The cast of Willow praises the show’s diversity
Throw in some great guest spots into the mix, and Willow emerges as a nice, light-hearted sequel for anyone craving more sword-and-shield adventures after bingeing House of the Dragon – certainly with far fewer dragons, cursing, and innate relationships.
Plus, it arrives just in time for the Christmas holidays, making it the perfect nostalgia trip to help you tear down that Quality Street box while being swept up in a good old Lucas fantasy. Magic!
Willow has been streaming on Disney+ since November 30 with two episodes, with new episodes arriving weekly.
Watch: Warwick Davis talks to Yahoo about returning as Willow