Here’s What You Should Know About ‘Willow’ On Disney Plus

It has been 34 years since Willow landed in theaters, but now the titular hero is back in a new series streaming on Disney+. It’s great news for fans who have been waiting decades for further adventures.

The original film, directed by Ron Howard, got a mixed reaction from critics but a warm embrace from audiences, and it grossed $137.6 million against a $35 million budget. Willow, which starred Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, and Joanne Whalley as part of the ensemble cast, also garnered two Oscar nominations.

The series, also called Willow, sees Davis return to the lead role of Willow Ufgood, but this time it is Jon Kasdan at the helm as writer and executive producer. The pair, who met on the set of Howard’s Solo, were among the cast and crew who gathered for a press conference to reveal more about the show, which has debuted on Disney+.

Here are a few things you might find handy to know before diving into the new show.

Warwick Davis on returning to Willow

Warwick Davis: It’s been talked about for years, 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?’ It was a question that I could only answer once I met Jon Kasdan, who I understood was also a fan. I wondered on the set of Solo who had let him onto set because he was obsessed, always talking about Willow. Surely we should have been concentrating on making this Star Wars story, shouldn’t we? It was decided that there should indeed be more Willow, so that was the catalyst for this project to happen, and it happened very quickly in Hollywood terms. It wasn’t years and years of development, and before I knew it, I was sat on set in Wales for the first day of filming. Once again, I was looking just like Willow, but a slightly older, more mature, better-looking version. Sexier.

Jon Kasdan: There was the impulse between Ron and Warwick, and myself to continue this story and return to this world. I came at it as a fan, and they came at it both as the creators and found a champion in me. I kept fighting and hoping that we’d get a chance to go back. My ace was always that Warwick would be back and that he would look so attractive and America, and the world, would really fall on their knees. Everyone got that and appreciated that there was something special in the opportunity to bring this character back to the screen.

Balancing the old Willow with the new

Kasdan: That’s the challenge, and with every episode, you’re walking the line between making it familiar and satisfying what fans expect from the Willow brand. Then you’re trying to push it forward and tell a surprising and unexpected story. The great weapon we had with us was Warwick, who just lent the whole Willow universe credibility. The moment you see him on screen, you suddenly believe these six other foolish kids could somehow fit into that world and inhabit it. They did it so beautifully and with such gusto, enthusiasm, and authenticity. It was an amazing thing to watch all these things come together. It became something that feels like a progression from the movie as much as a love letter to it.

Davis: Certainly, one of the most enjoyable things about the series was those callbacks to events that had happened in the film. There are times when I, as a character, talk about those events, and that is a really fun way of looking back at those things, and fans will get a kick out of it. Also, we returned to locations and environments we’d already been to in the film. In particular, Nockmaar was one of those particular places that, for me, really gave me the shivers. There I am, standing or sitting somewhere Bavmorda would have sat and still feeling her presence in that area. That shows you how powerful the film was, those settings, and Jean Marsh’s performance.

Kasdan: An incredible thing happened where we got our friend Kevin Pollak out to reprise his role as Rool. He told me when he arrived that he and Warwick had never actually done any scenes together before because he had filmed all of the Brownie bits in the movie at Skywalker in Northern California. This time, he and Warwick got to riff off each other, and watching them interact was quite an amazing thing. They were these old friends who didn’t know each other.

Warwick Davis on what the Willow legacy means to his family

Davis: I remember the time I first showed my son Harrison the movie. At the time, I think he was about six. I left him in our living room watching it and went and did some emailing and work. He came running to my office saying, ‘Dad, you’re in trouble. Are you okay?’ I said, ‘I’m fine.’ At that time, I was being attacked by a troll on screen. It profoundly affected Harrison, and he’s had counseling ever since (laughter). It was wonderful to have Harrison and my daughter Annabelle as part of the series. Annabelle plays Mims, Willow’s daughter. She’s a brilliant actor in her own right now, and we had a lot of fun playing the scenes together. Obviously, we’ve got that natural chemistry between us, which shines through. I’m immensely proud of her work. Harrison is the perfect stunt and photo double for me. He stands the same height as me and looks just like me, but he’s slightly disappointed now that he’s never going to be recognized for his work because, as a stunt double, you should not be known; you should not even exist. Poor old Harrison is not going to get any credit for this one.

Why Val Kilmer’s character, Madmartigan, isn’t in the Willow series

Kasdan: Because we were telling a story that had so many young characters, and they were all searching for their identity, the search for Madmartigan and the question of what had happened to him was right at the heart of the story we were telling. It had to be. We knew that it would be woven into this quest fundamentally to see where he was and what had become of him, and what he’d given up. We always knew that we wanted to pay it off in one way or another, and we had a lot of ideas about ways to do that and ways to leave it open. One thing that happened, because Val himself couldn’t come out to Wales and work with us, was that we added this texture of a friend of Madmartigan’s who could give us clues about his whereabouts. That deepened the mystery around what happened to him in a way that only extended the story we were already telling. So it was very satisfying, and it provided an opportunity for us to add a whole new element to the show that we didn’t expect. Madmartigan is still out there. I have had many conversations with everyone involved, and we feel he is out there to be found should the day arrive. Warwick and I would love to see him pick up that sword again.

The biggest challenges in bringing Willow back to the screen

Davis: For me, it was the physical challenges of the role. I remember the first time around when I was 17 that it was physically quite challenging with the difficult terrains and harsh conditions in New Zealand mountains. This time around, I’m now not 17 anymore; I’m 52, so rough terrain, mud, that sort of thing, and very unwieldy dialogue from Mr. Kasdan, all of those things were challenging. Also, doing the original material justice, having the weight of the fans with me, wanting to do the very best job we could, and delivering a series that everyone could enjoy. You’ve got that in your mind the whole time. It can give you a lot of responsibility and bring a lot of weight to the entire thing, but nonetheless, the experience was fun. It’s one I look back on with great affection and fondness. What makes projects special are the people, not the material or the character; it’s the people you work with. This amazing ensemble cast we have here, Jon, our writer, the various directors we had throughout the series, and the creatives at the top of the ladder, namely Kathleen Kennedy and Ron Howard himself. He was like our Yoda, I suppose (laughs).

On there being more humor in the series than in the original Willow movie

Davis: It was important that we took that kind of ethos from the film because that is what set Willow apart from the other fantasy offerings of the 80s. It could look at itself and laugh and not take itself seriously. Also, as well as being a great fantasy writer and sci-fi writer, Jon is also a very good comic writer, and he’d often say to me, ‘I’m going to go full Life’s Too Short with this scene,’ which meant he wanted it to be as funny as it could be.

Kasdan: Another one of the great gifts of getting to do this show now is that we all knew how great Warwick was in the movie. His comedy is, in a way, one of the most enduring things about it. He has this incredible career as a comedian and has this wealth of material to look at for inspiration and reference. To come at the show again with him, particularly in a different part of his life, where he has insecurities and fears and a huge reputation to hold up, we just had a lot of fun with that as a subject matter. It was a fun joke for all six of the actors around him to riff off of and to trust deeply in everything he said while he didn’t really know what he was doing. That felt true to the spirit of the show and what we wanted it to be. It was also true to being a showrunner, frankly. You’re surrounded by people looking at you like, ‘You know what you’re doing, don’t you?’ And you’re just saying, ‘Yeah, no, maybe.’ That was something I was able to channel into writing for Willow.

How conversations about more Willow evolved with the film’s director, Ron Howard

Kasdan: It evolved from the conversations that Ron and I had on the set of Solo. One thing we always knew at the core of it was, ‘What became of Elora Danan?’ That was a subject with a lot of promise. The movie ended with a bittersweet moment of Warwick kissing this baby and saying, ‘Okay, goodbye, I’ll never see you again.’ As an eight-year-old, I was like, ‘You mean, they’re not going to live together, and they’re not going to have a life together? How will she learn about all this stuff that happened to her?’ That felt like a great jumping-off place for a series, and we knew we wanted this question in line with that. We knew we wanted this question about who was protecting her. Was the best way to protect her by not telling her who she was? That felt in line with many of George Lucas’ other stories and people discovering their unique heritage or specialness as they go through their lives. With this particular show, which is so much about growing up, that seemed like a theme that made total sense to us.

Willow is now streaming on Disney+.

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