The Return of Willow and the Answer to the Film’s Biggest Question

Exclusive: Willow showrunner Jon Kasdan on the 34-year journey to bring the hero back to screens.

Willow Series
Photo: Disney

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Years before his triumphant and game-changing Star Wars trilogy, George Lucas had an idea for a sprawling fantasy story about an aspiring sorcerer and a prophesied hero. But it wouldn’t be until over a decade later that he began to bring that story to life.

Starring Return of the Jedi‘s Warwick Davis, the Ron Howard-helmed Willow was an epic fantasy yarn, and although it failed to set the box office on fire, it captured the imaginations of young viewers everywhere. One of them was eight-year-old Jon Kasdan, who still remembers watching the film for the very first time at the historic Village Theater in Westwood, Los Angeles. “My memory is so specific of seeing the movie [there] that I begged, pleaded, and finally convinced Disney to let us have our premiere at the Village,” Kasdan tells Den of Geek magazine in the lead-up to the show’s debut. 

Willow opens with one of the scariest scenes in family movie history as the evil Queen Bavmorda orders the murder of the kingdom’s baby girls in order to stop a prophecy. Eventually, the precious prophesied baby is saved by a courageous kitchen maid who smuggles her out of the castle. But while the child, Elora Danan, is safe, her savior is hunted down by Bavmorda’s nightmarish Death Dogs. It’s the sequence that sucked Kasdan in, thanks to the brilliant practical work that brought it to life. “It was just more tactile and real than anything I’d seen like that before. It suddenly made the movie very dangerous in a great way where I was riveted.”

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After the massive success of Lucas’ previous movies, young Kasdan—like many Willow fans—expected a sequel. But it wasn’t until years later that he realized why it hadn’t emerged. “I was just a little too young to understand that, oh, this thing isn’t performing the way Star Wars and Indiana Jones do.” But that didn’t stop his love for the movie from growing on rewatch after rewatch, eventually leading to a life-changing realization. “As time went on, the VHS stayed with me, and Val [Kilmer] grew in my memory as this iconic image of what a cool guy was. It just seemed like the opportunity existed to continue the story, to keep it going.” 

That would become more of a reality for Kasdan in 2012 when Disney acquired Lucasfilm. “My dad [Lawrence Kasdan] got involved very early, like within the first few months. And my fantasies for what the company could be immediately turned to, ‘Great, we can make some more Willow.'” That might have seemed like a longshot, but while he was working on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Solo, Kathleen Kennedy let slip to Kasdan that George Lucas also harbored an ambition to continue the story of Willow. “She should never have told me because I never let it go.” 

Speaking of Solo, it was on that project where Kasdan met Ron Howard and Warwick Davis, who he quickly brought into his scheme to bring Willow back to the screen. “She was suddenly confronted by three people conspiring for more Willow. The timing of it was perfect for the launch of Disney+. That was the only place this could have happened.” 

When it came to continuing the story from the 1988 film, there was an obvious answer for Kasdan, and it all came down to the cherubic baby at the center of Willow. “That was my whole argument to everyone. And it’s echoed in the ancillary novels that emerged in the late ‘90s. But the question the movie begs is, ‘What happened to Elora Danan?'”  

The eight-episode season aims to answer that question as Davis’ Willow is called upon by Kit (Ruby Cruz), the daughter of Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and Sorcha (Joanne Whalley), to find her twin brother. But as they embark on that quest, the party must locate Elora and help her become the prophesied hero she was sworn to be. Getting to bring Davis back into the role of reluctant mentor and powerful warlock was monumental for Kasdan. “The most emotional moment on the set was Warwick’s first costume fitting when he came out of the dressing room in that cloak for the first time and we saw him fully made up… you couldn’t not connect that to your childhood in a powerful and profound way.”

Kasdan teases that he has bigger ideas and is planning for more seasons of Willow if this one lands with fans and Disney+ viewers. “We are building a plan to continue the story, and hopefully, it ends in a way that demands more because we think this is a fun world, and the threats that we’re setting up in season one aren’t resolved by the end of it. But I also hope that within itself, the season is satisfying because it also excites you to see what happens next.”

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Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen, but Kasdan does know one thing: the moment he’s most excited for viewers to experience when they finally watch the sequel show. “Willow training Elora in magic! In the script I wrote, there was a line where it says, ‘Music comes in, begin training montage.’ And let’s face it, this is the whole reason we made the series.'” 

Willow hits Disney+ on Nov. 30, and you can watch the original film there now.