Willow: What to Expect from the Disney+ Series
Ron Howard and Warwick Davis will return to the fantasy realm of Willow with a new Disney+ TV series. Here's what we're hoping to see...
After the wildly successful conclusion of the original Star Wars trilogy and meeting the wonderful Warwick Davis, George Lucas had a plan: to launch a new fantasy franchise with the man who’d brought Wicket the Ewok to life at the forefront. Reimagining a film he’d first conceived in 1972, Lucas got to work and five years later Willow hit screens in 1988. Directed by Ron Howard and written by Bob Dolman based on Lucas’ story, the film tells the tale of the titular hero and aspiring sorcerer who heads off on an incredible journey to return a baby to its people.
While the film wasn’t a huge commercial success and received mixed reviews on release, to a whole generation of kids–who have now grown up–and their kids it remains a classic. That’s why this Willow fan was incredibly excited to hear that Howard and Lucas will be returning–with helmers Jon Chu and Jon Kasdan–to the fantastical world and the characters who’ve meant so much to so many over the years.
So what will this new Willow series look like? What do we want to see? And what storylines will the new show likely pick up? Get ready for some theories because we’re diving in!
With Davis returning it’s clear that Willow will once again be at the center of the new series. In the original film he and his family lived in the small village of Nelwyn. Willow’s wife Kiaya (Julie Peters) and children Ranon (Mark Vandebrake) and Mims (Dawn Downing) were only in the film for a short time but the new series could see them return. Seeing as Davis is getting older there’s a chance that we could see one of his kids join him on his quest or even take over for the hero. If Willow achieved his goal of becoming a powerful sorcerer we could also meet him as the town’s elder, using his magic to protect the people he cares about while potentially looking for an apprentice.
With longer form storytelling available to the creative team it would be nice to learn a little more about the Ufgoods and their village. Magic is real here and clearly a part of the economy, world, and existence of the Nelwyn community as well as that of the Daikinis who rule over the land. It would be super cool to take advantage of the format to really build on the inner workings of the world and lore of Willow.
In the film, Willow acts as a connection between those two worlds which we could see explored here. Speaking of which, the fact he saved a young baby who was prophesied to take down an evil queen–and did–is probably a big thread that will get picked up here.
Which brings us to…
A New Generation of Heroes
Alongside Willow’s children, Ranon and Mims, there is the obvious story of Elora Dannon, the young baby that set Willow on his quest years ago. Disney has finally started to combine their success with women-led stories–the princess movies that kept them afloat for years–with genre storytelling. It might have taken them 11 years to do a female-led movie in the MCU but it now exists, and after critiques of The Mandalorian and its lack of women with speaking roles, it seems like they’d be smart to take advantage of the fact that they have a franchise here which featured two radical strong women already in place and a new young hero who could potentially be a great ally to Willow. Basically, expect Elora Dannon to play a large part in whatever adventures Chu, Kasdan, and co. have in store.
With all of that said, it would be amazing to see Disney bring Mims and Ranon back. We rarely get stories with heroes who aren’t a very specific kind of person. To have two little people leading a big Disney+ series would be huge, plus the kids already have a connection to Elora as they were the ones who found her in the river at Nelwyn. It seems to make sense that she would have been raised alongside Willow’s kids, especially as he had a close connection to the people who raised her too.
Sorsha and Madmartigan
And who did raise her? Well, that would be the powerful warrior daughter of evil queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), Sorcha (Joanne Whalley), and the arrogant sellsword Madmartigan (Val Kilmer). It’s a truly unlikely pairing and both her parents were… let’s say unusual, so it’s hard to say exactly where they’ll be when we return.
There’s a chance they cleaned up their acts to raise their daughter and rule as stable and fair monarchs but that seems a little boring. Sorcha is one of fantasy’s coolest and most complex female characters so it’d be nice to see her return, especially if she’s ended up having to raise Elora alone due to Madmartigan continuing his canonical streak of being a useless, greedy man.
With the trend of big actors returning to nostalgic roles it seems like we could see Davis and Kilmer team up again, perhaps Willow has to find his one time ally for Sorcha? Maybe he even has to hunt him down when he puts the world in danger with some terrible scheme or bargain. It would be wonderful to see Whalley return too as we rarely get to see strong older women in big, meaty fantasy roles. If that’s the case then maybe we could see dual storylines as the classic Willow team reunites and their younger counterparts have to either assist, save, or potentially battle them. There’s so many options!
The big question is what could cause all of these disparate warriors to come back together? The answer seems to lay in the original movie.
The evil queen at the center of the story was banished but not killed, so potentially she could make her return to finish off Elora once and for all. Jean Marsh is an icon–she also terrified us as Momby in Return to Oz–so to see her return in some form would be amazing, but also if she’s not interested there are plenty of ways to reinvent an evil witch.
Bavmorda is a classic fantasy villain but if the team wants to do something else there’s plenty of scope for angles to explore. The conflict between the Daikini and Nelwyns seems like an obvious route, but we could see some totally new inventions too. There’s also the chance that Sorcha or Elora could become surprise villains, perhaps with one of them being inspired to follow in their missing matriarch’s footsteps. It would be a big twist but would definitely be an interesting route for the show to explore. Another option could be a sect of Bavmorda’s loyal followers rising up against the crown.
Incredible Creature Work
If you’ve rewatched Willow recently then you’ll be aware of how great the practical effects are. I still remember the abject horror of the opening attack on Nelwyn and the Death Dogs. There’s also the two headed Eborsisk–named after Siskel and Ebert–and the unforgettable transformation of Madmartigan. Basically, the ’88 film offers up a ton of incredible creature work.
Lucasfilm has been continuing that legacy with the new Star Wars trilogy and of course, the puppeteering magic of Baby Yoda, so they’re definitely capable of creating more fantastical creatures which will hopefully be filling the world of the Willow series.
There’s also the recent beauty of Jim Henson Studio’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance which was critically acclaimed–and unfairly canceled–showcasing that there’s still an audience for good old practical effects and hard fantasy. With the recent invention of the tech that brought The Mandalorian to life, it’s pretty likely that we’ll see a melding of VFX and practical effects to build out the world.
Reimagining What Fantasy Can Be
Willow was groundbreaking for its time not just because of its effects and storytelling but also by having Davis as a lead. It would be amazing to see the series continue that trend. The conversation around representation often leaves out disabled people and this would be a brilliant place to introduce an accessible and inclusive version of what fantasy can be.
If we can imagine a world with Death Dogs and magical prophecies, surely we can imagine a wheelchair user as a heroine or someone with a facial disfigurement as a romantic lead. What would be really cool is if Willow expanded our idea of what disability looks like as disabled people of color are often left out of the very little rep that we do get.
So let’s see if Disney is willing to continue the legacy that was started years ago with the original film and create something truly radical in terms of who gets to be a hero in fantasy stories.