Everyone knows George Lucas because of ‘Star Wars.’ For good reason: when it debuted all the way back in 1977, the franchise changed special effects in films and the kinds of movies people go to see. However, it’s less known that five years before this, Lucas conceived of an idea for another movie, one involving magic and darker fantasy themes. That movie eventually got made 16 years later under the direction of Ron Howard. ‘Willow’ follows the efforts of one sorcerer (played to perfection by Warwick Davis) to protect an abandoned child in order to fight against the evil Queen Bavmorda (an incomparable Jean Marsh) and bring peace to the Kingdom of Tir Asleen. The story ended in a climactic battle that ended in Willow tricking the evil sorceress into banishing herself. The child, Elora Danan, fell into the hands of the Queen’s daughter Sorsha (played by Joanne Whalley).
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And that was the last we had heard from the characters – until, that is, this past week when Disney decided to release the next chapter in the saga. The new series of the same name is following in its predecessor’s footsteps, continuing the fantasy epic with six episodes explaining what happens next. While the evil Queen seems to be truly gone, a new threat has emerged, and a whole new generation of royalty and magic users are in jeopardy. I’m happy to report that this new series not only lives up to the wonderful original’s pure whimsy and perilous adventure, it expands on the world and story in surprisingly complex and occasionally moving ways.
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Connection to The Original
The references are some of the most interesting about the series. At any given moment, a scene from the 1988 original will be seamlessly stitched within a current moment of Willow and the fellowship, weaving the old into the new with ease. These kinds of callbacks are usually derivative and pointless, but ‘Willow’ makes amazing use of its source material through these. The writers save them for moments of deep introspection or emotional weight. For instance, there are many times that Willow is grappling with his regrets. When reflecting on his current mentorship of Elora, he remembers his past conversations with Sorsha and the promises they made to each other. When thinking of how his current treatment of Elora needs to change, he remembers her adolescence and how he felt about protecting her all those years ago. The series also creates new flashback scenes that take place between the movie and the show, stressing heated discussions between him and Sorsha.
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The fact that the series chooses to do this, making the most of this tried and true technique, speaks volumes about the passion behind the project. These moments act as a perfect connective tissue between the two pieces of media, bolstering ‘Willow’ lore in both the movie and the series. I feel like I know so much more about the sorcerer’s inner psyche. I have a deeper understanding of what he’s going through, his complicated friendship with Sorsha, his complicated relationship with Tir Asleen.
The ‘Willow’ of 1988 had incredible production value. The castles looked lived in and dilapidated. The costumes stand out, as they’re meticulously crafted and cater to each character’s personality. Old witches to Nelwyn farmer sorcerers such as Willow. Because it was a Lucasfilm production, it took advantage of its in-house state-of-the-art special effects. It made a giant two-headed dragon, beast-like wolves, creepy rituals, and dangerous spells. Probably the most notable thing about the special effects was the use of revolutionary morphing technology at the time, courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic. Raziel being changed from animal to animal right in front of the audience’s eyes had never been done before like that. The effortless changes the character went through set the standard for movie transformations for all of Cinema after it.
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The new series continues the movie’s excellence in this department. A new part of the world called the Barrier, or the magic shield protecting Tir Asleen from the outside world, is rendered a beautiful shimmering blue. Everyone’s costumes are consistent, well-made, and represent everyone’s personality and fictional Kingdom (just like the first one). All the different sequins, felts, and colors are updated in style for the next generation of the show. Because of the high budget, there was a significant expectation hoisted upon the new show’s shoulders. Seeing the money represented on screen shows that Disney clearly saw this as part of the original ‘Willow’s legacy, and as a company were committed to honoring it in the new series.
There are a few common threads in each version of ‘Willow’ that act as thematic similarities. With that said, the major lesson to take away from both is bravery. In the original, Willow is often scared of the things he has to do to protect Elora and survive. However, he chooses to do them anyway, not because it’s easy, but because he knows it’s right. It’s why he is consistently able to prioritize Elora whenever they’re in a dangerous situation. It’s why he had the guts to walk into Bavmorda’s lair, and why he had a clear enough head to trick her into banishing herself to the Netherworld. What makes it doubly impactful is the fact that he faces so much opposition from so many sides: lots of people don’t expect him to be brave or courageous for completely unfounded and hurtful reasons. However, he ends up proving everyone wrong and acts bravely anyway.
The same can be said for Elora in the new series too. Up until the time period of the show, she lived a pretty sheltered life. Then, because the situation called for it, she decided to risk her life as much as any of the other characters because she knew it was right.
The series ‘Willow’ is a triumphant return to the land of Tir Asleen. It features additional amazing talent, some old talent, beautiful production designs, and a wonderful message, making it quintessential viewing for ‘Willow’ fans.
Directors: Stephen Woolfenden
Writers: Hannah Friedman, Stu Selonick, Wendy Mericle & John Bickerstaff
Actors: Warwick Davis, Ellie Bamber, Ruby Cruz, Erin Kellyman, Tony Revolori, Amar Chadha-Patel, Dempsey Bryk
By Zachary DePiore
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