I’m just going to throw this out of there and all Gen Xers and nerds are just going to have to deal with it, but the 1988 Willow movie wasn’t as good as we remember. I was barely 10 when the movie was in theaters but I finally saw it on HBO the following summer. Willow is a dark fantasy action adventure sword and sorcery movie that is basically a hybrid of The Lord of the Rings and The Hidden Fortess. The latter movie was a more light-hearted Japanese adventure movie directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune. George Lucas claims to have been influenced by it when he was working on his Star Wars movies in the 1970s.
Lucas is also credited as an executive producer on the 1988 movie and receives a story by credit. He had originally envisioned the movie in the early 1970s. It was directed by Ron Howard who had become a successful movie director in the decade. Warwick Davis, who plays the titular character, had already appeared as the Ewok Wicket in Return of the Jedi and those Ewok TV movies which need no further mention. It’s hard to believe he was 18 when the movie was released even though Willow is supposed to be a much older character. It was a success at the box office. On a budget of $35 million, it grossed almost four times that at $135 million.
However, there was something missing in the plot. Something that many critics noted as it received mixed reviews. It probably didn’t help that the movie trashed many of the top critics of the time. One of the villains is named General Kael after film critice Pauline Kael and a two-headed fire-breathing dragon creature is supposed to represent Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Naturally, they gave the movie two thumbs down. Howard, himself, would later say he was disappointed in himself for how he directed the movie as he was trying to make something that was more like Star Wars than his own movie.
But the movie had its fanbase over the years as Davis made those awful Leprechaun movies and Val Kilmer became one of the biggest A-List actors of the 1990s only to ruin it all with his behavior. He would meet his future Joanne Whalley on this set and they would divorce less than 10 years later. It’s not a good sign to fall in love with the person who is playing your antagonist.
So, it was only a matter of time after Disney bought Lucasfilm and its content that there would be a Willow TV series especially after Disney was running out of Star Wars characters to have their own series. Willow, begins many years later. Sorsha (Whalley) is now the queen of Tir Asleen and has changed her ways. She is the mother of two twins, Kit (Ruby Cruz) and Airk (Dempsey Bryk), who are basically spoiled brats more suitable for the WB/CW crowd.
Airk seems like a womanizer is trying to woo a commoner, Dove (Ellie Bamber) while Kit is secretly in love with her friend, Jade (Erin Kellyman), a knight-in-training. However, Sorsha wants Kit to marry Prince Graydon (Tony Revolori), who seems to have the personality of a block of wood and the same expression. Suddenly, all this is interupted when Tir Asleen is attacked by the Gales, a new threat Sorsha had visions of, and Airk is kidnapped.
So, a group of people including Kit, Jade, and Graydon take off to track Airk. Also, the simple Dove joins them after being denied the request by Sorsha. By now, people are probably wondering, where is Willow? Isn’t this supposed to be a series about Willow? Well, he appears in the final few minutes of the first episode and discovers that Dove is actually Elora Danan. Elora was the infant in the movie that was a prophecy it would bring the downfall of Sorsha’s mother, Queen Bavmorda, an evil sorceress. Sorsha has hidden Elora’s identity from everyone, including herself.
It’s revealed that Willow and Sorsha disagreed about the future of Elora Danan and he left Tir Asleen to live among the Nelwyn, which are the dwarves. FYI, the regular size humans are called Dakinis. Willow wanted to train her in the magical arts like him while Sorsha felt it necessary Elora have a more common life, which is why she never told her or much others about her past. Sorsha sends out Commander Ballantine (Ralph Ineson) to track and bring back Elora but he is quickly infected with the Lich, a member of the Gales.
When it appeared this series was going to be about a quest to rescue someone, I cringed a little. It feels like series developer Jonathan Kasdan, who had previously worked with Howard on Solo: A Star Wars Story, didn’t really have much of an idea for a plot so they decided to use the old A to B Plot. I generally don’t like this plot device. Sometimes, it’s works which was LOTR because they were able to twist it around a little. But it seems to be a part of many horror, fantasy and thrillers by just having the cast from from Place A to Place B and losing some along the way and having battles.
It would also help if most action scenes weren’t set in the dark so you can’t see much of what is happening. They also rip-offed a scene from Young Guns II of all movies. I don’t mean that it looks similar. They used the exact same thing of having Thraxus Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), a treasure hunter and swordsman, riding his horse down a canyon while screaming a non-English word. The others on their horses follow him. When one ask what the word meant, he says it’s an ancient word of his people, which means, “Stop.” Lou Diamond Phillips did the same thing in Young Guns II and it was way funnier.
They also use a lot of modern songs on the soundtrack. I kinda get what they’re trying to do by adding some hipster cover songs to the soundtrack. But yet, I feel that it pulls away from seeing this series as a dark fantasy story. Is it trying to be a homage to Heavy Metal in how it mixed sci-fi/fantasy with rock ‘n’ roll? I’m not sure.
Most of the performances are so dull and boring. Kit seems to just a teen angst spoiled brat and Cruz plays her accordingly, which isn’t needed for a main character. Jade is played by Kellyman with the same mopy whining she played in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It’s apparent that Disney is trying its damnedest to make her a huge star. It’s not working. Bamber as Elora Danan isn’t given much to do but act like she’s wowed by everything happening around her.
Davis is now older and he has said he’s playing the character like Mark Hamill played Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, which already means a lot of nerds will hate it. If the show would focus on him more, it might save it after the first three mediocre episodes. Whalley isn’t given much to do but react and bark orders at people. Sadly, Kilmer is MIA as Madmartigan. There was some issues involving Covid that kept him from traveling, I heard as Kilmer has battled throat cancer over the past years. And that’s a shame. Kilmer was a welcome surprise in his small role in Top Gun: Maverick. Madmartigan is referecned a lot so there’s a possibility is there is a second season.
But at this rate, I don’t know if they’ll be a second season. While critics are praising it, fans aren’t. Nor should they. Willow seems like an ancillary character in his own show. And the other characters aren’t the least bit interesting. It’s very likely the rest of the season might pick up, but considering that the 1988, while flawed, moved a lot better than this series so far, fans would probably just watch the original on Disney-Plus.
What do you think? Please comment.