Ahead of the show’s November 30 premiere, refresh your memory on all things Willow.
The fantasy genre is experiencing a new boom thanks to the success of streaming television shows like The Witcher, House of the Dragon, and The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Disney+ is officially entering the competition with a new series based on one of Lucasfilm’s earlier properties. The new series Willow picks up with a new generation of heroes in events that take place after the 1988 film of the same name.
Willow was the brainchild of George Lucas, who wanted to create another fictional universe after the success of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. He enlisted director Ron Howard, who had appeared in his earlier film American Graffiti, to bring Willow to life. Although the 1988 film was a modest hit, it didn’t receive the level of hype and feedback necessary to spawn a sequel. While Willow is sometimes written off as a disappointment, it’s inspired a cult fanbase that has been rallying for a follow-up ever since.
Disney+’s Willow features the return of Warwick Davis as the titular character. Developed by Jonathan Kasdan, Willow also features returning cast members Joanne Whalley as Sorsha, Kevin Pollak as Rool, and Rick Overton as Franjean. While Willow has an extensive mythology that rivals other fantasy projects, it looks to be a more family-centric adventure series than more mature shows like The Rings of Power and House of the Dragon.
Where Is the Original Story of ‘Willow’ Set?
Willow is set in a high fantasy medieval universe known as the “Mother World.” The world has two large continents that are sparsely populated by smaller kingdoms with representative political leaders. However, the kingdom of Nockmaar is ruled by the wicked sorceress Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). Sorcerers are incredibly rare and must train for years to hone their abilities. Bavmorda dispatches her daughter Sorsha (Whalley) and the evil General Kael (Pat Roach) to conquer the smaller villagers.
Willow comes into the adventure when the infant child Elora Danan washes up on the shore of his village of Nelwyn. The baby is prophesied to bring Bavmorda’s downfall, and she is desperate to kill anyone who would threaten her rule. Willow is already a father but reluctantly decides to take the child to safety.
During his quest, he’s introduced to the mercenary hero Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), who is essentially the Han Solo of the Willow story. After receiving a magic wand from the Fairy Queen Cherlindrea (Maria Holvöe), Willow discovers the older sorcerer Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes). She teaches him the art of magic as he travels with Madmartigan. Sorsha ultimately decides to defy her mother as she falls in love with Madmartigan. The heroes all work together to defeat Bavmorda and restore the ancient great kingdom of Tir Asleen.
Willow is gifted a magic spell book that could be used to train other sorcerers if he ever sought to be a teacher. Sorsha inherits her mother’s place as ruler and marries Madmartigan. They adopt Elora as their own child and bid farewell to Willow. Willow returns home to his own family, where he is celebrated as a hero.
When Does the New Disney+ Series Take Place?
Although it’s not entirely clear when the new Willow series takes place, Davis’ grouchy attitude suggests that Willow has not set out on any new adventures after the events of the first film. However, he is visited by Sorsha, who tells him that a new force of evil is threatening the Mother World. Only a great sorcerer can stand up to this rising threat. Although Kilmer was not able to appear in the series due to his health condition, Kasdan stated that Madmartigan’s fate will have a significant impact on the series. Top Gun: Maverick was able to respectfully incorporate Kilmer’s struggles, so hopefully Willow is able to do the same thing.
Willow is joined in his new adventure by Sorsha’s daughter Kit (Ruby Cruz), the aspiring knight Jade (Erin Kellyman), the kitchen maid Dove (Ellie Bamber), the thief-turned-hero Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), and an unidentified character played by Tony Revolori. Considering that Willow is likely the last sorcerer in the Mother World, this band of heroes may have been dispatched by Sorsha to train in magic. In the trailer, Revolori’s character mentions that he used to pretend to be a sorcerer as a child, so perhaps he is Willow’s new initiate. Christian Slater and Ralph Ineson are also involved with the series, but it’s not clear who they are playing.
The series also features the return of Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton as the “brownies” Rool and Franjean. These diminutive creatures were essentially the R2-D2 and C-3PO of Willow, so it’s fun to see them return to provide more comic relief in this new adventure. Although it’s not entirely clear who the antagonist is, the trailer features a new helmeted villain and the two-headed dragon from the first film.
What Stories Exist in the Larger ‘Willow’ Universe?
Similar to Star Wars, Willow has an extended universe that expands into different media. Lucas had outlined an entire universe that was expanded in Wayland Drew’s novelization. The novel includes a sequence where Willow crosses paths with a dragon outside of Raziel’s home. Although this scene was shot and appears in part on the original DVD release of the film, it was not completed for budgetary reasons. Drew’s novel also details the aura of mystery surrounding the sorcerers, Madmartigan’s backstory, and the ancient days of Tir Asleen before Bavmorda came into power. These moments are also included in the comic book adaptation, the Capcom platform game, and the Nintendo role-playing game.
The Star Wars franchise had been given a new life in the 1990s thanks to the success of the novel Heir to the Empire and the Dark Horse comics series Dark Empire. Lucasfilm decided to expand Willow as well, and X-Men scribe Chris Claremont wrote the Chronicles of the Shadow War, which followed a teenaged Elora’s adventures. Although Willow is her true godfather, a mysterious Deceiver attempts to take his place and infect her body with his evil spirit. The three novels Shadow Moon, Shadow Dawn, and Shadow Star were released in 1995, 1996, and 2000, respectively.
Based on their similarities, some fans have speculated that Willow takes place in the Star Wars universe. Although Willow was briefly featured as “canon” on the official Star Wars website, Lucasfilm’s continuity expert Leland Chee confirmed that it was an April Fool’s Joke. Dave Filoni has admitted that he’s a massive fan of the original film, and included several references to Willow in both Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels.
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