In defense of Willow, the 2022 Disney+ series...
I recently saw 2023’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves and it got me thinking, not only how John Francis Daley, the man who portrayed my spirit animal, Sam Weir from Freaks and Geeks, has become a HUGELY SUCCESSFUL writer and director, but also how much I love a good quest story. I think Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez both knocked it out of the park. They brought the winning combination of funny banter and physical comedy that keeps audiences entertained while they are slogging along through mountains (and dungeons) on their way to their desired outcome. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give a shout-out to Regé-Jean Page who channeled GOTG’s Drax a bit in his stoic and often literal performance as paladin Xenk.
I came away from watching D&D: Honor Among Thieves satisfied. It was a lot of fun. A great way to spend a weekend afternoon in the theater. But I didn’t think about it much afterward. My partner, Mike, really loved the film. He talked about how it evoked films like the original Willow by being silly and goofy, while also being an epic quest that’s hugely entertaining. As much as I agree, it made me think: “I’d actually rather watch more episodes of the new Willow.”
Ron Howard and George Lucas, those sweet sweet softies, created the original Willow during the late 80s. Released in 1988, yours truly, was seven years old upon its release. After watching the movie, I remember going to Wendy’s with my family where they had released a special Willow-edition cup for their Frosty dessert. The cup changed color based on its temperature, so as you ate more of the Frosty, the picture on the side of the cup changed. My older sister, Gaby, kept pointing to the side of the cup to “show” me something and then continued to steal more spoonfuls out of my Frosty. Back home, I stood on my bed, waving something around and pretended to be Fin Raziel, sending Queen Bavmorda flying around the tower, like in the film’s climax. I even had a Willow coloring book at some point. To this day, my sisters still quote from the film, often saying, “Dada! Dada!” when referring to our own Dad.
That being said, I am disappointed that Disney+ and Lucasfilm decided not to renew their new Willow series for future seasons. Do I think the new Willow series could have made for a highly entertaining sequel film? Definitely. But, extending Willow into a series twenty years after the original movie allowed Jonathan Kasdan and the show’s team of writers and directors to explore deeper character development, have its core cast take more side quests, and try lots of new things that may not have made it into a sequel film. I’d argue that as much as I loved the titular Willow character in the original film, by making it into a series, Kasdan allowed audiences to grow to love and root for the rest of the new series cast even more.
Amar Chadha-Patel. Gonna say it again: Amar Chadha-Patel. I loved young, dumb Val Kilmer in the original 1988 film. I am rooting for Chadha-Patel to be in more film and TV productions in the future. His portrayal of Thraxus Boorman, the thief-turned-hero, is by far my favorite performance of the new series. Combining the witty humor of Chris Pine’s Edgin with the kickass combat skills of Michelle Rodriguez’s Holga, that is felt in the new D&D, Boorman was also a softie at heart and incredibly hot. The series’ diverse ensemble cast also includes one of my all-time underdog faves, Tony Ravioli, I mean Tony Revolori. You might have recognized Revolori from such films as The Grand Budapest Hotel (“Take your hands off my Lobby Boy!”) or as the cocky Flash in the latest Spider-Man films. (Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley wrote the script for Spider-Man: Homecoming; bravo dudes). In Willow, Tony is for sure in his Lobby Boy underdog state. He plays Graydon, a prince with a murky past. This prince is sort of a sad sack. He is also secretly into Magic: The Gathering; I mean, he is into trying to gather magic. He studies ancient languages and reads tales of the renowned sorcerer, Willow Ufgood, with deep admiration. He is as unexcited to marry Ruby Cruz’s (princess) Kit, as she is to marry him.
Kit is a conflicted character. Her story is just as intertwined with the legendary baby, Elora Danan as Willow’s. She grew up hearing the stories and wondering how her father, (Val Kilmer’s Madmartigan) could decide to leave her and her twin brother, Airk, and their mother, Queen Sorsha (Joanne Whalley back and as kickass as ever), to go on quests in the name of protecting Elora Danan. There’s resentment there, but there’s also entitlement. She is, after all, a princess. She’s trained with her best friend Jade in sword fighting and hand-to-hand combat, but usually, Jade lets her win. To me, Erin Kellyman’s Jade is the more interesting character. You may recognize her from The Falcon and Winter Soldier. Jade has her own sense of honor and duty, wishing to become a knight to serve her kingdom, but she also loves Kit and wants to protect her. She tempers and humanizes the sometimes (okay, frequently) irritating Kit.
Kit is used to her twin brother Airk being a himbo who is often romantically entangled with one girl after the next around the castle until he meets his true love “dove,” who he swears to marry. Dove (Ellie Bamber) is a kitchen maid with a heart of gold. When the castle is attacked and Airk is kidnapped, Dove proves her metal by volunteering to help bring him back. This begins our quest story. Our group forms (including the aforementioned Thraxus Boorman who served with Madmardigan), with Prince Graydon, added in for good measure. They hope to find the famous sorcerer, Willow, and enlist his help to save Airk and their world.
In case you haven't watched the new Willow series yet, I will stop right here with the details. Like any good quest story, things do not go according to plan. Characters are not who they appear to be and there are lots of side quests, cameos, and plenty of action sequences found along the journey. Through it I found myself compelled by the new cast of characters who are held together by the aging, often trepidatious Willow. The series’ practical and special effects are great. Costuming and a diverse cast increase the world-building within Willow, and there are enough nods to the original story to satisfy fans of the original film, while not overdoing it with straight fan service. The first season of Willow alluded to a potential three-season storyline and I for one, really wish Lucasfilm changes its mind and give us at least one more season. At the time of writing this, I learned that creator Jon Kasdan shared on his Twitter page that despite the show being canceled, that did not mean there would not be a second season later on. The showrunner alluded to scheduling conflicts amongst its main cast of characters in the immediate future which led them to release the cast from their contracts for the time being. Kasdan said that they would attempt to continue the story of Willow in the future. He even referenced getting a third season of Party Down “13 years after season two,” and encouraged fans to try to resist campaigns demanding more Willow and focus their outrage on “the many real outrages in the world.”
Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school dropout. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro