Unlike Top Gun, Warwick Davis’ fantasy is an ’80s reboot we didn’t need
If Top Gun might have a sequel 36 years after its original release, why not George Lucas and Ron Howard’s 1988 fantasy film Willow? Well, for one, Top Gun had a relatively simple plot (take off, shoot, pose) and Tom Cruise in aviator specs. Willow featured Warwick Davis as a wizard dwarf who helped liberate an imaginary kingdom from evil forces — much less an ’80s cultural moment.
In fact, I bet most of us have never seen Willow. In the opening episode of Disney+’s TV series sequel, Joanne Whalley (reprising her role as Queen Sorsha) offered a recap.
“In the time of fear a child was born…,” she began. And if what followed sounded pseudo-biblical, it should be remembered that the original Willow contained a plagiarism from the story of Moses. But instead of a future prophet, discovered the baby floating in the bullrushes i Willow was a future empress and force for good, Elora Danan. This particular infant was saved by Davis’ titular wizard, Willow Ufgood. When we picked up the story, all was calm in Sorsha’s realm, but she was taking no chances and had hidden Elora’s identity for her own safety.
Elora’s surprising identity was revealed while viewers were reunited with Willow in a tease of a scene that made me fear Warwick Davis had undergone disfiguring plastic surgery (fear not, Life is short the actor naturally ages quite well).
Screenplay by Jonathan Kasden, Willow seems to have been reinvented with a teenage audience in mind. The dialogue, when not code epic, belonged in an American high school drama (though maybe not Euphoria).
The Anglo-American cast includes Ellie Bamber (Mandy Rice-Davies i The trial of Christine Keeler), Erin Kellyman and Ruby Cruz (Mare of Easttown). Cruz plays Kit, Sorcha’s feisty daughter and a princess who is reluctantly married off to a nerdy neighboring prince, Graydon (Tony Revolori).
A major reason why Kit might not want to enter into an arranged marriage with Graydon turned out to be that she had a crush on her best friend Jade (Kellyman), a female knight-in-training. And that’s the most noticeable difference between 1988 and today – not the special effects (which have obviously come on leaps and bounds), but the introduction of a central LGBTQ+ romance.
On the straight front, Kit’s princely brother Airk (pronounced “Eric”), a hitherto wild-oat heartthrob, had fallen for a kitchen maid named Dove (Bamber).
However, Airk was kidnapped during a surprise attack by evil monsters, several of which seemed to come straight out of Doctor Who design manual (I could swear I saw a Sontaran) and set off past a force field known as The Barrier.
We’ve been set up for a mission, in other words, with Kit, Jade, Dove, Willow and the reluctant Graydon among the ragbag party going beyond the barrier to try and save Airk.
The cast is attractive, the CGI effects as impressive as you’d expect from Lucasfilm (their first non-Star Wars project since 2015), and the series has the advantage of inheriting its own built-in mythology.
Whether or not this mythology will satisfy hardcore fantasy fans is another matter Willow already feels far less richly immersive than Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon.
On the other hand, it is also much healthier than what takes place in Westeros. And George Lucas and Disney may have considered that it bridged the gap between the more robust imaginations and, for example, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.