When Willow first touched down in cinemas back in 1988, it was a fantasy unlike any other – more tactile and with George Lucas' fingerprints all over it (the creator of Star Wars wrote the story on which the movie is based). When it comes to the new series, released on Disney Plus, showrunner Jon Kasdan wanted Willow to once again feel fresh and unexpected, but that didn't come without certain worries.
"One of the things I love about the movie is that I've never seen anyone like Madmartigan in a fantasy before," Kasdan tells Total Film, referencing Val Kilmer's famous character, a mercenary who starts as an adversary before joining the titular Willow, played by Warwick Davis, on his quest. "Madmartigan sounded different. He didn't try to do a British accent. He was a completely new version of what a character in that world could look like. And that spirit really is something we tried to carry through into the show, but do it in a way that was contemporary to this moment, the way Val had been contemporary in 1988."
In the original movie, Willow attempts to return a human baby back to its home after finding the child abandoned in the woods. Of course, the story's not quite that simple; Willow soon discovers that the baby is the prophesied Elora Danan, who will one day rid the world of evil. The new series focuses on the relationship between Willow and Elora, who's now grown up, and there's much humor between the generations.
"The driving inspiration for doing this was focusing the story on the relationship between this young girl, and this old guy who's supposed to teach her how to save the world," Kasdan says now. "That was the story we wanted to tell, and the generational clash between those two was at the heart of everything we thought this thing could be. The reason to do it, frankly, was to see, well, 'What if that baby grows up? And what if she and Warwick have a fraught relationship rather than a simple and loving one?' In that idea lay the potential for a series. And then the next step became, 'Well, who would be around this girl that would make that even harder?'"
This is not the sequel some Willow fans may be expecting – not only are Willow and Elora key characters, but there are also a whole band of ragtag adventurers, played by the likes of Erin Kellyman and Ruby Cruz. Kasdan previously described them as Willow's Breakfast Club.
"All the different characters we had, each brings their own individual sound to the show, as countered by Warwick," he says. That then resulted in a slight tonal shift as the humor skewed younger in places. "The way I tried to make peace with that tonal shift was that it would look and feel as scary and tactile as the world that [Willow director] Ron Howard had conjured up in 1988, and that you would get the sense of being out in the world and in the cold and the mud in the rain, and mix it with these wilder, looser elements," he adds. "And that seemed like where we would go and furthermore how the show could distinguish itself from other fantasies that we love."
There's a certain palpable quality to the relationships in Willow, and that's perhaps because the actors were all locked down together. "We had a boot camp of four weeks before we started filming," says Ellie Bamber, who plays Dove, an innocent maid who falls in love with a prince. "We had so much time sitting around and talking to each other. It was banterous."
"Banterous! Is that Queen's English?" teases Tony Revolori, best known for his role as Flash in the Spider-Man movies, who plays a betrothed prince (not the one Dove's interested in). "Our dynamics are ephemeral," he says of Willow. "They're always changing. Someone can be fatherly to someone, brotherly to someone else, and changing constantly. So much like real life. That ends up showing in the show, which is its greatest strength, and is that the characters feel real, because what we had that off-screen and it translates on screen."
Filming took place over the following 10 months, but, despite spending so much time on set, the world of Willow never grew old. "Stepping onto a set like that was just like, stepping into the world," says Bamber. Revolori adds: "It leaves less to the imagination, which is even easier for actors to then just put yourself in that world and go, 'I'm here and I'm playing what this person would live through.'"
The results speak for themselves, with Willow being a delightful tale that sits happily alongside the original – despite its generational differences.