It’s been 34 years since Lucasfilm’s Willow debuted in theaters. But in the fantasy world first created by Ron Howard and Nigel Wooll in 1988, only about half that amount of time has passed since Willow Ufgood (played by Warwick Davis) rescued the infant empress Elora Danan from the forces of evil.
In the whimsical Disney+ sequel series, which launches with two episodes on Wednesday, the Nelwyn sorcerer is returning to lead another group of misfit heroes on a harrowing rescue mission. Series creator Jon Kasdan told Deadline he was ready to welcome fans of the film back into the world of Willow, while also greeting a new audience.
“We knew we wanted to try to achieve what Ron had always said to me he felt was the the intention of the movie, which was to give you something that was like a light-hearted, bouncy, thrilling ride that you could eat in a single serving,” executive producer Jon Kasdan told Deadline.
With plenty of other fantasy shows vying for audiences’ attention right now, creating a low barrier to entry for those who aren’t as familiar with the source material was a priority for the producer, who added that he wanted the series to “feel very contemporary, very hip, and a little meta in certain places.”
At the start of the series, viewers learn that Elora has been in hiding since she was saved from Queen Bavmorda. Not even she knows her true identity, setting the stage for a classic coming of age story as she discovers the power she holds.
“We wanted the first season to be about her training and education and magic and mastering this power she’s got,” said Kasdan. “There’s a great and sort of analogous thing at the core of these fantastical stories, and I think it speaks to the enduring popularity of fantasy as a YA genre. The power that a young person comes into as they’re finding themselves is not unrelated to magic. There’s a magical and mysterious and dangerous quality to those moments.”
The screenwriter began his career in the young adult genre, writing for shows like Dawson’s Creek. So it only makes sense that he would bring that expertise over to Lucasfilm. And you might be thinking, why take a movie from three decades ago and infuse it with modern teen angst?
For Kasdan, doing so only heightens the stakes. He’s not only taking notes from his previous work, but also from other genre films who have encapsulated the fantasy young adult genre so well.
“About 10 years ago, I made a high school movie called The First Time, and we did a day of press at Sundance, and everyone was like, ‘Why? You’re 30-something. Why are you making a high school?’ I was like, ‘Because that was the most heightened and cinematic time in my life,'” he said. “The stakes of everything felt so huge. And I feel like certainly by Prisoner of Azkaban, the later Harry Potter movies beautifully capture that too, which is like the angst is just as potent as the threats they’re facing.”
The series manages to retain the charm of its predecessor largely through the realm that Kasdan has created on screen. In re-imagining the world of Willow beyond what Willow and Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) discover in the film, Kasdan explained that he tried to rely on practical effects wherever possible to keep the story grounded.
“The Force Awakens was a big influence on this show because it was such a formative experience for both Michelle [Rejwan] and I in terms of figuring out what works and what doesn’t and how much you want to try to push things forward and how much you want to give people what they’re expecting,” he said. “There were days when we had 30 trolls fully in prosthetics…It felt like the mission statement was: How do we make everything look as real as possible? And how do we make you ask the question, what did they really do and what’s digital?”
What he didn’t want was for viewers to get lost in the world that he was trying to create — as can happen when bringing an entirely fantastical realm to life on screen.
“You just have this moment in [some of] these stories where you step into a beautifully rendered but clearly unreal world, where the things that people are interacting with don’t have any weight or texture or substance to them,” he added. “It was so important to us that every moment of Willow could feel [tangible].”
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.