It’s been 34 years since the release of Willow, a fantasy adventure movie that was billed as the next thing from George Lucas after Star Wars and the Indiana Jones movies. Directed by Ron Howard, Willow wound up doing … okay. And the reviews were mixed. But considering this was a Lucasfilm property, it was treated as a failure and that was that for Willow.
Now, 34 years later, Willow returns with an all-new Disney+ series. Over the years, thanks to Willow being one of those movies that always seems to be on cable, it’s built up a pretty decent fan base. And, as executive producer and writer Jon Kasdan says ahead, it also helped quite a bit that the newly launched Disney+ was looking for content. So the idea hatched between Kasdan, star Warwick Davis, and Ron Howard on the set of Solo: A Star Wars Story was met by the executives with actual enthusiasm. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the fantasy genre is much more popular now than it was in 1988.
Unlike the movie, the series (I’ve seen seven of the eight episodes) has the time to really develop a group of characters who, led by Willow himself, head out on a grand quest. It’s during this quest that, over the course of a few episodes, a same-sex love story develops. As I say to Kasdan ahead, this isn’t some bullshit scene between two extremely minor characters. It’s as if, finally, a Disney/Lucasfilm property did this in a way that feels real and also serves the story.
Also, Lawrence Kasdan has made it clear he’d be open to another Solo film but isn’t too keen on the idea of a series. Now that Jon Kasdan has just made his own series based on a popular character from a movie, does he agree with his father?
You got Willow back. A thing a lot of people couldn’t pull off.
I know. I feel like the last time we talked I was probably quietly plotting this thing and too shy to say it. And now it’s a reality.
Warwick Davis said that this all happened on the Solo set.
It did. It all happened right while we were sort of shooting and on the beach there. We met and I told him I wanted this to happen, and he was enthusiastic. But we both thought like, Yeah, nice try. Good luck. And then a few months later, Ron Howard came on to help with the movie. And that was the moment when, really, the three people who could make this happen came together completely. That was the triangle of Willow.
By the way, “help” is doing a lot of work there.
[Laughs] It was a big… He filled big shoes and he came in with gusto. But one of the things that happened while he did that was that we would just be sitting on the set between set-ups talking about, “So Willow, man, how are we going to do this?” The most amazing part of it was it was right during that period when we were together every day, that Disney+ launched and it became clear that their first thing out of the gate was going to be Favreau’s Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars ever. And Ron saw it instantaneously. I’d say within 40 seconds of reading that news, he was like, “This is how we’re going to get Willow into the world.”
So let me pretend I’m a studio executive for a second. What I would be thinking is, ”Well, when Willow came out, it did okay, but not that well. The reviews were average. Why do you want to bring this back?”
Well, what was interesting about it was the moment Ron and I walked into – and you know, you walk into the sort of Seven Dwarves building at Disney and you have this meeting and it’s intimidating – but what we were greeted by was such warmth and enthusiasm. And I can only assume there was a mandate to generate as much content as they could.
And so what I think they saw in Ron and I are two people who were passionate about magic and fantasy.
And to be fair, over the years, Willow has built a following.
They weren’t diehard Willow fans, but they knew that there was an opportunity here to do something that wasn’t Star Wars, that wasn’t Marvel, but was in the sort of wheelhouse of Disney and felt like something that should be in the Disney World.
And is in the fantasy realm, which has become a lot more popular since Willow came out.
Frankly, when we had that meeting in 2018 or 2019, well, we all anticipated that Game of Thrones had sort of changed the landscape of what was possible on television. And Stranger Things being equally influential, because I think that’s the show that each one of these streamers looks at and says, “I want one of those.” But I think even since then, in the last four or five years, the amount of fantasy content that has been made and produced has been surprising to everyone.
So going into this, you can’t just do what the movie did because it wasn’t a huge success. How do you build on what people did like, yet make it different?
The flip side of working in these beloved IPs is that you’re always sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place…
Well, this feels different because, yes, this is a beloved IP by a lot of people, but for the majority of people, it’s not.
Well, that’s right. So what I think you’re trying to do is you’re trying to figure out a way to satisfy the desires of fans of the thing – people who love it and have some expectation about where they’re going to go – but also acknowledge that you’re making a show in a different world and a different time. And the sense of humor and the sense of what’s cool is different than it was in 1988. And you’ve got to remember there was a lot of elements of Willow ’88 that, from a 1988 perspective, were very contemporary and hip and modern. And none more so than Val Kilmer himself, was just a totally unusual thing in a fantasy movie.
Yeah, it has the Iceman.
It was the Iceman. And he was basically like the Iceman just walked into the Robin Hood, Errol Flynn role.
And you were like, Okay, this is something I’ve never seen before. But for kids, it was like me, 43 now and 8 then, it was our Han Solo. I mean he just had all that swagger and coolness.
Well, to be perfectly honest, I was 13 when Willow came out and I remember seeing it in theaters and being like, “Yeah, that was fine.”
But I watched this series and I really enjoyed it. I just cruised through all seven episodes I was sent.
Oh, I’m so glad. That makes me so happy.
There’s something about this series that the movie doesn’t quite have, and I can’t put a finger on it…
Well, I’m thrilled you felt that we give you that. I mean, you know, it’s funny, that I think that Ron would probably agree with you. And I think that one of his frustrations with the movie was that it didn’t give him the time or the space, frankly, the real estate, to do all the things he would have wanted to do to build out a Sorsha-Madmartigan romance the way I think he would’ve loved to. And to tell a deeper mythology the way Star Wars was so able to. So this is a dream come true for him. It’s an expansion.
I remember the way it was advertised. It was basically like, “Hey, from the guy who brought you Star Wars and Indiana Jones, here comes Willow.” And that’s really unfair.
It’s really unfair. And I think on the weekend it came out, they all thought, ”Well shit. Now what? We’re saddled with this. We’ve got to be on that tier of success. That’s impossible.” It was never going to be that. And what it provided for us was this extraordinary opportunity to just have this unspoiled little corner of a vast entertainment empire. In the emblem of it in the show is this old dusty book, which seemed to me the perfect metaphor for what we were trying to do, which was like there’s something lost in a library. You haven’t heard of it, but open it up. There’s more to read. You know?
You mentioned the love story from the movie, that it doesn’t get to be fleshed out as much as Ron Howard wanted it to be. I got to say, you and your team deserve a lot of credit. And I won’t say which characters, but I do want to mention that there is a love story that develops between two same-sex characters. And it’s not the bullshit we get sometimes where it’s two characters we’ve barely met. These are two main characters and it develops over the course of the series.
Well, I appreciate it. And I think there will be those who give us a lot of credit and those that give us a lot of flack for it too.
I’m sure that’s coming. I have no doubt that’s coming.
It’s a tricky thing. But the way that I’m finding that I am able to talk about it is that it felt totally organic to the story we were telling.
It does. It develops as the story goes on.
And the two actresses who were at the center of that story, they were both passionate about serving it right. About getting into the nuance of not really of a political landscape because the show takes place in a world that’s not our own, but into an emotional landscape that was really honest and sincere. And that’s what I’m proudest of about that is that you really feel the love between them.
When your dad was on the tour for the ILM documentary, he mentioned how he didn’t think Han Solo would work as a series. but now that you just did this series with Willow, which has worked really well, do you agree with your dad that Solo doesn’t work as a series? Or are you changing your mind?
Well, what’s funny about that is that I loved working on Solo. I love Alden.
I’ve written about how I still think that movie is a lot of fun.
What I think is making it increasingly difficult for me to imagine is the wealth of Star Wars content we’re getting over the next couple of years. The different places the universe is exploring. The corners of it that we’re going into. Andor being just the latest and most extraordinary example probably ever of just a direction Star Wars can go that I never thought it would. And when you put on top of that all the shows that are coming in the near future, I guess with all this stuff, and this really ties back to Willow, I think I saw a reason to do it. Which was there was this girl at the center of it and a story sort of promised in her magical potential. And with Solo, I think we’d all have to feel there was a reason to go back there that wasn’t being served in one of these other corners of the Star Wars universe.
Okay, so that’s a “no”?
[Laughs] But sign me up! I’m ready to go!
That’s a “yes.” All right.
It’s a very tough one because I really do love that thing and I love all the people who’ve been so supportive of more stories.
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