Warwick Davis On The Return Of ‘Willow’ And If We’ll Ever See ‘Return Of The Ewok’

It’s remarkable how young Warwick Davis still is today. Next year marks for 40th anniversary, somehow, of Return of the Jedi. Of course, in that third film of the original Star Wars trilogy, Davis plays Wicket, the Ewok who first finds Princess Leia and brings her back to the village. Again, in a few months this will be a 40-year-old movie, yet Davis was born in the 1970s. Part of this might be because in 1988’s Willow, directed by Ron Howard, Davis plays the title character who, in the film, has a family and two children, but at the time, Davis himself was still only 17.

When Willow was released in 1988, a movie about a group of heroes to save a young baby from an evil queen was billed as the next Star Wars and Indiana Jones. On one hand, this was a story coming from George Lucas after those other two properties, so that makes sense. On the other hand, that’s an enormous amount of pressure for a fantasy movie in an era where fantasy wasn’t as popular as it is today. And it’s a lot of pressure to put on a 17-year-old actor in his first leading role. In the end, Willow did … okay at the box office, got mixed reviews, but certainly wasn’t a touchstone piece of popular culture like those other two properties. But, over the years since, Willow has gained a following.

When talking to Davis today, no, he never thought Willow would ever be back. But he relishes the chance to dig into this character again, one that he seems to not be 100 percent pleased with his performance from back then. Davis calls this iteration of Willow a “curmudgeon” – he certainly doesn’t seem to like the wisecracks from his fellow, younger, travelers – but maybe “world-weary” is more accurate. In this new Disney+ series, premiering November 30th, this time around the baby from the film is all grown up (it’s not revealed at first just which character this turns out to be, so we will save the surprise) and she is the key to saving everyone from the forces of evil. Willow must teach her how to use magic at he leads a group on a quest to save the kidnapped son of Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) and Madmartigan (Val Kilmer in the film, who in the episodes I’ve seen is mentioned a lot, but has yet to appear).

The morning of this interview, my apartment was cold and I grabbed a hoodie, which happened to be a Return of the Jedi hoodie featuring Wicket, a hoodie I wear around the house a lot. Now, I did realize this right before I hopped on Zoom, but just decided to let it ride and see what happened. Also, speaking of that 40th anniversary of Return of the Jedi, is there any chance we’d see Return of the Ewok (a documentary about the making of Return of the Jedi, featuring Davis, that was filmed during the making of Jedi that has never had an official release) pop up on Disney+?

Yeah, this morning it was cold and I just threw on my hoodie without thinking about it. I didn’t even think of the connection until a few minutes ago.

Wow. That’s amazing. Now and again I get sent one, but they’re way too big, often. Like that one, I’d be drowned in that.

I hope you get a dollar or something anytime something with your likeness sells on it.

I’d be a very rich man if I did.

I can’t believe there’s more Willow. I feel like we’ve been hearing about this for a long time…

What you’ve been hearing is in fact the fans. I mean, there’s never really been any official kind of word and discussion about a sequel film, it’s mainly from the fans going, “I wish there was a sequel to Willow, or there should be.” And that was really the voices that were heard, and they were heard by the right people in the end. Mainly Jon Kasdan, screenwriter of Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Disney of course. So yeah, it was really kind of chance that me and Jon worked together on Solo and him telling me how much he enjoyed Willow and embarrassing himself, as he says. And also the fact that Ron Howard was the director on Solo, and Jon got talking about Willow and its success and the potential for more Willow, either as a film or as a series. Those two coming together, and me being involved as well, really gave the project some kind of legs, really.

So do you think without Solo, this doesn’t happen?

I don’t think it would’ve, no. The fact that I’m sat in Fuerteventura with Jon, in the desert just chatting, and he was able to start to really get his creative mind going and come up with what ended up being our series.

I’ve been to enough Star Wars Celebrations where I know that you do get asked about Willow quite often, and you’re always very like, “Who knows?” But did you actually ever think this would come to fruition?

Definitely not. I mean, sitting here talking to you today, I’m suddenly like, “Yeah, this is actually happening again.” We had a screening last night in London and it was really surreal. Because I’m like, Wow, now we’re showing an audience something that has been like a pipe dream for so many years. It’s every actor’s dream to come back to a role. I played Willow when I was 17. A very inexperienced actor back then. Very young for the role.

Right, you’re playing a father in the movie, and in reality you’re a teenager.

Yeah, I was very, very young. But I’ve always sort of looked back on it and thought, You know what? I think I probably could have done a better job. And so, now, I get to revisit the character. Now I’m older. I’m more experienced as an actor. I’ve got more life experience too, which is often important when you’re an actor. You have to bring some type of life experience into the roles. And now Willow, because obviously he’s had a lot of life experience in the series, he’s been through a lot, bad things have happened. And so I take all of that and layer it into the character I played back in 1988, the 17-year-old version of Willow, and try and then develop the character further. And I think it really works. I think the older Willow is indeed a more interesting and well-rounded character.

This series is filled with a lot of humor that works very well today, and Willow just isn’t into it. There’s a scene where you’ve had enough, “Oh, I forgot, you’re hilarious.”

He’s a very stressed-out character really, Willow. He worries a lot. I mean, it was one of the lines in the original film, Madmartigan said, “You worry too much, peck.” and I still do in Willow the series, and I think it’s pointed out by one of our other characters as well. He does worry about things, a lot of angst, he’s always reluctant to do things, and I think that’s quite interesting. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon, if you like.

Yeah, but he’s still Willow. He’s world-weary.

Indeed, yeah. He just wants to be at home in the Nelwyn village, he doesn’t want to go out on these quests. But yes, as you mentioned, the humor, I mean that was a very important part of the original film. Kind of what set it apart from other fantasy offerings of the decade, the fact that it was funny. It looked at itself and had a laugh, didn’t take itself too seriously. And that has really carried through into the DNA of what we’ve done in the series.

Actually, that’s a really good point about the fantasy aspect of it, because that has had a huge comeback over the last decade. Or even since Lord of the Rings.

Yeah, I mean, the ’80s, I grew up, my teenage years were throughout the ’80s, and we had so many great offerings in the fantasy genre, didn’t we, film-wise? And then that kind of stopped when we got into the next decade. And now here we are, as you say, looking back. There are many more fantasy offerings now on the table, and Willow, this feels like the right time for Willow to come back.

I’m curious how you felt back then. Willow was really kind of billed as like, “Star Wars, Indiana Jones, now here comes Willow.” Which is a crazy amount of pressure. And then it comes out and does okay. It doesn’t do as well as Star Wars and Indiana Jones. So, how are you feeling at the time? What was going through your head?

Well, I mean, you always want your work to be seen by the widest audience, and I guess at the time I was a little disappointed. I would like, “That’s a shame that didn’t fly.” But I did kind of get it, because at the time Rambo III was coming out, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? came out, and everyone turned their attention to that. We had a lot of competition in the box office and I think people just, they pick and choose what they want to see and Willow wasn’t one of those things at the time. But due to the fact that we sell through VHS and stuff, it then gained its own kind of momentum and life beyond the theatrical release and became a success and a fan favorite.

And the movie ends with a perfect setup for something to take place now, with a baby now being an adult…

Well, it might have been set up to do a sequel at the time. Because George Lucas then was king of doing that kind of stuff, wasn’t he?

That’s true.

Did the Star Wars trilogy. So, I guess you always have to think, “Has it got legs to go further?” And that’s often how you pitch a movie to a studio, they go, “Okay, this is great, but can there be more of these if it’s a success?”

This next May is the 40th anniversary of Return of the Jedi. Use your clout to finally get Return of the Ewok on Disney+.

Wouldn’t that be cool?

It would be cool. And next year would be the perfect year for that.

I mean, I think the challenge with Return of the Ewok is that so many people gave their time, there are these wonderful cameos in there, crew gave time during lunch hours to make it, and nobody ever signed off on their involvement. So, for some kind of lawyer, it’d be a massive amount of work to get everyone signed off so that we could actually use it commercially, I suppose, if you like.

Disney, they’ve got those. They’ve got those lawyers.

They’ve got those lawyers. I’ll get them on it to get the legwork done.

Yeah, get in there. “Hey, the star of your new series wants this up.”

It would look great sitting on the platform, wouldn’t it?

I’ve seen that assembled-together version that’s on YouTube, but so many people still don’t know about this and would be delighted. There’s the scene of you with Harrison, Carrie, and Mark all in costume in the hallway. When I post screenshots, people are always like, “What is that?” It’s really fascinating.

It is, isn’t it? Yeah. I mean, I wrote an autobiography, and in that book I put little screenshots from the film, Return of the Ewok, as like a comic book kind of thing, telling the story for people who haven’t seen it. But it really is one of those found in the attic kind of creations, isn’t it, in its very raw form? There’s unfinished sound, the print is very rough, but I think that’s one of the charms of it, really.

I’m out of time. Congrats on finally getting Willow back.

I appreciate it very much. Keep rocking that Ewok shirt.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.