If Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are taking themselves too seriously, Willow is back to inject some fun into the fantasy. This newthe series is a long-awaited follow-up to the 1980s sword-and-sorcery romp, and is a welcome mix of sword-rattling and comedy (with some spooky parts that will make kids jump).
Written by George Lucas, the original 1986 film starred Warwick Davis as a short but big-hearted farmer who battles a giggling witch for the soul of a baby destined to save the world. Val Kilmer appeared as the cocky swordsman Madmartigan in a film that brought a healthy dose of humor to its fantasy world.
Kilmer is unfortunately absent from the new series due to the actor’s recent illness, but Joanne Whalley returns as the first film’s heroine, Sorsha. She rules a time of apparent peace and prosperity, though her children with the missing Madmartigan are not so easily commanded. The movie baby is hidden thanks to Willow having a vision of what seems like a pretty big thing about angers, misfortunes, past in the opening voiceover, but then we’re straight into a sword fight on top of a hill and into a whole new adventure with a cast of sharp-cheeked teenagers.
The 2022 series, now streaming on Disney Plus, stars a boisterous new princess who would rather practice swordplay than accept an arranged marriage; her twin brother, the cocky ladies’ man; a shy prince from a neighboring kingdom; and different subordinates in different levels of love with them. It all starts the night before the wedding when an evil force makes a surprise attack and before you can say “J. RR Tolkien’, a group of squabbling royalty, gruff old boys and playful warriors embark on a mission amid picturesque scenery. hooray!
It’s not entirely clear why the heirs to not one but two royal families are sent into harm’s way, but what the hell. Things move along with rousing action, scary villains, and an inexplicable mix of accents uttering funny fantasy names. But what’s most charming is the show’s sense of fun. This seven-episode series features a lot of really funny parts, including a gripping Amar Chadha-Patel as a chatty warrior/thief and a knowing turn from Warwick Davis, drawing heavily from his recent comedy work with Ricky Gervais as well as the original film.
It’s very hard to avoid comparison in the post-Game of Thrones era that’s saturated with fantasy television. Up in the Premier League are the classy, grown-up and obviously expensive Thrones spinoffsand on Amazon . Some recent shows have a strong hook, such as sexy monster hunting, ‘s military magic or steampunk shenanigans. The magical story of Willow’s ID is less distinct, veering dangerously close to flat-pack fantasy like the TV adaptation of . That means Willow relies almost entirely on the nostalgia of name recognition to hook you. But once the title gets you through the door, the series is worth sticking with. The cast and characters are engaging and it comes with a winning combination of action, humor and spookiness.
Speaking of which, the bad guys are suitably evil, with scary magic and even scarier makeup. There’s a big fight in the opening episode that’s a little gory and intense (and someone says “fuck it” for absolutely no reason), but then again, no 80s kid’s adventure was complete without a weirdly gruesome, generation-defining part, so that we will allow it. And the delightfully creepy stuff is also enhanced with catchy touches like irreverent musical cues and 80s-esque cameos.
Whether Willow was a memorable part of your childhood or you’re coming to it for the first time—perhaps with your own kids—the film and its world have aged surprisingly well. Maybe not the special effects that make it look like the Star Wars advancement of a few years ago didn’t happen – and let’s face it, the original Willow was actually a Star Wars cosplay in The Lord of the Rings. You can see why George Lucas’s story of a farmer, mercenary and his furry friend, a princess and a wizard battling an evil emperor and a masked general, would be seen as Lucas ripping off his own creation (even if Star Wars was space-based a remix of the classic Japanese samurai film The Hidden Fortress). It was only over time that the nostalgia glow faded away as did the Star Wars association.
But the film sticks mostly because of its positive atmosphere and matriarchal energy. Released in the macho Reagan era of the 1980s and in theaters at the same time as Rambo 3, Willow featured a villain and magic mentor who were women. The story hinged on a valiant midwife and the love/hate relationship between mother and daughter was one of the main plot lines. Unlike Star Wars and most Chosen One stories, the prophesied child was a young girl. And among men, Willow was a devoted family man, called to be a hero not because of his fighting skills, but because of his caring parenting instincts and hands-on experience in caring for a baby. Even Kilmer’s Madmartigan, the cocky swordsman, was a far cry from the ultra-macho man Kilmer played just two years earlier in Top Gun. Kilmer gleefully embraced looking silly (by spending part of the film in a dress), and his character grew when exposed to Willow’s caring nature.
Fortunately, this feminine energy and general sense of fun easily carries over into the present day. Whether you’re a fan of the 80s movie or not, the new Willow is an elegant and fun mix of swordplay and wordplay that evokes some of the old magic.
Movies coming in 2022 from Marvel, Netflix, DC and more
See all photos
The best 2022 TV shows you can’t miss on Netflix, HBO, Disney Plus and more
See all photos