*Warning: the following article contains spoilers for episodes one and two of Willow*
It’s finally here. The Willow sequel series has hit Disney+, with its first two episodes available to stream. I’ll quickly admit that I am not the biggest fan of Ron Howard’s 1988 film. There are parts of it that work brilliantly, especially its grandiose action setpieces and chemistry between Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), but the overall film is a dated and silly, a product of the late 1980s and early 1990s, where many “family-friendly” films liked to explore the fantastical and supernatural. However, a devout fanbase has been clamoring for a sequel since the original came out.
When the announcement of a Willow series was officially made in December 2020, with Jon M. Chu attached to direct select episodes, I was intrigued but not as excited as others were. Unfortunately, Chu had to drop out of the project in early 2021 and was immediately replaced by Jonathan Entwistle, who also dropped out a few months later. Instead, Outlander director Stephen Woolfenden helms the pilot episodes, titled The Gales and The High Aldwin, which, while enjoyable, have flaws that could very well falter the rest of the series.
The gist is simple: Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) has a vision that dark forces will threaten the kingdom of Tir Asleen and the rest of the world. He warns Sorsha, now Queen, after defeating Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) in the original film that only Elora Danan will be able to stop the incoming evil. That’s great, except for one problem: no one knows where Elora Danan is!
One night, after Princess Kit (Ruby Cruz), refuses to marry Prince Graydon (Tony Revolori) and tells her love interest, Jade (Erin Kellyman), that she plans to leave Tir Asleen, the kingdom gets attacked by The Gales, the “dark forces” Willow warned Sorsha about. They kidnap Prince Airk (Dempsey Bryk) and possess Commander Ballantine (Ralph Ineson), unaware that his injury from the battle will result in physical transformation in the second episode.
The Queen then assembles a team who will rescue Airk, including Graydon, Jade, Kit, Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), and Jørgen Kase (Simon Armstrong), who predictably dies a couple of scenes after they leave. But they’re also joined by Dove (Ellie Bamber), a baker who fell in love with Airk, with the Prince proposing to her before he was kidnapped. She is determined to be there when they rescue him, even if she has no training in combat or magic.
However, she seems to be naturally drawn by magic. And when they all meet Willow, it is revealed that Dove is actually…wait for it…Elora Danan, all along! Yes, the total nobody that no one would think is that important is the “one” who will save the world! Where have we seen that before? Oh yeah…in every “sorcerer’s apprentice”/”the one” movie.
And therein lies the problem of Willow’s first two episodes. While the character dynamics between Jade, Kit, and Graydon are fun, the show seems stuck in conventionality. We know exactly where the show will end up: Elora will, against all odds, save the world, even if she doesn’t necessarily believe in herself right now. In the second episode, Willow teaches Elora a simple spell that she mispronounces, a semi-parallel to the “wax on/wax off” scene in John G. Avildsen‘s The Karate Kid.
In this case, Willow isn’t the show’s main character but one who will lead “the next generation” into more incredible adventures. He’s there to guide Elora in the hopes that she will become a more powerful witch than he is, but that will require lots of determination on her part. Bamber’s performance as Elora is acceptable, but her character is rooted in clichés. It’s not good when you know what will happen during the finale, even if you don’t see how they will get to it. But it seems written in the sky, and if it plays out exactly like I’ve laid out, it will be another mediocre Disney+ show that Lucasfilm can add to their library.
One of the more significant problems I have with the Disney+ series, and not just with Willow, is how they attempt to make them as cinematic as possible without having the budget for high-scale action scenes like a film production. In Willow, the vistas look stunning, and the kingdom of Tir Asleen feels lived in. However, it would feel terribly cheap whenever it would cut to an action scene. For example, the attack from The Gales in episode one has some fantastic flourishes, but there are too many random cuts everywhere to have a real impact. One of the villains can teleport himself (!!!) during battle, yet it seems like an afterthought instead of an element that could blow the audience out of the water. The same thing happens during a horseback chase in the first episode – there are fantastic moments throughout, but it’s not as “cinematic” as it should be.
Still, there’s some fun to be had in the first two episodes of Willow. For instance, it’s great to see Warwick Davis back in the role that genuinely popularized him as the star he is now. He was only 17 when he made the first Willow, and it’s as if no time has passed between the two titles. He’s also joined by his real-life daughter, Annabelle, who plays Willow’s daughter, Mims, who is also excellent in episode two.
As mentioned above, the dynamic between the three protagonists is fun to watch. Amar Chadha-Patel balances them out with great wry humor that feels like a change of pace for Elora’s amazingly clichéd arc. I can already see episode three in my head after a cliffhanger ending saw her kidnapped by a possessed Ballatine. Time will tell if I’m right, and I won’t theorize here, but it’ll not be interesting if it goes as planned. Here’s hoping the show wows me away with its next six episodes.
The first two episodes of Willow are now available to stream on Disney+.