Review – Willow, Season 1

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Overview

Directing Stephen Woolfenden, Philippa Lowthorpe, Debs Paterson, Jamie Childs

Producing Jonathan Kasdan, Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Rejwan, Ron Howard, Samie Kim Falvey, Roopesh Parekh, Tommy Harper

Writing Jonathan Kasdan, John Bickerstaff, Julia Cooperman, Bob Dolman, Based on characters created by George Lucas

Starring Warwick Davis, Ellie Bamber, Ruby Cruz, Erin Kellyman, Tony Revolori, Amar Chadha-Patel, Dempsey Bryk

Genre Fantasy, Action, Adventure

Platforms Disney+

Release Date November 30, 2022

Willow is an American television series based on the 1988 film of the same name. Willow the series serves as a direct sequel to the cult classic film. The series is developed by Jonathan Kasdan, who also serves as its Executive Producer and Showrunner. Willow is the latest live-action series from Lucasfilm studios exclusively for Disney+. Discussions of a proper sequel to the 1988 film began way back in 2005, with talks of Ron Harward returning as director with film star Warwick Davis reprising his role as the grand wizard. It wasn’t until late 2020 that any momentum for the franchise was announced. Series creator Jonathan Kasdan, who has previously worked with Disney as the writer for Lucasfilm’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, pitched a Willow sequel series for Disney+. The streaming service, in need of new premium original content, greenlit the series with an 8-episode run.

Much like all film and television productions in 2020, Willow was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The series production ran through numerous directors who signed on to the project but departed due to scheduling issues. Jon M. Chu, whose credits include 2021’s In the Heights, 2016’s Now You See Me 2, and 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation was hired as the original director for the series. Due to production delays, Chu would eventually leave and directing duties were handed to Jonathan Entwistle, who would also serve as the series executive producer. The End of the F**ing World 2‘s director would also leave the series due to excessive production delays and casting issues. Willow the series would finally find its director in Stephen Woolfenden who had previously directed episodes of Outlander and Doctor Who.

The series consists of new characters and many familiar faces from the 1988 film. Early in its development, the show suffered from multiple casting conflicts. As the face of the franchise, Warwick Davis was the first confirmed casting. In late 2020, Falcon and The Winter Soldier‘s Erin Kellyman signed on to join the cast as a new character. Soon after, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ Ellie Bamber joined as a grown Elora Danan. Early in 2021, Spider-Man: No Way Home‘s Tony Revolori joined as an original character, while Mare of Easttown‘s Ruby Cruz joined the cast as a replacement for Cailee Spaeny.

Later in the year, The Wheel of Time’s Amar Chadha-Patel was cast as a new character. During the Lucasfilm panel at Star Wars Celebration in 2022, Willow‘s executive producer introduced Joanne Whalley, who appeared and announced she would be returning to the franchise to reprise her role as Sorsha from the 1988 film. Additionally, in the fall of 2022 at Disney’s D23 Expo, Lucasfilm announced the return of Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton to reprise their roles from the original film along with Christian Slater joining the cast as an original character. Willow premiered on Disney+ on November 30, 2022.

The series premiered to overall positive critic reviews. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the general audience reception. Rotten Tomatoes awarded the series with a generous critic score of 85%; however, the audience score given is a middle-of-the-road 52%. Metacritic scored the show with a positive score of 70, although the user score is 2.0 out of 10. IGN awards the series a 9, calling it “amazing,” while Forbes conversely labels the show “an abomination.” IMDb users rated the show 5.3 out of 10. The series seems to have generally impressed industry critics but looks like it hasn’t struck a chord with its target audience. Willow‘s final episode dropped on January 11, 2023, and Disney has yet to confirm whether there will be a second season.

Content Guide

Spiritual Content:  The world of Willow is full of magic and demonic spirits. Characters practice dark magic and recite spells and incantations.

Violence: The series is full of violence, consisting of sword fighting, dismemberment, and hand-to-hand combat, yet very little blood is visible.

Language/Crude Humor: There is very little foul language used in the series. The use of a**, sh*t, b***h, and d*mn are used sparingly throughout.

Sexual Content: There is some physical intimacy among characters throughout the series, though it does not occur often. A man and woman kiss, as do two women.

Drug/ Alcohol Use: There is no use of drugs or alcohol in the series.

Other Negative Themes: The use of magic and witchcraft is predominantly used and encouraged. The world is driven by magic and mystical arts.

Positive Themes: Believing in oneself, self-assurance, and self-confidence.

Story

Set twenty years after the events of the feature film, Willow follows a young group of unlikely friends as they set off on an epic quest to save a loved one. After Queen Bavmorda’s defeat decades ago, Sorsha is now queen and rules over the land with her children who she bared with Madmartigan. Prince Airk and Princess Kit are young adults and have developed romantic relationships with commoners in the kingdom. Airk has fallen in love with Dove, who serves as the castle’s kitchenaid, while Kit has fallen for a Squire named Jade. Airk, Kit, and their mother Sorsha also suffer from the mysterious disappearance of their father and husband years ago.

Meanwhile, a strange new threat known as the Gales begins to torment Sorsha through visions and dreams. To strengthen the kingdom, Queen Sorsha arranges for her daughter Kit to marry Prince Graydon Hastur. Shortly after, the grotesque Gale attacks the young group and kidnaps Prince Airk. Queen Sorsha puts together a group of unlikely heroes, including Princess Kit, her betrothed Prince Graydon, her love interest novice knight Jade, knight Jorgen Kase, and warrior Thraxus Boorman to embark on a quest to rescue Prince Airk from his evil captors.

After passing the barrier that protects the kingdom from outside evils, Price Airk joins the rescue party. They continue to search for the great sorcerer Queen Sorsha quested them to find to aid them on their journey. Soon after, the group of heroes reaches the home of the sorcerer Willow and implore him to join them on their quest. Willow looks upon Dove and reveals she is actually the sacred princess and royal highness, the prophesized empress of Tir Asleen, Galladoorn, Nockmarr, and Cashmere, and the same child Willow vowed to protect 20 years ago. Together they embark on a dangerous adventure in search of Airk who is imprisoned by the withered crone in the city beyond the Shattered Sea.

Review

The original film was released in theaters in 1988 and became a cult classic. Though the high fantasy film has maintained a loyal fan base over the years, it never reached the heights of popularity as other fantasy films such as The Lord of the Rings or 1984’s The Never Ending Story. The series, unfortunately, suffers the same fate as its predecessor by trailing behind higher quality high fantasy shows such as Amazon Prime’s The Rings of Power and HBO’s House of the Dragon. The aforementioned shows excel where Willow suffers the most: its writing, characters, and story.

Willow the series was created and written by Jonathan Kasdan who also penned the lowest-grossing Star Wars film (Solo: A Star Wars Story); however, eight additional writers are credited to the series. With an oversized writing room, the show lacks story direction. It feels as if it is written by a committee, which leads to an absence of identity. The show is a paint-by-numbers, watered-down, check-all-the-trope-boxes version of a fantasy story. Along with its bullpen of writers, the series hosts a multitude of directors adding to the disjoined tone.

Visually, Willow is a stunning show. The series’ strength is in its production. The show makes use of a perfect balance of practical and special effects. Practical locations, beautiful scenery, stunning production designs, and dynamic cinematography make suffering through the stale dialogue and mediocre story worth it. Its amazing production design expands the world audiences were introduced to in the original film and builds upon it to widen the lore. Each of its eight episodes is different in setting and tone.

The show also suffers from poor character development. Warwick Davis returns and continues to be fantastic in this iconic role. This is no surprise, as it is the adoration of Warwick that has driven the fandom for the franchise over the years. His performance as the legacy character is fantastic and familiar. Despite the show being named after his character, Willow is actually a secondary character behind the ensemble cast. He is now a mentor to many of the new characters and is often regulated to the sidelines.

The series truly shines when Warwick is allowed to showcase his charm, charisma, and comedic timing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen often. Many of the new characters are portrayed by talented performers; however, they can only do so much with the show’s stagnant dialogue and inconsistent character development. Many of the characters are enjoyable to watch for the most part, but some come off as obnoxious and unlikable. The series is so broken in its writing and character development, a couple of the series’ most interesting characters are introduced and killed off all in the same episode.

The actors in Willow do all they can to breathe life into the script. What is disappointing about the series is how average it is. The show’s positives balance out the negatives. The character design, wardrobe, visual effects, and setting make the world of Willow one of the most compelling fantasy worlds to watch. However, at the same time, the most crucial part of a story is…well, the story. The series consists of cliches, non-original dialogue, and typical fantasy character archetypes. Although it is a sequel, it is highly unoriginal. Character development is lacking so much that when prominent characters die, there is little to no emotional impact.

The series follows an overarching plot, yet each episode is a self-contained story. This leads to the show feeling episodic in nature as opposed to a consistent serialized series. It would have benefited from a linear story pattern instead of relying on a problem-of-the-week motif. This inconsistency is most noticeable in its score and music choices. The series showcases an epic score made up of orchestral pieces including horns, strings, and thunderous percussion harkening back to epic cinematic spectacles. However, the immersion is broken as the series throws in punk versions of modern music. The contrast of sprawling adventurous music clashes with the displaced grunge sounds. The inconsistency is odd and incompatible.

Conclusion

Disney’s attempt to revive the Willow franchise is admirable and it seems a lot of thought went into developing the series. In spite of its shortcomings, Disney has given it a solid try. It is apparent the production desired to deliver a product that looked and felt epic and fantastical. The show excels in its cinematography and creature design. The outlandish enemies are terrifying and grotesque while the world is stunning and beautiful. The show is a mixed bag of fantasy tropes and CW-esque young adult drama. There is an ongoing void throughout the series of a character who is spoken of often and their absence is felt every minute. The mix of modern language and fantasy dialogue is jarring and ill-fitting. Additionally, the series is fraught with terrible fight choreography. What’s most disappointing about the series is its failure to reach its potential. Disney’s latest outing is less than the sum of its parts. There is so much world but very little story. Willow simply lacks the fun of the original film.

The Bottom Line

 

Willow is a mediocre combination of typical failed fantasy tropes within a CW-esque young adult drama.

 

5.5

Noel Davila

Noel is a writer, performer, and Podcaster based out of the New York City area. With a background in acting, theater arts, years of stage and screen writing, composing and scoring utilizing his skills as a singer song writer, Noel looks to be an all around creator in the arts. Many of the films Noel has written have been selected and featured at a number of Film Festivals including The New York International Film Festival, The Hudson Valley Film Festival, The Art is Alive Film Festival, ect and have gone on to be nominated and awarded for multiple awards including "Best Comedy Short" ,"Best Of", "Best make up", ect. Noel continues to perform live original music all across New York City

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