‘Willow’ Isn’t the Greatest Fantasy Series — At Least There Are Hot People In It (REVIEW)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Never has Charles Dickens’ 19th prose felt so depressingly relevant. To be an artist right now — especially in the realm of television and film — is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the landscape feels more inclusive than ever before. The golden age of streaming beamed truckloads of content, glorious content, right into our homes — and studios’ hunger for “original” stories meant that representation was suddenly en vogue.

Now, underrepresented voices are rising up left and right, and black and brown faces have become a common (and long overdue!) feature in the high fantasy renaissance. But what the streaming gods give, they also take away — and lately, they’re wasting no time in doing so. The streaming bubble has burst in a big way, setting the stage for a terrifying new normal.

It began with Warner Bros. Discovery, who made headlines in a bad way when they canceled a slew of “underperforming” shows and promptly phased them off of HBO Max (excuse me, just Max now). It set a dangerous precedent: Disney is following suit and doing the same to their catalog on Disney+ and Hulu. One of the casualties is Willow, a legacy sequel that faced the axe in March.

Ruby Cruz, Erin Kellyman, Amar Chadha-Patel, and Tony Revolori in Willow (CREDIT: Lucasfilm)

I’ll be the first to admit that Willow wasn’t great. That said, it definitely had its merits. The market can never be too saturated when it comes to modern remixes in the high fantasy genre. Willow also managed to expand its existing world with a diverse narrative — something other Lucasfilm properties have tried (and failed) to accomplish authentically. Perhaps most importantly, though, everyone that graced the series was hot — and as someone whose tastes are motivated entirely by thirst, that’s more than enough reason to give this show a chance.

Willow serves as a sequel series to the Ron Howard film of the same name. (Don’t fret about having to catch the film before tuning into the series, though: it makes sure to bring everyone up to speed within the first few minutes of the pilot episode.) In the 1988 film, Warwick Davis is Willow Ufgood, an aspiring sorcerer charged with protecting the Chosen One, an infant named Elora Danan. Elora is pretty much born to challenge Queen Bavmorda, a wicked witch who rules the kingdom of Tir Asleen with an iron fist. With the help of slutty sword-for-hire Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), Bavmorda’s warrior daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), and a host of other colorful characters, Bavmorda is defeated, ushering in an era of peace. But as is the case with most legasequels, that peace is short-lived.

2023 Willow kicks off decades after the events of the original film. In the intervening years, Sorsha became queen of the realm, married Madmartigan, and had two children: the wilful Princess Kit (Ruby Cruz) and her rakish twin brother, Prince Airk (Dempsey Bryk). Madmartigan is missing in action after embarking on a quest to find a mythical armor suit, leaving Sorsha to protect the realm alone. She’s had to make some tough choices in his absence, and they haven’t made her popular with everyone.

In an effort to keep Elora safe, Sorsha hid her away under a false identity. It’s this decision that caused a huge rift with Willow, who would have preferred to train Elora in the magic arts. But magic is now forbidden in Tir Asleen: Sorsha would rather defend the kingdom with political alliances and marriages of convenience — and her kids are crucial to this strategy.

Ruby Cruz as Princess Kit and Erin Kellyman as Jade in Willow (COURTESY: Lucasfilm)

When we first meet Kit, she’s been promised to the prince from the neighboring kingdom of Galadoorn. This alliance will usher Tir Asleen into a new era of prosperity. Still, Kit is naturally opposed to the union — not only because Prince Graydon (Tony Revolori) seems like a total dweeb upon first meeting, but also because she’s secretly in love with her best friend, the aspiring knight Jade (Erin Kellyman).

Fortunately, the marriage is effectively canceled before it can even begin. When Prince Airk is abducted on the eve of the wedding — and by the creepiest quartet of monsters you’ve ever laid eyes on — Sorsha puts the nuptials on hold to launch a rescue. Kit, Jade, and Graydon each volunteer for the search party. Sorsha also recruits Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), Madmartigan’s former squire and Willow’s resident Han Solo type, as a chaperone of sorts. Airk’s manic pixie girlfriend, Dove (Ellie Bamber), also tags along for the ride, but this fellowship still needs a sorcerer.

Their quest will lead them right to Willow, whose been preparing for this very day for the past 20 years. Willow dutifully informs our crew that Airk was taken to the lair of the Withered Crone, a powerful, old-ass sorceress who once mentored Queen Bavmorda. In order to rescue him, they will have to journey beyond the Shattered Sea — where all maps end, apparently — and defeat the hag once and for all.

Warwick Davis leads the next generation on an all-new quest in Willow (COURTESY: Lucasfilm)

That’s a whole lotta setup to spout in one go, but after all the exposition is dumped and the journey begins, everything falls into place … more or less. Willow’s high fantasy tropes do a lot of the heavy lifting here: most of its characters fit into one archetype or the other, allowing us to get up to speed fairly quickly. There’s the headstrong princess, the sword-swinging scoundrel, the cheerful (if off-beat) bard, and the Chosen One (Elora, hiding in plain sight until a reveal in the first episode). What makes Willow such a treat is how each character breathes new life into these tropes.

Chadha-Patel was one of the bigger draws to Willow — I tuned into the series after stumbling across a barrage of Boorman fan edits — and he’s clearly relishing in his role as the eye candy. Seeing a man of color in this role is still a frustrating rarity, but he’s not the only one subverting a classic archetype here. As Jade and Kit, Kellyman and Cruz enjoy a scintillating (if a bit underbaked) “will they, won’t they” throughout the series, lending a fresh point of view to the princess-and-knight dynamic. Revolori is also a total dark horse as Graydon, the mousy comic relief that becomes a fascinating outlet for much of Willow’s startling horror.

And I must stress this: everyone is so stupidly hot.

Say what you will about Willow, but it’s certainly not lacking in the chemistry department. Every character match-up seems destined for its own tag on Tumblr or Ao3 — and even when the bickering gets stale, or characters are separated without reason, Willow brings in a stream of strong (and also very hot) guest stars to pick up the slack. Ted Lasso‘s Hannah Waddingham, model and activist Adwoa Aboah, and Gen X icon Christian Slater are just a few of Willow‘s memorable day players. They each bring context and color to the story in their own ways. The show will not work for everyone (it’s prone to get sloppy, even in its clearest moments), but its characters are its saving grace.

Whatever you think is going on between Scorpia (Adwoa Aboah) and Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel) in Willow, it’s probably hotter (COURTESY: Lucasfilm)

Thanks to Willow’s side-quest-of-the-week set-up, the series unfolds like a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, albeit with a modern, meta twist. Its quippy, self-aware humor and anachronistic needle drops won’t be for everyone — but if you’re a fan of Stranger Things or so-bad-it’s-good teen fantasy like The Shannara Chronicles, there’s a chance you’ll find something to like in Willow.

The series also invokes peak-MTV high school dramas like Teen Wolf, especially given its soapy stakes and the lengths that showrunner Jon Kasdan goes to put a chill down our spine. Unlike other legacy sequels that made their home on Disney+, Willow is far from toothless. Its predecessor has been striking terror into the hearts of children for generations, and the series takes up that legacy with glee. Yes, it’s a mess, but it’s a fun mess — and it deserved a chance to exist, as is, on Disney+.

The original Willow didn’t take off in the same way as other Lucasfilm properties might have back in the ‘80s, but it eventually became a cult classic all the same. That wouldn’t have been possible without access to the film, something that once felt like a no-brainer but now is far from guaranteed. There’s a chance nu-Willow will find a new home on a FAST streamer — something like The Roku Channel or Tubi, who’ve become saviors in this dire new age of uncertainty — but here’s the thing: it shouldn’t have to.

No film or show, good or bad, deserves to be culled from its host platform. Streaming aims to deliver “exclusive” content and curate a unique library. One of the underrated benefits of a subscription is the idea of stumbling across something you would never have tuned into otherwise but falling in love with it all the same. Disney denies Willow of the very thing that gave its predecessor its relevance. Again, here’s hoping for that second life on Roku, so there’s still a chance to see these hotties in action before Willow disappears forever.

Rating: 6/10

Like this article?

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Related Posts