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’Willow’ Episodes 1 & 2 Review – A Breath of Fresh Air That Surpasses the Original Film in Every Way

Warwick Davis as Willow

I didn’t grow up with Willow at the time of the original film’s release in 1988, and didn’t learn of its existence until far later in my adult life, so I hold no nostalgia for the cult classic.

 

When I finally did get around to watching it, I must admit I didn’t understand why it inspired such love from its fans… which is why I was so surprised that the first two episodes of the sequel series are of such high quality. Everything I disliked about the film is improved upon in the series — the dialogue is elegantly written, line delivery and performances are authentic and engaging, and the visual effects are of a very high standard. This is clearly an expensively made show, and Disney are keen to do Willow justice.

 

I should say that everything that was great about the original is true here too. The film always had a very light tone with lots of jokes and an ability to poke fun at itself, and that is true of the series too. In fact, I’d say the pacing of the jokes is cranked up so far, it might even be considered quippy at times. There are some expertly delivered instances of dry humor among the Nelwyns, and the banter among the core cast of characters is even more entertaining than it was between Willow and Madmartigan in 1988.

 

 

New cast member Amar Chadha-Patel is the main source of comic relief as our band of heroes embark upon their grand quest, delivering a hilarious performance as he reacts to and comments on other cast members while fluking his way out of trouble. Much like Val Kilmer was the main source of comic relief in the film, Chadha-Patel fulfils a similar role in the series.

 

The new cast members all deliver a strong performance. Though some might find Ruby Cruz’s Kit a bit irritating (she is impatient and dismissive of certain core characters), she’s no less heroic and competent, and Cruz shows plenty of heart. Erin Kellyman is typically excellent, as you’d expect of someone who has already played significant characters in both Star Wars and Marvel productions at only 24 years old. Tony Revolori plays a surprisingly understated prince from another land, and strikes up a good bit of chemistry with Ellie Bamber’s naïve yet likeable Dove.

 

The core cast of Willow standing in a forest

 

In fact, the only weak link I found in the core cast members comes from Warwick Davis’ Willow, the eponymous hero upon whom this series and the film are based. While Davis does benefit from some hilariously dry dialogue, his line delivery still leaves a little to be desired, as it did in the original film.

 

The story itself is intriguing, and I expect the initial threat presented in the first episode will only grow greater and darker as the show continues. The series takes place 20 years after the events of the initial film, with Willow having become the leader of his Nelwyn community and Queen Sorsha ruling her own kingdom (Joanne Whalley reprises the role and benefits from having much better material to work with this time around).

 

Elora Danan is nowhere to be seen, with everyone prophesying that her return will lead them all to salvation, while Sorsha and Willow have fallen out over differences on how the girl should be raised. These are depicted via flashbacks.

 

Queen Sorsha flanked by guards in Willow

 

Sorsha and Madmartigan had a son and a daughter together — Cruz plays the daughter Kit — but Madmartigan went missing sometime before the events of the series, an unfortunate necessity due to Val Kilmer’s health. The characters openly suspect his motives; the likeliest rumor is that he left in search of magical treasure, but most simply believe he couldn’t handle the responsibility of being a husband and parent, and ran away. I wouldn’t be surprised if Val Kilmer returned for a brief cameo by the end of the season somehow, but for now Madmartigan is nowhere to be seen in the first two episodes.

 

In the first episode, the Queen is hosting an important event. Her daughter Kit is set to be married to Tony Revolori’s prince, setting up an important alliance with another kingdom. Neither prince nor princess seems particularly happy about it, with Kit protesting raucously at the injustice of it all. She sees her future with her more-than-a-best-friend Jade (Erin Kellyman), and wants a life of adventure like her father, not to be locked into a life with a man she barely knows.

 

 

The first episode spends arguably a little too much time in this peaceful setting, but once the evil threat reveals itself then the story really begins to ramp up. The prosthetics and visual effects assigned to these monsters are excellent, and they look genuinely terrifying, again in spirit with the intentionally ugly monsters seen in the original film.

 

As dark as things get though, the tone still manages to remain lighthearted and optimistic for the rest of the episode. Once Willow himself is introduced, things start to really get moving in the second episode. Davis plays Willow as a wiser man than we met in the film, but some of his leadership decisions have been made out of fear rather than a desire to lead his people forward. While he is not personally craven, I wonder if his journey will result in a realization that he needs to release the protective shield around his people in order to let them prosper.

 

 

That said, Willow has become an accomplished sorcerer in his time since the film, and it’s that skill that becomes key to his involvement. He becomes the de facto leader of our fellowship of characters, with the roguish Chadha-Patel the only other experienced individual among this young cast of characters.

 

Fans will be pleased with the current status of their favorite characters. Unlike Star Wars‘ sequel trilogy, Willow‘s original cast have mostly gone on to fulfill their ambitions since the film, but there is still enough drama and problems there that the current setting remains interesting and intriguing.

 

Willow‘s sequel series delivers an entertaining story that honors the tone and spirit of the original film while improving on nearly everything else that it lacked. I had a blast watching the first two episodes, and I’m certain fans of the original film will love it even more than I did.

 

I can’t wait to see what comes next. After the dark and intense House of the Dragon and The Rings of Power doubling down on pure fantasy, plus the especially gritty The Witcher before those, I’m looking forward to seeing more of this light and hilarious show. Willow genuinely feels like a breath of fresh air in the fantasy landscape right now, and I didn’t realize how much I needed it until now.

 

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