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What we want from the Willow show coming to Disney+
Disney+ is making all of your old favorites new again, not only bringing things out of The Vault but also building new content on old properties. We can debate the overall merit of the House of Mouse until the heat death of the universe (probably closer than we'd like to think!), but it's safe to say that Disney has cornered the market on nostalgia. The latest example is the upcoming Willow sequel series from Jonathan Kasdan, writer of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which is honestly looking better than ever this side of Rey Palpatine.
If you haven't seen the campy fantasy classic, your homework for tonight is to watch it. I can almost guarantee that you'll love it. Willow wasn't exactly a blockbuster at the time of its release in 1988, but it has become a genuine cult hit in the meantime. Warwick Davis' Willow Ufgood is a hero for the ages, and Val Kilmer's Madmartigan and Joanna Whalley's Sorsha definitely kick-started puberty for many, depending on your preferences. Plus, Jean Marsh's Queen Bavmorda is the most underrated villain of all time. I will not be taking any criticism regarding that point. It is simply a fact.
Suffice it to say, this could easily go off the rails, so here are a few ways that Disney can avoid a heartbreaking disaster.
Don't Overdo the Fan Service
Listen, I know the discourse surrounding The Rise of Skywalker has been absolutely unbearable, so I am sorry to wade into it here. However, I think there are some things that the team behind Willow can learn from this mess, namely that fan service usually sucks. It's not impossible for it to work — Cap wielding Mjolnir in Avengers: Endgame comes to mind — but fan service can so easily veer into "who cares about coherent storytelling, here is that thing you like!" territory that it almost isn't worth it. Have a grown-up Elora Danan train with Willow using Cherlindrea's wand. Do not have her somehow be the granddaughter of Queen Bavmorda.
Practical Effects as Much as Possible
Part of what makes Willow such a fun watch to this day is the usage of practical effects. Sure, the hydra is a little hokey and the troll suits are particularly silly, but most of it still feels properly epic in the right moments. Kasdan and crew should look to a recent reboot that managed to update an '80s tale without completely obliterating the original's charm: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. While they won't have the power of Henson behind them, the team behind Willow should resist the urge to CGI everything. The world of Willow has always been a more hardscrabble version of fantasy, so building as much as possible in the real world will help keep that grounded quality that made the first film so endearing. Look to the world of Thra as a blueprint for creation.
I don't think anyone was expecting The Mandalorian to end up being the story of a single dad doing his best to make a new life for his child, but it was and people loved it. The Mandalorian took the epic scope of Star Wars and somehow managed to both deepen lore and make the vast universe feel personal again. Willow has a chance to do a similar thing by keeping the focus on Willow, a humble magician, and Elora Danan, a young queen. While there are sure to be some amazing set pieces feature battles and magic, don't forget that the quiet moments can pack a real punch. Fans cared so much about their bond when she was the most expressive baby in the world, so imagine what this relationship could look like now that Elora is an active participant.
Complex Women, Not Just "Strong" Ones
The common shorthand for "strong woman" is sass and a weapon. (Male) writers think that as long as our heroine quips while beating up the boys, she is the feminist ideal. However, I would say that most women are more interested in female characters who feel like the women they know. Angry women. Weak women. Compassionate women. Interesting women. In terms of fantasy stories getting this balance right, you can't find a better example than The Witcher. The women of The Witcher feel fully realized, given motivations beyond their relationships with men and actual agency in the pursuit of their desires. Some want power, some want children, and some want both, proving that the mold for female characters isn't one size fits all. Instead of framing Elora Danan as the best and most noble of any girl ever, make her feel like flesh and blood. But also give her a sword.