But the discarded failures of yesteryear are unmined caverns of franchise potential for the bean counters at Disney, so here we are with an eight-episode legacy-quel to the film. And, surprise, surprise, it isn’t half bad for what it is.
Set years after the original film, the series (developed by “Solo” scribe Jonathan “son of Lawrence” Kasdan) checks up on the people of Tir Asleen in the decades since the film. Madmartigan and Joanne Whalley’s Sorsha rule the kingdom, but Madmartigan disappeared on a mysterious quest years ago. What’s more, the girl Mads and Willow fought to protect in the film (the infant Elora Danan) has also been hidden away for fear of a greater evil to come.
It’s not long before the kingdom’s peace is disrupted by the arrival of a gang of supernatural foes, who steal away Sorsha’s libertine son Airk (Dempsey Bryk) and haul him past the Shattered Sea, where none dare follow. But dare we must—this is an adventure, after all—and Airk’s headstrong sister Kit (Ruby Cruz) assembles a party of misfits to rescue him. Step one: Find the reclusive sorcerer Willow and enlist his aid.
Accompanying her is the usual gallery of D&D types: Kit’s best friend and knight-in-training Jade (Erin Kellyman), her wimpy husband-to-be, Prince Graydon (Tony Revolori), burly thief and brawler Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), and Dove (Ellie Bamber), Airk’s low-born side piece who carries a torch for the prince … not to mention a few magical secrets of her own.
One of the original “Willow”’s few charms came in the rapport between unlikely heroes Davis and Kilmer, and that sense of irreverence is compounded here. Our heroes are hardly the type for thees and thous; instead, Kit, Willow, and the gang lean hard on a thoroughly modern vernacular, dropping quips and banter with all the zeal of Joss Whedon characters. (Revolori and Chadha-Patel handle their parts with particular confidence, and Bamber proves a wry foil for Davis’ signature grumpiness.)
In lesser hands, this could fall flat on its face, so it’s a pleasant surprise to find just how easily it all goes down. Each member of the ensemble gets their chance to shine, both individually and when paired off: Kit and Jade negotiating their budding romance, Graydon struggling to prove himself after a life of pampered privilege, Boorman running from a dark, mysterious past, Willow training Dove in her newfound abilities, etc. Everyone has something to prove to themselves and the kingdom, and Kasdan and crew find a remarkable balance for each of their endearing characters.