Willow Series Premiere Review: A Slow Start, But A Faithful Revival
To anyone alive when the film it’s based upon hit theaters, the wait for the 2-episode Willow series premiere has seemed far too long. The bad news is that until maybe around 35 minutes into the first episode, you may feel like you’re still waiting. The series starts off a little too slow and is overstuffed with new characters, but once you get past that first hump it feels and looks exactly like what anyone could possibly want from the follow-up to the Warwick Davis-led fantasy classic.
WILLOW SERIES PREMIERE REVIEW SCORE:
“The Gales” — the first episode in the Willow premiere — starts off as you’d expect with a tidy re-telling of the events of the 1988 film, and then we’re off to the modern day Tir Asleen which is ruled by Queen Sorsha (Joanne Walley), one of the heroes of the movie. The first half hour is a bit of a drag, with introductions to various new characters and their respective dramas. There’s Sorsha’s restless daughter Kit (Ruby Cruz), the fierce warrior Jade (Erin Kellyman), Sorsha’s womanizing son Airk (Dempsey Bryk), the timid Prince Graydon (Tony Revolori), the jealous but loyal Dove (Ellie Bamber), and the enigmatic prisoner Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel).
Star Wars sequel haters may understandably feel a bit of trauma rising while reading it, but Willow (Davis) himself takes a long time to make his entrance in the premiere (though thankfully he doesn’t immediately throw his wand away in the beginning of episode 2). While it isn’t a critical failure, I think it was a mistake to make fans wade through the new heroes’ backstories before rewarding us with Willow. Though, at the same time, with so many new characters in the mix it might not have been possible any other way.
The Willow premiere is saved after the first half hour when Tir Asleen is attacked by a squad of horrifying villains whose design feels faithful to the world-building of the original film, while at the same managing to look like the bad guys could’ve been plucked right out of Elden Ring. Once the adventurers are all assembled and on their way in the second episode, “The High Aldwin,” their chemistry becomes easier to enjoy. Chadha-Patel is a particularly welcome addition as the sardonic and mysterious warrior Boorman.
One thing fans may feel split on is that the Willow you meet in the premiere is a much more haunted version of the hero we remember. Flashbacks reveal some shocking decisions on his part over the years. Not to mention that while Davis’s real life daughter Annabelle plays Willow’s grown daughter Mims (played by Dawn Downing in the 1988 movie), his son Ranon and wife Kiaya are conspicuously absent.
The action scenes are impressive and the production design of the Willow premiere is wonderfully faithful to the original; right down to the music. I am undecided about how I feel about the addition of modern music to the closing credits of each episode. It doesn’t ruin anything, but considering how much everything else feels like an echo of the 1988 film, things like a cover of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” are a little jarring.
Not to mention that while it’s perhaps little more than a pet peeve, with rare exceptions–such as 2001’s A Knight’s Tale when it’s the whole point of the thing–matching modern music with stories set in different time periods almost always pulls me out of the story.
One thing the Willow premiere unfortunately fails to deal with is the fate of the charismatic swordsman Madmartigan, who Val Kilmer played in the film. We learn a little bit about his life after the movie, but not where he is now or if he’s alive. Episode 2 ends with a tease that next week’s chapter could give us the answer, and while it may be too soon to tell I feel like this is another big mistake.
The official word, as reported by E! Online, is that Kilmer could not appear in the Willow series, but in a post-No-Way-Home world any fan would feel like a fool to trust the official word. Considering that, and the fact that the Willow premiere treats his fate like a mystery, if the series doesn’t either definitively kill him off in the next episode or produce Kilmer himself, fans will have every reason to feel like they’ve been cheated. If there is no surprise Kilmer reveal on the way, it may have been a huge mistake to not kill his character off-screen in the very first episode.
In spite of a few stumbles, so far the Willow premiere shows enough promise to keep returning for at least a few more episodes.