Disney+ recently aired the first season of a new fantasy TV series, Willow. It’s about a sorcerer played by Warwick Davis leading a group of teens (and one thirtysomething scoundrel) on an epic quest, and there’s a fantastic queer romance front and center between a princess / swordswoman and her lady knight.
In keeping with the spirit of fantasy adventure, I’ve decided to allow readers to choose their own path through this review. So, do you:
Say “Thanks, I’ve heard enough!”
Go straight to Disney+ and start episode one.
Say, “Willow? Wasn’t that a movie?”
Yes, it was. The 1988 film is a cult classic also starring Davis, alongside Val Kilmer as the swordsman Madmartigan. In story time, the new show picks up about 17 years after the movie. You could jump into the new show without watching the movie first just fine, but feel free to
Go to Disney+ and watch the movie, then watch episode one.
Say, “I’m interested, but tell me more.”
Keep reading. (Spoilers ahead for the 1988 movie and minor spoilers for Episode 1 of the series)
Willow may take place in an age of castles and magic, but as viewers, we live in an age of reboots and sequels as Hollywood digs deep in the old IP toy box. Creators of these new-old properties look to balance “just like the fans remember” with the thrill of the new. Then again, “same but different” has always been Hollywood’s game, one way or another, and Willow showrunner Jonathan Kasdan and the whole cast and crew play that game very well.
For fans of the original film, the new show offers plenty of thematic and character parallels to the original while still telling a fresh, surprising story.
If your favorite Willow character was always:
Willow himself. Obviously, he’s back! And if you thought Davis was incredible playing a dad looking after a Chosen One baby when the actor was just 17 in real life …
Go watch the show and love him even more as a real-life dad now, playing a great, grumpy father figure to a whole bunch of young people.
Sorsha, the daughter of the evil queen turned rebel. She’s back, too — now a very good queen and the mother of two headstrong teenagers, so you should …
Go watch the show, and enjoy the stronger-than-ever Princess Leia vibes for this child of an evil tyrant leading the forces of good.
Madmartigan. He’s not back, due to health considerations for Kilmer, but not only are his character’s whereabouts a central mystery in the show, his spirit is very much alive in new characters, so …
Go watch the show, and meet Thraxus Boorman, the new witty, charming rogue with seriously epic shampoo-commercial hair played by Amar Chadha-Patel. Tiny spoiler for a later episode: The shampoo commercial is actually in the show.
Also Madmartigan. Look, we all loved Madmartigan. But did you love him because he was the Greatest Swordsman Who Ever Lived?
Go watch the show and meet Madmartigan’s daughter, Kit (Ruby Cruz), the second-best swordsman in the kingdom after her true love, knight-in-training Jade (Erin Kellyman). They’re two badasses with family trauma for days, but in battle or emotionally, they’ve always got each other’s backs.
Still Madmartigan, but you loved him because he was a himbo before they named the trope?
Go watch the show and meet Airk (Dempsey Bryk), Kit’s twin brother and Madmartigan & Sorsha’s son, who just wants to frolic in meadows with his girlfriend and be a really good brother. And that’s great!
Flash Thompson. Umm, you know he’s a Spider-Man character and not actually in the movie Willow, right? But you’re in luck anyway, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s own Flash, Tony Revolori, is here, and not at all a douchebag, so
Go watch and meet Graydon, heir to the kingdom of Galladoorn.
Elora Danan. You know she was just a baby in the movie, right? I mean, a seriously adorable baby, but still. But you know what? You’re in luck again! Therefore …
Go watch the show, and see the original movie neatly inverted, as Elora Danan is an actual young woman with agency here, fighting for her own destiny!
The original Willow works largely due to the platonic chemistry between Davis and Kilmer, as they progress from two dudes who barely tolerate each other to ride-or-die buds fighting for the life of a child. In the new series, Elora Danan herself is one half of a similar frenemies-to-besties arc, and it’s just as fun and thrilling to watch — if not more so. Here, we have an entire eight-episode season to get to know all of these characters. The show takes its time — and some weird, wonderful side quests — digging into what makes them tick and exploring how they relate to one another in various combinations.
Still not convinced? Are you looking for a fantasy TV series that:
Isn’t afraid to drop in mild anachronisms because hey, you’re a modern person watching this show now and these characters are here to entertain you and feel relevant to your life?
Go watch, and enjoy a fantasy in the vein of The Adventure Zone: Balance series of podcasts and graphic novels.
Explores themes resonant for young people (and everyone else) living in today’s climate apocalypse / social media hellscape without ever losing its sense of fun and adventure?
Go watch, and be wary of folks who insist you can have everything you want in your life if you just ignore everyone else’s world burning.
Maintains a strict and violent medieval realism in its language and political machinations?
Go watch something else, probably. And that’s OK! Nothing is for everyone.
Ends most episodes (and middles a couple as well) with an absolute banger of a needle drop?
Go watch, and rock out through the credits with everything from gorgeous Metallica covers to 1960s pop. Then find the Spotify playlist and rock out some more.
You’re still here? OK, in a nutshell (that won’t turn anyone to stone), the first season of Willow is fun. It’s gay. It’s hopepunk as hell. It’s full of characters you will fall in love with, may have already fallen in love with from the original, and who you’ll love watching fall in love and / or friendship with each other.
What more do you need?
Go have an adventure!
All eight episodes of the first season of Willow, plus the original film, are streaming now on Disney+.
By chance or possibly fate, John Derrick saw his first episode of Doctor Who on the day he was born. The nerd has been strong with him ever since. He and his wife, Rachael, live in Indianapolis with their son and two cats, and thanks to the original Willow, they went into parenthood knowing that you never, ever give a baby blackroot. Rachael & John’s first novel, Bounceback, about a woman sent back in time to relive her teenage life with brand-new superpowers, is available now at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1074366999 .