In a world of political and civil turmoil, war and economic depression, the fantasy genre provides not only an escape from the harshness of life but an alternate context in which to contemplate the events of our era. There's a reason The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And the Wardrobe took place during WWII, or why Suzanne Collins states that her inspiration for The Hunger Games (not strictly fantasy, but you get it) was as a result of seeing news coverage of war juxtaposed with reality TV. Granted, allegorical themes will always be present in fantasy stories; even in utopian fantasy there has to be conflict to make for an interesting story. But in bleak times fantasy, can be the tonic for a weary soul.
Fantasy films are certainly always in production, but fans of the genre will often agree that the golden age for fantasy, especially children's fantasy, was back in the '80s, the decade that brought us The NeverEnding Story, Legend, Time Bandits, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The Princess Bride, and of course, Willow.
Directed by Ron Howard, with a story by George Lucas, the 1988 adventure includes prophecies, sorcery, swordsman, monsters, fairies, people of all sizes, princesses, a journey of many miles, and a final showdown among sorcerers that clearly influenced The Lord of the Rings' Gandalf/Saruman face-off.
Willow opens with, "It is a time of dread..." and such a sentiment certainly feels timely. When the world is full of horrific stories of terrorism, mass murder, political upheaval and poor leadership, escapism is most needed.
It's been 28 years since Willow was released, and 2016 has been a bleak year. Could a sequel be what the world needs? I think so and more than that, Howard has expressed interest in making it, Warwick Davis has shown enthusiasm for starring in a sequel, and with such a solid first film, the story practically writes itself. Here's what we fans would want and expect from Willow 2. Let's hope those in the know are paying attention.
An Obvious Story Continuation
Willow is about Nelwyn (dwarf) Willow (Davis) who finds a baby floating down a river near his home and realizes the Daikini (tall people) will come looking for the infant. He and a group of Nelwyn set out on a mission to return the child to the Daikini, and they settle on Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a rogue swordsman who agrees to take the child in return for them freeing him from a cage. Willow's conscience gets the better of him when he learns that the baby is actually Elora Danan, a princess prophesized to bring down Queen Bavmorda, so he rejoins her. Bavmorda has sent her warrior daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) to find the child and Willow, Madmartigan, and a couple of tiny brownies (forest pixie-like people) have to protect Elora, free the good sorceress Fin Raziel, and take down Bavmorda. They fight, perform magic, Madmartigan and Sorsha fall in love — it's all just fantasy perfection.
This film's sequel is for all intents and purposes already written: It's a story about a baby. A baby with a destiny. Anyone who's seen the film can't help but ask obvious questions. Does Elora grow up to be a powerful princess? Did Madmartigan and Sorsha raise her? Did Willow get better at magic?
Fans are more than likely aware that a series of books was written after the film, continuing the story. The series — titled Chronicles of the Shadow War and featuring the books Shadow Moon, Shadow Dawn and Shadow Star — kills off many of the main characters from the film, changes Willow's name, and turns grown Elora into a brat. It may have envisaged more of the world within the film, but it's sorely lacking in plot and certainly doesn't utilize the story's best elements in a way that would translate to screen.
How's This For A Plot?
A smart sequel would pick up with an adolescent Elora (teen years would work well with today's YA audiences), a princess coming to grips with a prophecy she doesn't understand, training in magic she's only moderately good at, and forced to keep her identity secret in a kingdom still finding its footing after the great battle at the end of Willow. When a new band of evil rebels forms, intending to use Elora as a weapon to defeat neighboring kingdoms, and her mentor Fin Raziel dies of old age before she can finish her training, Elora must travel to find Willow. Only he is trusted to keep her safe, teach her magic that he himself has now mastered, and journey (with brownies, of course) to the man who first prophecized Elora's destiny. Throw in a love interest — son of Madmartigan and Sorsha, perhaps? — and we have all the makings of a great sequel. You're welcome for the idea and I'll keep a look out for my check, Messrs. Lucas and Howard.
Better Technology, Better World Building
While the early use of CGI and New Zealand filming location accounted for plenty of fun, there's so much more that could be done. The film certainly didn't play up the Kiwi scenery the way The Lord of the Rings did, and there are a few shots of waterfalls and exteriors that are used more than once, essentially recycling scenery. From Willow's fairy-filled forests to a snowy-mountain sled ride, today's filmmaking tools — drones, computer graphics and 3D among them — could add much needed scope to the intricate world of Willow.
With better technology, the brownies might be more than green-screened little creatures. They could interact with the characters, showcasing how such tiny beings could keep up with longer-legged people (that was certainly a question I had when first watching Willow). Forget the incredibly weird troll-morphing-to-two-headed-dragon scene toward the end of the film — a modern sequel could have a fully fledged CGI monster, or dragons, or fairies. Just imagining Willow 2 with Game of Thrones-level graphics gets this fantasy freak all riled up!
Loose Threads And Sentimental Touches
With a script that writes itself and technology to make it look beautiful, there's only one more element that will make our Willow 2 fantasy complete — the nostalgia factor. The best possible way to awaken the sentimentality and ensure fans feel an affinity for a potential sequel is with references to the first film. Here are a few allusions and cameos any Willow sequel should have, many of which were story threads left unexplored in the first film.
Meegosh (David J. Steinberg): Willow's best friend. The kind-hearted Nelwyn traveled with Willow but returned to their home village after the pair were caught by the brownies. When Willow was chosen by Elora to be her guardian, Meegosh went home. But how fun would a pair of old Nelwyn buddies on a new adventure be? I'm thinking something like Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins in their 50s looking for an excuse to adventure away from their everyday lives. Steinberg is no longer with us, but a continuation of his character's story would be a visual treat.
The High Aldwin (Billy Barty): The Nelwyn wizard who Willow so desires to train with finally gets his chance to mentor the eager dwarf when he returns at the end of the first film. So how does it go? Already rather old, would the High Aldwin need to teach Willow so he could pass on the magic? Would Willow have his own apprentice? And how better to delve further into the magic of their world?
The Magic: While not quite as defined as in Harry Potter's world, here's an area with plenty of room for exploration. For instance, why do some sorceresses need wands and others don't? Or does the wand enhance the magic when used? The magic acorns the High Aldwin gives Willow are poorly utilized; maybe we could find a better use for them in a new film.
Cherlindrea (Maria Holvöe): The fairy Willow encounters is pivotal in his destiny of being Elora's guardian, but it's really the only time we get to encounter such a beautiful ephemeral being. We don't necessarily need to see Cherlindrea again, but others of her ilk might prove useful for kicking off a new journey. Especially in light of their apparent ability to put unsuspecting forest wanderers to sleep for a thousand years. Willow and Elora could encounter some poor soul in the forest who befell such a fate. It'd be funny to have a character who not only has to cope with being a millennium behind the times, but who can fill in ancient history for Willow and Elora as they try to discover the origins of the prophecy.
Madmartigan and Sorsha's Romance: Seeing these two enemies fall in love is part of the fun of the original, but what happened after? Did they marry? Have children? Can two such fierce spirits stay together? We romantic fools are dying to know.
Make It So, Disney And Fox!
I'm not entirely certain who owns the rights to Willow. While Disney bought all Lucasfilm property, 20th Century Fox distributes the Blu-rays. Whoever has the power, now's the time to set the wheels in motion. 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of Willow. At that point the novelty of the rebooted Star Wars and Harry Potter franchises will have worn off.
In 2016, a year filled with a steady stream of upsetting world news, anticipation for Willow 2 could be a bright spot on the dark horizon. It's sad that composer James Horner, who died last year, won't be able to bring us another amazing score for the film's follow-up. But perhaps this serves as a reminder that life is short and good fantasy films are in short supply. Let's hope the studios see it our way and give us the adventure we crave.
Share your ideas for a Willow 2 below.