In which I return to blogging to rant about Willow

Blows dust off WordPress. I need to do some more research about the new blogging platforms, so for now this will work, esp since it’s tied to my website. So hi, website! Been a long time!

As a Gen-X movie geek, I’ve found the 2010s and 20s to be a really amazing time to be alive. I’ve enjoyed the new Star Wars content immensely, Cobra Kai is one spectacular show that really shouldn’t work but completely does (if you imagine it to exist in some strange post-apocalyptic world where apparently all law enforcement vanishes and is replaced by rival martial arts studios), and Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance was absolute PERFECTION (and let me tell you, THAT had a high bar to clear with me, as Dark Crystal is hands down my favorite movie of all time). For this reason, I was very much eager to dive into Disney+’s Willow series. While Willow isn’t in Dark Crystal category for me (nothing even comes close), it was very much a favorite of mine during my middle and early high school years. In addition to many, many viewings, I also read and re-read the movie novelization by Wayland Drew (which, if you can find, is DEFINITELY worth picking up: it contains a LOT more backstory of Fin Razel, Sorsha, Madmartigan, and even Vonkar, the Nelwyn warrior who really got shortchanged in the movie when you’ve read his story). Unlike Star Wars, Cobra Kai, and Dark Crystal, however, the first two episodes of Willow I found very much lacking, on multiple levels.

I want to apologize for the length of time it took for me to finish this, but there were multiple quotes I wanted to confirm, and really didn’t feel like I wanted to watch AGAIN. Sadly, Google failed me because when you search for “Willow quotes” you’re flooded with Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer quotes. Sigh. So there aren’t as many quotes in here as I would like, but I did make a point to confirm I got one word-for-word.

Let me start with the first thing that annoyed me. I’m sure Disney+ was likely looking to draw in a teen audience for this, but I really did not care for so many teens and their drama being thrown at me in the first half hour. I honestly felt at one point that the show was going to be Willow 90210, and if it hadn’t HAD the Willow connection, I would have given up midway through the first episode. So. Many. Teen. Fantasy. Cliches. Teen female warrior? Check. Ne’er-do well princeling? Check. Kitchen maid who wants more out of life? Check. We’re rapid-fire introduced to 5 teens who appear to have major roles to play throughout the series. Imho, that’s too much for a world where most of us are tuning in to find out specifically what happened to characters from the original movie. The general vibe with the teens reminded me how they turned the Elfstones of Shannara into a cliched teen fantasy show a few years ago (I tapped out of that one after season 1). If I want a teen fantasy drama, I’ll watch Wednesday again (now THAT was a fun series that freshly imagined yet honored the original source material!).

Not only is it leaning into the teen fantasy cliches, it dregs up a reference to ANOTHER Disney movie with a story Kit tells that bears a striking resemblance to part of the plot of Brave. Not that it was an original story TO Brave (it shows up in a lot of fantasy stories and folktales), but it seems a little too on the nose to ignore. Which leads me to another issue. It’s one thing to have Easter Eggs, in-jokes, and meta-references to other movies of the genre and era. When done right, they can be very fun. However, the delivery felt less like a wink and more like a plagiarism, somehow, both with Brave, and another iconic 80s fantasy movie.

Willow: Death wouldn’t keep Mads from coming back to you, only delay him a bit.

Sound familiar???
Westley in Princess Bride: Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.

It’s too similar and dissimilar at the same time. It’s tangential to the PB quote, but not delivered in a way that makes it stand out from any other dialogue. It’s clunky, and leaves a taste of plagiarism rather than an homage.

Another minor callout to another movie my husband observed: Elora Danan’s wardrobe closely resembles Rey’s. Given the Lucas connection for both movies, this is likely not an accident. Not necessarily a critique, but another example of pulling things from other movies that the showrunners KNOW this audience will recognize for…some purpose? While I appreciate call-outs to other movies (Cobra Kai does this SPECTACULAR AND HILARIOUSLY in almost every episode), it doesn’t quite work here. And while we’re on the subject of my husband noticing things I did not (although in this instance I have never seen the movie in question) they cribbed from YOUNG GUNS, of all things, in a horse racing off, person yelling something that people think is urging it on and turns out to just be “STOP!!!”

While it was wonderful to have Joanne Whalley back as Sorsha, many of her decisions seemed very out of character for the warrior we knew in the movie timeline. Why, for example, did she put her teen daughter into an arranged marriage with someone from Galadorn? I can’t imagine Sorsha, who married a commoner (Madmartigan) with no major political repercussions (she does still appear to be in charge), forcing this marriage for…why? I didn’t get the impression that there’d been intense political intrigue or threat of war with Galdadorn that would require an alliance of this magnitude. What purpose does this marriage serve? Also, given that the marriage is supposed to take place TOMORROW, Kit seems way too calm, especially given her feelings towards Jade (btw, that was one thing I do applaud the show for doing: establishing from the get-go that a main character was gay rather than dragging it out for episodes or never fully answering the question at all). The arranged marriage just doesn’t make sense when we consider Sorsha’s character, and seems to exist only to check off another fantasy cliche box.

Talking parenting decisions from Sorsha brings us to Elora Danan. In flashbacks we see Sorsha and Willow disagreeing over how and if she should be trained in magic. Which is all well and good and sets up some good, believable conflict, but “forget all you know” seems to be the show’s mantra: both for the scriptwriters and the viewers. What has been forgotten? Fin Raziel. Raziel would have had MUCH to say about how Elora should be raised and trained. Assuming she has died by the events in the show (she was very elderly by the time she was transformed back into human during the events of the original movie, after all) BUT the fact remains is she was alive at the very end of the movie. Not only alive, but able give Willow a grand sendoff, a sendoff in which Sorsha is shown in a lovely dress (an annoying change from her armor, honestly, but that’s another rant). So, Bavmorda’s defeated because of this child. Raziel is part of getting this child settled with her adoptive family and …apparently gives no advice or input as to how she should be trained? Now that Bavmorda is defeated, Raziel is the most powerful sorceress. You can’t convince me that she wouldn’t have had her own opinions as to how Elora should be raised, and would have imparted those opinions to Sorsha, Willow, and likely Madmartigan as well. Maybe she would have agreed with Willow’s position as stated in the show, maybe Sorsha’s. I could see that going either way. BUT, Willow or Sorsha would then have had Raziel’s opinion to cite during their arguments with each other! And what about Cherlindria? How did it happen that the two people most vested in this child apparently sought no other opinions? Maybe they did, and that will come out in future flashbacks, but right now, it had me yelling at the screen.

Now for Elora Danan. I will say, the first real surprise I had was when Dove/Brunhilde (hah!) was revealed to be Elora, I did NOT see that coming! I’d thought that Madmartigan had taken her far away to hide; it really was only logical thing that would keep him away all those years (although now I’m curious WHY he’s been gone, and if Val Kilmer will make a surprise appearance). It made sense, though, and I was mollified at her blonde hair when it was revealed that it was dyed (undoubtedly to aid her concealment). I bought that she was hidden in plain sight, where Sorsha could keep a close eye on her, and she be raised without any attention. HOWEVER, she’s been raised as a kitchen maid, and has the GALL to say to Kit, Sorsha’s daughter, “You’re not the boss of me, Princess. Not out here.”

No. Just…no. There is no WAY that a servant would talk back to one of the highest ranked people in the castle that way. She is WAY too contrary towards Willow as well, who should be viewed as an authority figure, or at the very least someone who can tell her more about who she is. She hasn’t been shown to be be particularly rebellious a personality before her true identity is revealed, and habits die hard. If she’s truly meant to be in hiding, her kitchen foster mother would have REALLY impressed upon Elora at a young age proper servant etiquette. She argues with Willow teaching her magic in a manor that wouldn’t be out of character for Kit, but rings completely false for Elora. Elora’s attitude towards the royal family should mirror Jade’s more (who is one character I do want to see more of!), instead she comes across as a near-spoiled brat.

Now to the title character. While it was AMAZING to see Warwick Davis back in the role that made him a fantasy movie icon, and I’m very glad they brought him in on the first episode rather than pulling a Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens, I felt the comedy was played up too much for most of his scenes, and not in a good way. He went through all the events of the original movie to basically become a charatan sorcerer for his village? Sorsha even flat out says to him “You’re not a great sorcerer.” And honestly, we don’t know yet if he is a great sorcerer, despite Willow claiming that. IS Willow only a slight of hand magician who can pull off disappearing pigs? Or did he learn greater magic at one point? After two episodes, I honestly can’t say, and I’m not sure yet if that’s a narrative flaw or a purposeful misdirection (which would fit the slight of hand magic angle, honestly) from the writers. Am willing to keep watching to find out, but the Nelwyn village scene was almost painful-cringy to watch. The finger test was particularly stupid. It really only works if the candidate has not heard the question before!!! The riddle is the point, not THAT specific riddle! In the movie, I got the impression that it was a riddle set by the High Aldwin for a ONE TIME THING, because really, anyone who witnessed the ceremony (which the whole frigging village did!) would know the answer if it was used year after year! What earthly purpose does calling for a test that is so simple if you’ve witnessed it or, as the village has, heard of? Elora Danan has NOT heard of it, so it COULD be used in her case, but the whole village knowing about it and calling for it seems strange. It would have set better with me if Willow posed a different, but similar, riddle.

Final nitpick (for now): WHY is Airk now pronounced as Eric?? One syllable. Airk. That was yet one more thing that yanked me out of the fantasy world: changing the pronunciation to a much more common name.

So. Will I keep watching? Yes…? I think? I do want to see where they go with this, but so far, this is no Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. That completely captured the spirit of the original and gave us new characters to love and I was willing to follow them anywhere. Willow, in comparison, misses the mark in favor of some clunky shout-outs to other 80s movies and lackluster new characters.

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