Willow Episode 1 review: Fellowship forms and adventure begins
Willow is a belated sequel to the 1988 film of the same name – although, Episode 1 this streaming series plays more like Willow Junior, with a group of teens embarking on a quest that directly links back to the movie.
Directed by Ron Howard – and based on a story by George Lucas – 1988’s Willow was like a fantasy version of Star Wars, where Jedi became wizards, lightsabers were wands, and The Force was magic.
The film became a modest success, but didn’t do well enough to earn a sequel. Until now, as today Disney+ launched an eight-part follow-up that features characters from the original, as well as all-new new heroes and villains.
Here it starts in promising fashion, those heroes suitably likable, and the foes they face pretty terrifying.
Going back to the future
The movie was released some 34 years ago, meaning that its story has likely faded from most memories. So Willow the show begins with a recap of Willow the film.
Via flashback, we’re reminded that a baby called Elora Danan helped break a terrible curse that was spun by evil sorcerer Bavmorda. Meaning the film had a happy ending.
But via the same prologue, we learn that soon after hero Willow Ufgood – a Nelwyn farmer and amateur sorcerer – had a vision that a new evil was coming for the child. And so Elora was hidden away, her true identity a secret. Which brings us up to the present day, when that evil is fast approaching…
Meet Willow’s new characters
With that catch-up complete, new Willow has a lot to do, in terms of introducing lots of new characters, then launching them on a brand-new adventure, all in the space of less than an hour.
But the show wastes little time in getting going, while the characters themselves are easily recognizable archetypes, so feel familiar from the off.
There’s Prince Arik (Dempsey Bryk), a lothario and cad who is more interested in women like kitchen maid Dove (Ellie Bamber) than courtly politics. Which annoys his twin sister Kit (Ruby Cruz) as she’s being married off to Graydon (Tony Revolori) to make an alliance between two realms. Which in turn annoys Jade (Erin Kellyman) as she’s a knight in training who also happens to be in love with Kit.
Which makes for much early tension, which can be turned into drama and conflict over the course of Willow’s eight episodes.
The fellowship of the teens
But first the show needs an inciting incident, and that occurs mid-way through proceedings, when a group of demonic monsters kidnap Arik, and take the horny prince beyond the barrier that protects the kingdom.
Queen Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) – daughter of Bavmorda and mother to the twins – assembles a crew to bring him back, but rather than fill it with skilled soldiers, the fellowship ends up somewhat bizarrely consisting mainly of teens. So Kit and Jade accept the call, while cowardly Graydon is pressured into it.
They need a guide for their journey, and a thief called Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel) is given the gig, as he’s previously been across the border. Boorman agrees to help – in exchange for a pardon – and his ‘devil-may-care’ attitude makes him Willow’s most entertaining character on this early showing.
The quest kicks off with some fighting and killing, they pick up Dove along the way, and then this first instalment ends exactly where it should – in Willow’s village. Though the sometime sorcerer is nowhere to be seen…
The Verdict: Is Willow Episode 1 good?
This first episode all a little breathless, and some of the story feels rushed, but by the end we’ve got a good sense of who the characters are, and where they are going.
The cast is interesting and diverse – with Chadha-Patel in particular bringing laughs as the boorish Boorman – while it’s also great tohave some LGBTQ+ representation in a Disney show, and it will be interesting to see how that storyline progresses.
But the highlight is undoubtedly Willow’s own entrance at the end, and his delivery of a revelation that we won’t spoil here, but which will be discussed in our review of Episode 2.
Willow Episode 1 review score: 4/5
Willow is off to a strong start thanks to likable characters and entertaining action that all suggests this is the beginning of a great adventure.
Willow is now streaming on Disney+. You can sign up here.