George Lucas (story)
Unknown; possibly Pre-Republic era
Willow is a 1988 fantasy film directed by Ron Howard, and based on a story by George Lucas. The film centers on the struggles of Willow Ufgood, a young farmer who must protect the baby Elora Danan from an evil Queen, who she is prophecized to one day overthrow.
On April 1, 2006, StarWars.com updated its Databank with elements from the film and its spin-off novels, indicating that Willow would be added to the Star Wars continuity. Elaborate databank entries were written which attempted to plausibly fit the film into the history of the Star Wars universe. However, two days later, it was revealed to be an April Fools' joke, and thus non-canon. Willow was released on Blu-ray on March 12, 2013.
Lucas's story is Tolkienesque; a young farmer named Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), one of a halfling-like people called Nelwyns, is drawn away from his sheltered home to save Elora Danan (a baby girl with a destiny) from the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) who would see her destroyed.
Willow is aided by the disillusioned master swordsman Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), who has turned to a life of roguery after the fall of his kingdom to the evil queen, and the sorceress Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes), who has been turned into a muskrat by Bavmorda. They are initially thwarted, but later joined by the queen's daughter Sorsha (played by Joanne Whalley, later Kilmer's wife).
For many years, the evil sorceress Queen Bavmorda has ruled the land with an iron fist from her castle Nockmar. Then, a prophecy is made: a baby girl will be born. This little girl will grow up to become a powerful empress, and she will bring about the downfall of Queen Bavmorda. The Queen cannot allow this to happen so she seizes all pregnant women in the kingdom and will kill the baby as soon as she's born. She cannot simply kill the child. In order to effectively kill her, the Queen must perform a ritual which will exile the child's soul to the netherworld. The baby girl is finally born, recognizable by a mark on her arm. One of the midwives informs the Queen's daughter, the warrior princess, Sorsha, who runs to fetch her mother. The baby's mother begs another midwife to help them. She agrees to help. She hides the baby in a basket of rags and gives the mother a bundle of rags as a decoy. The midwife then sneaks the baby out of the castle. When the Queen arrives and discovers the decoy, she suspects the midwife. She sends her soldiers and Devil Dogs after her and has the mother killed.
Over the next few months, the midwife makes her way across the country, keeping the baby safe. One day, the Devil Dogs catch up to them. To protect the baby, she puts her into a basket made of sticks and twigs and pushes her down the river (like baby Moses). The Devil Dogs then kill the midwife. The baby is found by a Nelwyn named Willow Ufgood and his family. Willow is a young farmer and a sorcerer-in-training and wants nothing to do with the baby, fearing that it may be a bad omen, but his family overrules him. Once they get the baby back to the house, Kaiya, Willow's wife, asks him to hold the baby. After holding the baby for a few minutes, Willow smiles and starts to accept the baby as one of his own.
The next day, Willow and his other two children, Mims and Ranon, attend a festival in the Nelwyn village, where Willow performs magic tricks. The festival comes to a stop as one of the Devil Dogs attacks the village. The village warriors quickly kill the dog, but the whole town is shook up. Willow realizes that the baby is what the dogs are after and tells Kaiya that they have to take it to the village council. When the Ufgoods arrive at the village council with the baby, they overhear the village prefect, the snobbish Mr. Burgelcutt, saying that whoever is responsible for the attack will be severely punished. Nervously, the Ufgoods turn to leave, but are stopped by the High Aldwin, the village elder, sorcerer and Willow's mentor. Willow presents the baby to the village council and Burgelcutt suggests giving it to the dogs. The High Aldwin senses something special about the child and decrees that the baby must survives at all cost. He puts together a team composed of Willow, his best friend, Meegosh, the reluctant Burgelcutt, and several of the village's best warriors. He orders them to take the baby to the Daikini crossroads and give it to the first Daikini (tall person) that they see.
Back at Nockmar, Bavmorda recruits General Kael to help Sorsha find the baby. Desperate for her mother's approval, Sorsha refuses help from Kael and only accepts when her mother forces her to. After they leave, one of Bavmorda's druids predicts that sometime soon Sorsha will betray her. Bavmorda laughs, "I trust her loyalty more than I trust yours."
When Willow and the others arrive at the crossroads, they meet a daikini thief named Madmartigan imprisoned in a crow's cage. Madmartigan that he's the greatest swordsman that ever lived. Having found a daikini, Burgelcutt tells Willow to give Madmartigan the baby. Willow refuses, because he thinks he's shady. Annoyed by Willow's unwillingness to cooperate, the others head home. Meegosh stays. The next day, an army marches by. Madmartigan "smells" a battle. Willow tries to give the baby to one of the soldiers, but no one cares. Madmartigan sees his old friend, Airk. Airk informs Madmartigan that the Nockmar army has destroyed the kingdom of Galadoorn. Madmartigan tells Airk to let him out so he can help in the fight against Nockmar, but Airk, remembering how selfish Madmartigan can be, leaves him to rot. After the army passes, and seeing no other option, Willow and Meegosh free Madmartigan and give him the baby. Madmartigan heads off promising to take good care of the baby.
As Willow and Meegosh head back towards home, they see an eagle, carrying the baby and being ridden by a Brownie, fly by. They chase after the eagle and are eventually captured by the other brownies. Willow and Meegosh wake up hours later, tied to the ground and surrounded by a pack of brownies, led by Franjean. A voice from the forest orders Franjean to release Willow and Meegosh. The brownies, quickly, cut their ropes. The forest sorceress, Cherlindrea, appears to them and greets Willow. The baby is under her protection. She reveals to them that the baby's real name is Elora Danan. Elora has chosen Willow to be her guardian, because she likes him. Cherlindrea reveals Elora's destiny to Willow and instructs him to take Elora to the kingdom of Tir Asleen, where a good king and queen will look after her. She gives Willow her magic wand and tells him to take it to Fin Raziel, an old rival of Bavmorda. She will guide Willow to Tir Asleen. She also warns Willow that if he doesn't accept the calling Elora will surely die, and nothing will stop Bavmorda. The next day, Willow decides to continue on and sends Meegosh back to the village. Willow starts out for the island of Fin Raziel, guided by Franjean and Rool.
At a tavern along the road, they run into Madmartigan. Neither are happy to see each other, since Willow feels Madmartigan is untrustworthy, and Madmartigan believes Willow is an annoyance. But Madmartigan helps Willow escape when Bavmorda's troops search the tavern. Madmartigan accompanies them on their way to the island. When they get to the island, Madmartigan goes his own way, and Willow goes to find Raziel. He's surprised to see that she's been turned into a possum. He takes her to see Elora. Seeing the baby confirms Raziel's faith in the prophecy. Raziel can't do anything as an opossum, so she tells Willow to change her back into a human. She's shocked to learn that Willow is just an amateur. Just then, everyone hears horses approaching. Bavmorda's troops ride up, with a bound Madmartigan. Raziel, Elora and Willow are captured and taken to a Nockmar encampment in the mountains. Franjean and Rool are left behind and are forced to track the horses up the mountains. Rool comments that this should be fun.
Willow and Madmartigan free Raziel, despite still being locked up, and Willow attempts to change her back into her human form. He fails, accidentally changing her into crow. Franjean and Rool arrive and offer to help them out of their cage. Franjean uses his spear to pick the lock, but not before Madmartigan tries to intervene and is immediately struck with a sack containing a very powerful, fairy love potion. Madmartigan sneaks into Sorsha's tent to retrieve Elora, but (still under the effects of the love potion) stops the moment he sees Sorsha - he falls instantly in love with her. Sorsha awakens and threatens to kill him, but is swooned by his poetry- at least, until Kael arrives with Willow and the baby. Presuming that Madmartigan was lying to her as a distraction, they all begin to attack him- he grabs a spare sword and destroys the tent support, kissing Sorsha and then cutting his way out.
It is at this point that Madmartigan proves his claims of being an expert swordsman is not merely talk, dispatching 3 soldiers in a matter of seconds. Using a shield as a sled, Willow and Madmartigan ride out of the camp and down the hill toward a small village. Franjean and Rool are left behind once again, however, and after falling off the sled and smashing into a house as a human snowball, Madmartigan seems to come out of the effects of the love potion.
Raziel catches up and warns everyone in the village that Kael and his men are coming. Willow and Madmartigan hide with the rest of the villagers and meet up with Airk and his remaining soldiers- he has lost half his forces to Bavmorda, and even after capturing Sorsha he doubts highly that Madmartigan and Willow could ever take Bavmorda on. Nevertheless, Madmartigan remains loyal to Willow, and the two escape, with Sorsha as their captive. Airk and his men cover their escape. On the road to Tir Asleen, Sorsha asks Madmartigan if he was serious about being in love with her. Madmartigan says that he wasn't himself and has since come to his senses. Insulted, Sorsha escapes from Madmartigan and Willow and goes back to find Kael.
The arrival at Tir Asleen is quickly tempered when the group realizes that the castle has been cursed by Bavmorda- it is now overrun by trolls, and its inhabitants are frozen in quartz-like rock formations. As Madmartigan equips himself from the castle's armory, Willow retries in his attempts to turn Raziel human, but fails once more as the approach of Kael's army provides distraction- Raziel is now a goat. After barring the gates, Madmartigan uses what little time he has to set up defenses, while Willow fights off a troll, turning it into an Eborsisk, a two-headed dragon which he promptly kicks into the moat below in disgust. As Kael shatters the gate with a battering ram, the Eborsisk grows at an alarming rate, forcing Kael to shift his men between fighting Madmartigan, the beast, and searching for Elora. Through the ensuing chaos, Sorsha turns coats and fights alongside Madmartigan, and Airk's army (with Ranjeen and Rool in tow) arrives, but Kael manages to injure Willow and escape with the child. Back at Nockmar, Bavmorda is pleased to see that Elora has been finally caught, but is enfuriated to hear that Sorsha has turned against her.
At the gates of Nockmar, Airk's army has set up camp. Bavmorda promptly turns the entire force, excluding Willow and Raziel, into pigs. Willow, knowing the hour is desperate, tries a final time to return Raziel into human form, as she undergoes a massive transformation from a menagerie of animals, until she is finally human. Taking the wand, she proceeds to return the army back to human form- at this point, Bavmorda has already prepared the ritual. With little in the way of plans, Willow suggests a strategy that will get them inside the castle- though it is a long shot, it is also their only hope.
Come morning, the ritual has not finished, and Willow and Raziel beckon Nockmar to open its gates- Airk's army, disguised under seemingly empty tents, ambushes the cavalry and rides hard into the castle, disabling the gate's mechanism and allowing more troops to get inside. As Kael wades into combat, Sorsha guides Raziel and Willow to the tower where Elora is held. During the battle, Airk is killed. Before he dies, he tells Madmartigan to win the war for him. Madmartigan attacks Kael in a rage. Though evenly matched, he manages to impale Kael on his own sword, throwing him to his death afterwards.
Meanwhile, Sorsha manages to kill Bavmorda's aides, but is rendered unconscious when her mother attack her magically. Fin Raziel and Bavmorda begin fighting over the wand, and eventually Raziel is choked until she is also unconscious. On his own, Willow manages to grab Elora, but is cut off when Bavmorda seals the doors. Though it seems all is lost, Willow tricks Bavmorda by seemingly making the child disappear- in a rage, Bavmorda knocks over a vial of blood that would have been used on Elora. Moments later, she is struck by cursed lightning, instead exiling her own soul to the Netherworld. As Madmartigan arrives, and Sorsha and Raziel regain consciousness, Willow explains that he used his classic "disappearing pig trick" to hide the baby. Elora is safely hidden behind a stone table.
Back at Tir Asleen, the curse is lifted, and the kingdom is restored to its former glory. Madmartigan and Sorsha stay and raise Elora Danon as their daughter. Raziel gives Willow a book of basic magic, and tells him that he is on his way to becoming a great sorcerer. He is sent home on a white pony. Back in the Nelwyn village, Willow is greeted with a hero's welcome from the whole village. He is happy to see Meegosh, the High Aldwin, and especially his family again.
George Lucas originally planned to film an adaptation of the novel The Hobbit. Unable to secure the rights, he wrote Willow, which shares many similarities with J.R.R. Tolkien's celebrated novel, and its sequel, The Lord of the Rings.
The film was notable for employing more dwarfs than any production in many years, and was widely praised by the "little person" community for employing Warwick Davis as the lead. The film also used morphing special effects to transform an old sorceress into various animals, a revolutionary effect for the time.
As an interesting sidenote, the two-headed monster in the film, the Ebersisk, was named as a reference to popular movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. Siskel and Ebert would both later say that they weren't flattered. The villainous General Kael was also named for a critic, noted female journalist, Pauline Kael.
Filming action scenes in the snow of a New Zealand winter prompted Val Kilmer to remark that he wished his wardrobe shirt had buttons, as the open shirt bared his chest to the cold.
Much of the concept art, such as creature designs and storyboard art, was drawn by Jean Giraud (Moebius) and Christos Achilleos. Ultimately, the designs which appeared in the final film were considerably different from those initial designs; several sequences were also completely cut from the film due to time constraints. One such scene was a battle at sea in which the heroes narrowly escape a giant sea monster, which was depicted as a huge anthropomorphic shark in storyboard artwork.
The music in the film was composed by James Horner, in what is considered to be a very strong musical score. Distinct echoes of Robert ScHumann's Rhenish Symphony may be heard in the triumphant theme. The main theme also bears a resemblance to the "Redemption" motif from Richard Wagner's operatic tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen.
When Willow was initially released in theaters, it was distributed by MGM and Lucasfilm Ltd. The 1988 VHS was released however, by RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video (the MGM logo was kept). Imagine Entertainment's logo was not shown on the film, the VHS or the DVD. The film is currently being distributed by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (as they have a home media deal with MGM).
The film was poorly received critically, carrying a 43% at Rotten Tomatoes. It also underperformed at the box office, grossing only $57 million domestically. Some performances, particularly Davis's, and the special effects were praised, but the film's story was widely dismissed as too derivative of Tolkien and other fantasy authors.
A potential factor in the film's lackluster box office performance was that many scenes, plot elements, and creature designs were cut due to time and budget constraints. Over the years since its release, however, Willow has developed a strong cult following and currently holds an 83% "fresh" rating among users at Rotten Tomatoes , a 7.0 rating at the Internet Movie Database , as well as a "B" at Box Office Mojo.
Willow was released on DVD on November 27, 2001. The film was presented in anamorphic widescreen in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, with its sound remixed in 5.1 surround sound. In addition to the film, the DVD's features include:
- Available Subtitles: English
- Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
- Commentary by: Warwick Davis (Unknown Format)
- "Willow: The Making of an Adventure" (original 1988 featurette)
- "From Morf to Morphing: The Dawn of Digital Filmmaking"
- TV spots and trailers
- Photo gallery
The novelization of the original film, written by Wayland Drew and available around the time of the movie's release, was based on Lucas' original screenplay and contained historical background and events not included in the final cut of the movie, as well as color stills from the film. Marvel Comics published a three-issue adaptation of the film. It featured many of the scenes which were cut from the film. The film was also the basis of a video game that was released in 1989 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (by Capcom) and the PC (by Mindscape). Capcom also created a Willow arcade game for its CPS-1 system, which played much differently than its console cousin, being a side-scrolling platformer rather than an adventure/RPG game similar to The Legend of Zelda, and also followed the plot of the film more closely. In 1988, an animated series based on Willow was proposed, but never got past the concept drawings stage. In April 2005, during the Star Wars Celebration III, George Lucas hinted that Lucasfilm Ltd. was moving into television production again, there could be a Willow television series. Davis has also expressed interest in a sequel film, and claims to have an idea for a story.
The film was eventually followed by a trilogy of fantasy novels written by Chris Claremont (again from a story by George Lucas) and published by Bantam Spectra, with the grown-up Elora Danan as the central character. These stories were originally to be made into films themselves, but following the unsatisfactory box office performance of the film, the stories were instead turned into novels. The entries to the trilogy are: Shadow Moon, (1995) Shadow Dawn (1998) and Shadow Star (2000) In 2008, as a throwback to the aforementioned April Fools joke, StarWars.com listed the books in a photo gallery for Star Wars novels.
Similarities and connections to Star WarsEdit
The film shares multiple similarities with Star Wars.
- George Lucas, the man who created the Star Wars films and universe, wrote the story for and executive produced Willow, and wrote the story for Willow's spin-off novels.
- The idea for the film came to Lucas while he was doing research work for the original Star Wars.
- The transitions in the film are done in a similar manner as the transitions in the Star Wars films.
- Several plot points in Willow parallel plot points in the Star Wars films.
- Same occurs to the main characters. Willow is the dreamer character with hidden potential, Madmartigan is the scoundrel turned hero and the brownies are the comic relief.
- The fairy species is similar to the Wistie species in Star Wars.
- Warwick Davis, who plays Wicket in the Ewok films, plays Willow in this film. Additionally, Tony Cox, who played another Ewok in the Ewok films, played a "Vohnkar warrior" in Willow.
- In the non-canon Alien Exodus, on Corellia, the Human refugees encounter a two-headed dragon-like beast which resembles the "Eborsisk" in Willow. Note, however, that the story also features elements from some of Lucas' other non-Star Wars productions.
- "Skywalker" is the English translation of the sanskrit word "Daikini", which is the name of Elora Danan's species in the film. Both Anakin Skywalker and Elora Danan are individuals who are the subject of a prophecy to overthrow an evil enemy. Whether this similarity in naming was intentional by Lucas is unknown.
- In an interview, Warwick Davis revealed that the crew of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace referred to the scene of the character Weazel as the "Willow shot", and that he himself had seen that during screenings of the The Phantom Menace, many people first reacted to the scene gasping and saying "There's Willow!"
- Based on concept art in the book The Art of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the Jedi uniforms for the prequels were at one point going to resemble Madmartigan's battle attire.
- The line "Let's get outta here" is commonly used in Star Wars, and the High Aldwin's line "You still have much to learn, young Ufgood." echoes similar lines in Star Wars.
- A sound recording of a Tasmanian Devil, originally used in Willow, was later used along with several other sounds, to create the sound of Boga in Revenge of the Sith.
Although the April 1, 2006 announcement on StarWars.com which joined the two universes was a joke, the film has multiple elements which would allow it to be set in the Star Wars universe.
- The planet in Willow is obviously not Earth, due to its inhabitants and their use of magic. This would leave the film's planet unknown, allowing it to be a planet in the Star Wars universe.
- The Ewok films established that "magic" exists in the Star Wars universe. For example, in The Battle for Endor, Charal is able to transform herself into a bird form. In Willow, Fin Raziel is transformed into many creatures by Willow before he is able to transform her into her Human form. Also, Fin Raziel and Queen Bavmorda use their magical powers in ways nearly identical to to the ways Force users in Star Wars use the Force. Willow's magic works in basically the same way as The Force.
- In Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker mentions magic to C-3PO, which C-3PO doesn't deny the existence of.
- The nature of Bavmorda's character ties her to the Nightsisters of Dathomir, an order of Dark Jedi witches. During the climactic ritual, her physical attributes and abilities match the description of Nightsisters manipulating weather and displaying ruptured blood vessels around their eyes (due to use of the Dark side of the Force). There are also several similarities between Bavmorda and Charal, a renegade Nightsister portrayed by Siân Phillips in Ewoks: The Battle for Endor. Jean Marsh and Siân Phillips are both acclaimed British actresses in the theatre tradition, born in the same year of 1934. As contemporaries, they share many intimidating physical and performing qualities - suiting them to villainous or regal roles.
- According to Leland Chee, Lucas Licensing actually toyed with the idea of canonizing Willow and the Shadow War novels.
- On his blog, VIP Pete Vilmur acknowledged that some fans consider Willow part of the Star Wars universe.
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars makes several references to the film, and supervising director Dave Filoni has acknowledged a connection between the two universes.
- Prior to Val Kilmer's selection to play Madmartigan, John Cusack and Matt Frewer were both considered for the role of Madmartigan. Once filming began, Val Kilmer improvised and ad-libbed much of his dialogue.
- This film featured the very first detailed computer graphics morphing scene.
- John Cusack and Matt Frewer were both considered for the role of Madmartigan.
- Warwick Davis was only 17 when he was cast as Willow.
- Joanne Whalley's natural hair color is dark brown; she had to dye it bright red for this film.
- Val Kilmer had to train intensively to create a unique sword fighting style for the Madmartigan character. He even studied juggling and came to incorporate juggling movements into the action sequences.
- Val Kilmer improvised and ad-libbed much of his dialogue.
- While filming the crossroads cage scene, Val Kilmer was being let out of the cage one day and, while he was half way out, the chain holding up the cage broke and the cage, made of real iron, fell right on his foot, nearly breaking it. Later in the film Kilmer can clearly be seen walking with a slight limp.
- The original script had more information on the backgrounds of Madmartigan and Sorsha. Madmartigan had been a knight of Galadoorn (the city mentioned as having been destroyed by General Kael) who disgraced himself by having an illicit love affair, and although he had the chance to redeem himself in battle, he ruined the opportunity by going off on his own, which is why there was so much antagonism between him and Airk (Gavan O'Herlihy). Sorsha was the daughter of both Queen Bavmorda and the good King of Tir Asleen, which meant that she already had the capability of being good, and during the battle at Tir Asleen, she was supposed to see her father encased in stone and he would slowy but surely reach out to her for help, which was what provoked her to join the forces of good. This information was cut from the film but featured in the novelization.
- As an April Fool's joke on StarWars.com, both Willow and The Shadow War Chronicles novel series were claimed to be a part of the Star Wars canon, complete with detailed character profiles. Though the character entries were removed from the Databank proper after the joke was over, the entries remain viewable at the Shadow War page linked below.
- The word "daikini" is the inspiration for the name of Scottish indie band The Dykeenies.
- The film was the subject of a running gag in the MST3K episode Village of the Giants, which starred a young Ron Howard. During the movie, Mike Nelson and Tom Servo would repeatedly mock Willow, sometimes going as far as saying that the episode's movie is better, while Crow T. Robot would always reply that he "liked" Willow.
- Spanish rapper Tote King makes a reference to Willow in the song "Uno contra 20 MCs" from his album Música para enfermos: ¿qué tiene El Señor de los Anillos que no tenga Willow?, which translates as "what does The Lord of the Rings have which Willow doesn't have ?."
- The song Attack on Tir Asleen by indie band Kane Hodder seems to be referencing "Willow", with lyrics such as "We may not have a common tongue, But we all hate Bavmorda," and "Destroy the beast and find the baby".
- Willow is mentioned in the song Elvenpath by the Finnish metal band Nightwish along with Bilbo, Sparrowhawk and the Snowman.
- StarWars.com - Initial DVD announcement at
- - StarWars.com article
- The Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine 1
- The Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine 2
- The Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine 3
- The Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine 4
- "Wicket Unleashed"—Star Wars Insider 31
- "When Artoo Met Wicket"—Star Wars Insider 39
- "Beyond the Valley of the Ewoks"—Star Wars Insider 67
- "Ask Warwick Davis!"—Star Wars Insider 133
- "The Return of Willow"—Star Wars Insider 140
- Alien Exodus
- George Lucas: The Creative Impulse