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Executive Producers Jonathan Kasdan & Michelle Rejwan Talk Bringing ‘Willow’ Series To Life

From Lucasfilm comes Willow, an all-new action-adventure series based on George Lucas’ 1988 fantasy-adventure film Willow.

The story begins when an aspiring sorcerer, played by Warwick Davis, is whisked away on a journey to protect an infant empress Elora Danan and vanquish the evil Queen Bavmorda from their world of Andowyne.

Now, their world is threatened once again when evil forces descend on Queen Sorsha’s (reprised by Joanne Whaley) Kingdom of Tir Asleen and kidnap one of her children, Prince Airk (Dempsey Bryk). Prince Airk’s sister, Princess Kit (Ruby Cruz), embarks on a perilous quest to save her brother with an unlikely fellowship of heroes played by Ellie Bamber, Erin Kellyman, Tony Revolori, and Amar Chada-Patel – but they cannot succeed alone. Davis reprises his titular role to help save Andowyne once again against the darkness beyond imagination.

Writer/executive producer and showrunner Jonathan Kasdan and executive producer Michelle Rejwan sat down with us and some other journalists to discuss the process of bringing this show to life and their hopes for the future of the franchise.

Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) in Lucasfilm’s Willow. (Courtesy of ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)

Jonathan Kasdan shared the beginning process of how the plans for the Willow series started forming.

Kasdan: The two people who have really wanted this all along are George [Lucas} and Ron Howard…I kind of came to both work and to Ron and said, like, ‘Listen, I love Willow. And I’ve been trying to convince Kathy that this is a thing we’ve got to do.’ And they were both sort of very intrigued because they both wanted that.

But it wasn’t until the moment that Disney+ was announced. And The Mandalorian was sort of the end process at that very moment that Ron and I were in London working on Solo, and he sort of came in that morning, very excited and said, This is how we could potentially convince Disney to let us do more Willow, and he was absolutely right. He stuck to it, you know. So that’s sort of how it’s evolved.

Speaking of George Lucas, did you consult him at all when you were making this?

Kasdan: You know, Kathy is the primary sort of gatekeeper on George, and she kept him very much in the loop on that. He came and visited us on Solo one day, and there was the whole thing, and it was like, ‘George is gonna come. He’s gonna stay for 20 minutes, and then he’ll be gone. Don’t ask him anything.’ And then he came and stayed for five hours, just hung and started pitching jokes for the scene. And I got to ask him all these questions. And at that time, I said to him, ‘You know, I’d love to do something with Willow.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, definitely. I’ve always wanted that, and that’s something we got to do.’ But in the years since Solo, I’ve gotten the impression that he has sort of decided on this philosophical level that he was sort of in or out and that he was going to be out.

He couldn’t have one foot in the door and one foot out of the door. But he’s been nothing but supportive and given a blessing. But he hasn’t been a creative partner. Ron Howard was with us every moment. George and Ron are extremely close. And they vacation together and hang out together. And every time Ron went to see George, the third question was, ‘And what’s going on with Willow? And how’s it coming along? What do you think?’ Ron has been deep in the weeds with us from the very beginning. So I think that’s how George has sort of stayed in it a little bit.

Willow cast
Graydon (Tony Revolori), Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), Dove (Ellie Bamber), Kit (Ruby Cruz), Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) and Jade (Erin Kellyman) in Lucasfilm’s Willow. (Courtesy of ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)

Some of the best fantasies are where you can take these lessons from the fantasy world and bring them into reality. What are some of those lessons you hope people might take from this world and put into their own version of unlocking a secret door or facing demons? 

Kasdan: That’s a great question. And it has all the trappings of the fairytales that had forever. Which are the values that we hope the show is about and that is intrinsic in George [Lucas]. Other movies, too, are all about family and love and the human connections we make being the thing that ultimately overcomes evil. In that sense, I think J.K. Rowling owes a lot to George because the final summation of Harry Potter is that friendship is the greatest magic of all. It feels in sync with the Star Wars message and the image of everyone gathered around the Ewoks at the end. And I think that I hope what the show does, is that in the eight-hour format, it allows us a little time to explore some of the nuances of friendship that maybe George’s movies weren’t always able to do because they simply didn’t have the space, you know?

He somehow figured out a way to take a very specific part of what Star Wars did, which was to make the world granular and real and build it out in this ingeniously specific way. And what we hope to do here is sort of take a little, slightly more sentimental part of what George [Lucas] does, which is how people relate and how people face the adversity in their lives and either buckle to it or stand strong and build that out.

Toth (Charlie Rawes) in Lucasfilm’s Willow. (Courtesy of ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)

Can you talk a little about the inclusion of queer characters in the universe?

Kasdan: You know, I think Michelle and I have been asking ourselves, ‘Is that going to be surprising to people?’ Or are we in a moment culturally, hopefully, where it’s less shocking to see? We were just talking about how it’s suddenly in this Andor season, but it’s much more upfront in the show, and the characters are very young. And what I would say about it is that it was not a political decision so much as a narrative one. I wanted this Madmartigan daughter character to be torn between an obligatory marriage to someone she wasn’t that invested in and a best friend who was pining for her.

Kasdan went on to talk about how Harry Potter inspired the series.  

Kasdan: For us, the reason to do this show was always that there was a Harry Potter kind of story in this baby. And it opens the same way as Harry Potter does, with the baby in a basket being left on the doorstep of someone who doesn’t particularly want it. I was in my 20s when the Harry Potter books sort of happened, and I got very involved in sort of the artfulness with which she [Rowling] matriculated those characters through the seven years of their lives and the relationships they had with each other. And in The Order of the Phoenix one, when Harry sort of gets mad and sort of very high school, it just seemed like that was a natural place to go with this series. So it was always like sort of baked into the DNA that we would reveal it right up front and that the season we were making would be about her, like The Sorcerer’s Stone.

Jade (Erin Kellyman), Boorman (Amar Chadha-Patel), Graydon (Tony Revolori), Kit (Ruby Cruz) and Dove (Ellie Bamber) in Lucasfilm’s Willow. (Courtesy of ©2022 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.)

Even though it’s designed for the home experience, it’s very cinematic. It’s rich, you know? It feels like a very new world. And I know the original plan, some time ago, was a series of films do you plan on doing that if things take off? 

Rejwan: You know, we love all of these characters, and any opportunity to see them again, either stories that have other adventures with them, would be a privilege. It would be a blast.

Kasdan: I think you can feel it in the culture here at Disney. Werewolf By Night, as an example, is a kind of thing you can do that just feels like an opening of a door. Maybe there’s a short-form stand-alone. You know, we’d love to tell Madmartigan stories in whatever form they might take. So we’re up for all of it.

You mentioned Madmartigan a couple of times now. There’s really a sort of mythologizing of that character going on in the show. And we know Val Kilmer will not be appearing. But was there a purpose that you felt that he needed to have a sort of presence?

Kasdan: You know, Val has been a great ally of the show. And from the moment we got going, the first conversation I had after we had some momentum was to go over and see Val and say, ‘We want to do this, and we want you to be in it.’ He wanted to be in it, and he wanted to participate. And it was really the reality of COVID that prevented him from coming to Wales at that critical moment. But even before that, what was always baked in and what remains completely consistent from its first incarnation was that Madmartigan was going to be absent at the start of the story. And much of it was going to be about Kit’s journey to reconcile what happened there, you know?

Willow debuts exclusively on Disney+ on November 30.

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