A long time ago, when I was a young boy, a movie came out called ‘Willow’. Now, over thirty years later, a TV series arrived on Disney Plus.

The story

Willow, the movie, tells the epic adventure of Willow Ufgood, a Nelwyn sorcerer. Nelwyn’s are a fantasy race of little people, who live in a sheltered valley amid the ‘tall folk’ kingdoms. In those kingdoms, the evil Queen Bavmorda reigns.

Willow is not a very good sorcerer, more a trickster and a laughing stock. Then, one day, he finds a tall folk baby in the reeds near his home. He tries to return the baby to the first tall folk person he can find. That doesn’t quite work out. The baby turns out to be Elora Danan, who is destined to cause Queen Bavmorda’s downfall. Willow quickly finds himself on a quest to defeat the evil queen. On his way he is joined by Madmartigan, a rogue, and several others.

When the queen captures Elora, Willow and his allies plan a desperate assault on the evil queen’s city. As they do, Sorsha, Bavmorda’s daughter, defects to them. Through trickery Willow manages to defeat Bavmorda and save the baby Elora Danan. Sorsha ends up marrying Madmartigan and all ends well.

Fast-forward seventeen years to the TV show. Madmartigan and Sorsha have had twins, Kit and Airk, and Elora Danan has been missing for over a decade. Madmartigan has vanished too. Then, in the night of Kit’s engagement to Prince Graydon of Galladoorn, a group of evil-looking creatures attack the city.

The monsters knock out Airk and carry him away. Kit, her friend Jade, Graydon, and an old companion of Madmartigan called Boorman set out on a quest to find him. First stop: the Nelwyn valley to find Willow. Adventure ensues.

The characters

Willow the TV show has a different cast than the movie. Where the movie focused on Willow’s journey, with side stories about some of his companions, the TV show follows an entire group of characters. That group mostly reminded me of a D&D party.

There’s Kit, the ostensible leader of the endeavor. Maybe. She’s the princess of Tir Asleen, but she wants anything but to be a princess and marry. She’d rather go out adventuring with her friend Jade.

Jade is the red-headed squire to Commandor Ballantine of Tir Asleen. She’s lost her parents, but Ballantine raised and trained her.

Boorman was Madmartigan’s sidekick, but somehow Madmartigan vanished and Boorman didn’t. Boorman does things mostly for Boorman. And I have to say, I love this character. He’s the Han Solo of the show, with a dash of extra self-interest and humor thrown in.

Dove is a muffin girl, but she joins the group hunting for Airk, because she loves him. Although, it seems Airk might be less in love with her. Airk has had many a romantic fling in his life, and Dove was just his latest conquest.

Finally, after the initial journey, the group of course finds Willow and gets him to join their party.

The verdict

Willow is not a pretentious fantasy epic. It’s a tale of adventure that plays fast and loose with lore and geography. It’s mostly a fun ride through a fantasy world with a group of interesting characters having weird adventures. It has humor, love, and adventure.

I love it.

Interestingly, the show has gained positive reviews from critics, and very negative reviews from viewers. Supposedly because the show deviates from the original movie and the acting is bad. That could be true, of course. The show is a bit cheesy. But so was the original — there’s a love potion involved, for Christ’s sake. However, it could also have something to do with the show having a female lead, which is often a reason to try to sink a show or movie. Not only that, there’s a queer romance story in this show. Some folk can’t deal with that.

It could also be that the show is not another Game of Thrones clone. The show is somewhat cheesy, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. But I like that about it. I fear some fans want all fantasy shows to be like Game of Thrones: serious intrigue-laden dramas borrowing heavily from historical drama with a veneer of magic. Rings of Power certainly seems to want to be. As did The Dark Crystal prequel. Willow, though, is just a fun ride, and it can laugh at itself. Especially Boorman. And that’s okay. It makes the characters more real.

To me it seems television creators think seriousness makes characters more believable. I disagree, and think the opposite. Characters need humor. It’s more important that characters have clear agency and act according to that agency; not that they’re very serious and gritty. Worse, I can’t care about people with no sense of humor. I seek engagement with characters.

In Short

I love Willow. If you like fantasy, and have had your fill with Game-of-Thrones clones, you might love it too.

If you are the type of person who cannot handle that the characters seem to travel from a sprawling forest to a desert in a day, or if you hate magic in stories, or just want more House of the Dragon, well, then this might not be your cup of tea.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy author/blogger from the Netherlands