Where’s Madmartigan? Who’s the real Elora Danan? ‘Willow’ poses questions on Disney+

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews new 'Willow' series on Disney+

In 1988, Ron Howard directed a George Lucas story into the dark fantasy “Willow,” which received mixed reviews from critics but still earned two Oscar nominations (Best Visual Effects and Best Sound Editing) and captured the imagination of a young generation.

Now, 34 years later, those same kids have grown up and are excited to show their own kids the new Disney+ sequel series “Willow,” which just premiered on Wednesday night. It’s created by Jonathan Kasdan, whose father Lawrence Kasdan wrote “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) for Lucas and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) for Steven Spielberg.

I highly recommend going back and rewatching the original film before you dive into the new sequel series because it will obviously enrich the experience without having to say, “Who’s that again?” However, if you don’t have time to go back and watch the movie, the TV series does offer an opening montage intended to catch folks up on what happened.

You’ll recall that the evil sorceress Queen Bavmorda of Nockmaar imprisons all pregnant women upon hearing a prophecy that a child with a birthmark will cost her the throne (i.e. the Biblical King Herod). That child is Elora Danan, the foretold Princess of Tir Asleen, who is smuggled out of the castle and sent downriver like a Lucasfilm version of Moses.

The baby washes ashore at a little-person village of Nelwyn where she is taken in by a farmer and aspiring sorcerer, Willow Ufgood. The Fairy Queen Cherlindrea gives Willow a magic wand for his journey to find aging enchantress Fin Raziel, along the way meeting brash swordsman Madmartigan, who falls in love with the evil queen’s daughter, Sorsha.

With that, the TV series cuts to decades later as Sorsha rules the kingdom as an adult. The cut brings a lingering question: Who is Elora Danan? Not even the characters know, except for Sorsha and Madmartigan, who’s mysteriously gone missing. It’s an intentional deception to conceal Elora’s identity and confuse viewers as to who we’re watching.

For all we know, Elora Danan could be Sorsha’s brunette daughter Princess Kit (Ruby Cruz). Or, it could be Kit’s red-headed knight-in-training Jade (Erin Kellyman), whose eyes linger on Kit a bit longer than a friend would stare. Ahh, Jade is a love interest, just like “House of the Dragon” teased between Princess Rhaenyra and Lady Alicent Hightower.

While the “Game of Thrones” prequel merely hints at possible feelings between the young women, “Willow” makes it blatantly clear as Jade kisses Kit in the middle of the night. This makes “Willow” the first franchise on Disney+ to center around an LGBTQ+ romance (at least that I can remember), just months after a same-sex couple in Pixar’s “Lightyear.”

There’s also a hetero romance involving Ruby’s dashing twin brother Prince Airk (Dempsey Bryk), who is introduced as a “bad boy turned good,” a former womanizer who wants to get serious with a lowly muffin maker named Dove (Ellie Bamber). Is he truly ready to settle down? Or will Dove get her heart broken as the latest in a long line of fawning girlfriends?

Before we can find out, Airk is kidnapped by evil goons, though I’ll have to rewind to figure out where they came from. “Willow” joins a horrible trend in recent fantasy series that insists on unnecessarily dark battle sequences made murkier by a foggy haze over the CGI action. I couldn’t see what was going on during the invasion, which is a problem.

In any event, Airk’s kidnapping is the catalyst that sets this new series in motion, as Kit, Jade and Dove lead an unlikely group of six heroes on a mythic quest (“Lord of the Rings” style), traversing over the rolling green hills and dangerous cliffs past a blue-glowing forcefield that we’re told was magically erected by Fin Raziel to protect the kingdom.

The bottom line: they’re in uncharted territory now.

As the trailers show, Warwick Davis indeed shows up as Willow, but you’ll have to wait until the very end of the episode, which is when it all starts to click. It’s an odd experience as we spend the entire first episode of “Willow” without Willow, but I suppose it’s to set him up like Rey finding Luke Skywalker at the end of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015).

Here’s hoping that Willow will be a main character going forward, joining the band of six young heroes in their search for Airk. The pilot ends with a juicy twist, answering the question of Elora Danan’s identity, which I guessed early on, but it’s still a fun spin.

Even if you guess that particular twist, plenty of questions remain. What’s Willow been doing all this time? Where’s Madmartigan? Will Val Kilmer reprise the role like he did as Iceman for touching scenes in “Top Gun: Maverick” (2022) or will they recast the role?

Good news: you don’t have to wait an entire week to find out. Episode 2 dropped the same day as Episode 1, so fire up Disney+ and enjoy this fantasy adventure this weekend.

Who knows? You just might be Elora Danan without even knowing it.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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Entertainment News | TV News

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disney | willow

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