Willow (1988) – Ron Howard

I remember the first time I saw Willow. I know where I was, and I remember how it swept me up in its narrative. I knew I had to see it the moment it told me it was from the imagination of George Lucas. I knew who Ron Howard was, but I was a teenager at the time, and that didn’t mean as much to me.

But when I sat in that theatre and that beautiful sweeping James Horner score soared through the sound system, I was so in.

The story follows a young nelwyn, Willow (Warwick Davis), a family man and farmer, who has hopes of becoming the village sorcerer. When a daikini baby shows up, a la Moses, he is sent on a quest to return the beautiful and very expressive baby to her people, and consequently gets swept up in an adventure with a roguish swordsman named Madmartigan (Val Kilmer).

It seems the child , Elora Danan is part of a prophecy, and that an evil witch, Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) wants her dead, to cement her own power. To that end, she uses her warrior daughter, Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) and the skull-masked General Kael (Pat Roach) to carry out her demands.

In a world of magic and wonder, adventure and love, Willow finds himself on an epic journey with Madmartigan proving to be an interesting travelling companion as the encounter a pair of brownies (Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton), witches, trolls, and monsters.

I remember seeing the film two weekends in a row growing up, and then, yes, I would go home, and practice the sword flip trick that Madmartigan performed through the film. And then I would lay in the living room, listening to the score on CD, and adding it to a cassette tape for my walkman.

Besides the book The Lord of the Rings, and the occasional foray into Conan, Willow was my only other real exposure to fantasy (do we count Krull?), and I was enchanted. Much the way I was with science fiction, I liked the genre in film (and television) but could never get into fantasy books and tales beyond Tolkien. Eventually my palate expanded.

But all it takes is that score by Horner and I am swept back into the film, and the nostalgia I had for the time, and the place that I was when I first saw it. It’s a fantastically enjoyable movie.

Howard proves himself a very able director in this film, balancing the massive effects work with the performances, the drama with the comedy, and getting the most out of his action beats. I loved it. When the first book in the written sequel trilogy came out I snapped it up (but could never get into it – I wasn’t ready for fantasy books yet, but I’m retrying soon enough), and now I’m excited about the upcoming DIsney+ series, and what that holds for me.

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