Ever since Red Letter’s reviews of the Star Wars prequels came to YouTube, I have spent much of the last fifteen years believing that George Lucas is a hack. He will always deserve some credit for being the primary force behind the creation of my favorite film franchise of all time, prequels excepting. Further, who am I really to judge as he made billions of dollars and I am an idiot with a computer in a dilapidated house in Florida. Still, nothing he has done since he stepped off the set of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) has shown that he has any more talent or vision beyond that initial spark that compelled him to come up with tales from a galaxy far, far away. Have you seen Red Tails (2012)? If you want a better film about the incredible story of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, watch the Home Box Office (HBO) made for television movie The Tuskegee Airmen (1995). It was a production that Lucas seemingly ignored as he went on interview after interview wondering why nobody had made a film of the famous all African American fighter squadron. I guess he has trouble using Google in between counting all his money. It was with all these thoughts somewhere in the filter of my brain that, while watching the opening credits to Willow (1988), I found a story credit by none other than George “Luckiest Man Alive” Lucas. I have loved this film since I was a kid, but somehow in the subsequent years I forgot that he and his ubiquitous production company, Lucasfilm, were involved in its making. Did this revelation ruin my viewing? Not really.
Willow begins with a prophecy of a child to be born that will bring about the downfall of evil. Sound familiar so far? That evil is embodied in the sorceress Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). Fortunately for her, that child is born in her castle to a woman imprisoned in her dungeons. Before she can get her clutches on the infant, a girl later named Elora Danan (Kate and Ruth Greenfield), the midwife smuggles the baby out to safety. Eventually, the beastly dog-pigs (I do not know what to call these things, but they are clearly costumed canines) catch up with her. Doing her best Moses impression with Elora, she puts the baby on a raft, sends her down the river, and then is devoured by the dog-pigs. After floating for a while, Elora is found by the diminutive family of Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis). Initially, he wants nothing to do with the child. He is a Nelwyn (little people), he can tell she is a Daikini (regular sized people), and they do not trust one another. It is his wife, Kiaya (Julie Peters), who stops Willow from putting Elora back on her makeshift raft and into the river. When news gets out in the village that there is a Daikini baby, the magical High Aldwin (Billy Barty) orders his would-be apprentice Willow, and a few others, to return Elora to her own kind. When they reach the crossroads where they believe they will find somebody to take care of Elora, they find instead a gibbeted criminal named Madmartigan (Val Kilmer). Most of those who accompanied Willow are satisfied that they have accomplished their mission and decide to leave. Willow stays behind because he does not trust Madmartigan, hoping to find someone else. With some persuasion involving a promise to take Elora, Willow releases Madmartigan and sets off for home. On the way, though, they are attacked by an even smaller race of humans known as brownies, and they have stolen Elora. While attempting to retrieve her, he is visited by the Fairy Queen Cherlindrea (Maria Holvoe), who tells Willow that he must be the one to protect her. She also informs him that Elora is the prophesized Princess of Tir Asleen, the one to bring about the end of Queen Bavmorda’s evil reign. When Willow protests that he is not the right one for the job, citing his poor magical abilities, Queen Cherlindrea gives him the wand of the powerful enchantress Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes). He is to find her, and with her help they will be able to restore Elora to her right place. Setting out with two brownies for “protection,” Willow then comes across Madmartigan in a nearby pub. If you are wondering whether or not Queen Bavmorda has been sitting on her duff this entire time, have no fear. She sends her daughter Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), along with the skull helmet wearing General Kael (Pat Roach), to find Elora. They pursue Willow and Madmartigan to the lake where the unlikely pair find Fin Raziel in the form of a possum. Once captured, they begin the trek back to Queen Bavmorda’s castle. Along the way, using Fin Raziel’s wand, Willow is able to affect their escape, but not before the brownies accidentally dose Madmartigan with love dust that causes him to become infatuated with Sorsha. Regardless, the manage to make their way to a ravaged Tir Asleen where Madmartigan is determined to make his last stand. Not far behind them are Sorsha and General Kael and their forces. In the subsequent battle, Willow accidentally turns a troll into a giant, two-headed dragon with which both sides must contend. It is also during this fight that Sorsha, seeing the skill with which Madmartigan wields a sword, has a change of heart towards her would-be lover and switches sides. The problem, however, is that Elora is taken from Willow by General Kael, who slashes his way through a set of reinforcements coming to aid Madmartigan, led by Airk Thaughbaer (Gavan O’Herlihy). Together, they immediately go to Queen Bavmorda’s castle to retrieve Elora before she can banish Elora’s soul forever. When the good guys arrive, though, Queen Bavmorda turns them all into pigs. All, that is except for Willow, who is protected by Fin Raziel’s wand and manages to finally turn her back into her human form. Fin Raziel then reverses Queen Bavmorda’s curse and they devise a plan to sneak into the castle. Once inside, a magic battle between Queen Bavmorda and Fin Raziel ensues, but it comes down to Willow to save Elora. Using a disappearing trick, he somehow manages to destroy the powerful queen and save the day. He then returns to his village to a warm welcome, especially from Kiaya.
Willow is better than any of The Lord of the Rings movies. There, I said it. For one thing, it is blessedly shorter. Still, it is not without its flaws. It would seem that George Lucas, even though the film was directed by Ron Howard, could never get out of the “chosen one” plot device. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is basically that in the original Star Wars trilogy, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) is literally called that in the prequels, and we have the same thing with Elora in Willow. It works here, do not get me wrong, but it is not terribly original. Whenever this kind of character is used, particularly in the Western world, the immediate comparisons are always to Jesus. There are some tantalizing parallels. Jesus’ birth had been foretold for centuries, it came at a time of “dread” (though the Gospel of Luke will tell you that the whole world was at peace) within the Roman Empire, and He was destined to bring about a new kingdom. This all fits with Elora and the plot of the film. There is a whole body of literature and thought out there as to the influence of the Messiah on culture. Further, not every story that has a character considered to be a “chosen one” is necessarily meant to draw comparisons to Jesus. At the same time, being such an early example, it is almost inescapable. Do I like to see other types of stories? Of course, I do. At the same time, I will always enjoy seeing a great character triumph over evil, as did Jesus.
In thinking further about Willow, however, there is a bit of a plot hole. For all the talk about the prophesy of Elora bringing about the end to evil, she is more of a MacGuffin. Instead, it is actually Willow that defeats Queen Bavmorda. Then again, it is his movie. This, along with a certain lack of originality with its plot, are my only criticisms of the film. If you are in the mood to watch a fantasy movie, and not willing to see an excessive number of hours waved goodbye to do so, then watch it. It is fun and heartwarming, if a little strange at times.