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Defining Moments: Baby on the Riverside

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Is the infant Elora Danan a child of fate or of chance?

“Defining Moments” is a continuing series exploring key scenes or sequences from Lucasfilm’s many productions. It examines storytelling craft, behind-the-scenes insights, and cultural legacies from each selection. Revisit an old favorite or discover something brand new…

Production: Willow (1988)

Audiences familiar with previous Lucasfilm adventures like Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) might’ve been surprised by the opening of George Lucas’ newest release in 1988, Willow. Rather than an action-packed introduction like the flight of an imposing Star Destroyer or Indiana Jones’ perilous escape from a hidden temple, Willow’s opening sequence centered around a newborn baby girl.

Born in the depths of a fearsome castle where her mother is kept prisoner, this baby seems ordinary until the villainous captors discover a strange birthmark on her arm. Though it’s unclear just what the symbol portends, the evil Queen Bavmorda is hellbent on killing the child in some mysterious ritual. It is only thanks to her mother’s self-sacrifice and a courageous midwife that the newborn manages to escape.

Making a dangerous trek across mountains and valleys, the midwife Ethna takes the baby far away with their relentless foes in constant pursuit. After some time has passed, soldiers of the Queen and their terrifying Death Dogs finally catch up near the banks of the River Freen. A heroic Ethna quickly makes a small raft of twigs and grass and sends the baby downstream before meeting a horrific end.

Floating peacefully along the river, the child is seemingly in the hands of fate. Or is it chance? Or perhaps a little of both? Whatever the nature of her odyssey downstream, the little raft soon finds a mooring along the banks of a humble farm. There she’s found by Willow Ufgood’s children, Ranon and Mims, who along with their mother Kiaya instantly take a liking to the girl. Willow, by contrast, is nervous about the mysterious appearance and fears it could lead to trouble.

The baby’s arrival on the riverside does mark the beginning of tumultuous change in Willow’s life. Though he’s reluctant at first, his growing compassion for her leads to a great adventure. It is only later that he discovers the baby girl is named Elora Danan, and is in fact a child of prophecy, destined to become a great empress who will lead her people to freedom.

This element of Willow’s story would become increasingly familiar to Lucasfilm audiences with the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999) over a decade later. During that adventure in a galaxy far, far away, Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and his companions happen upon a seemingly ordinary boy on the desert world of Tatooine. Thoughtful and compassionate, nine-year-old Anakin Skywalker lives enslaved with his mother. But in spite of this tragic existence, Qui-Gon senses unusual potential in the unkempt, ingenious boy, and becomes convinced the child is the embodiment of a prophecy to bring balance to the Force.

It’s interesting to consider that the appearance of fateful children like Elora and Anakin in Lucasfilm stories came after George Lucas had begun raising children in his own life. From the selfless midwife Ethna, to Willow and his family, and later Madmartigan and Sorsha, Elora Danan can’t help but inspire love and affection. Through her own endearment, she effects change in those around her.

As we’ve explored previously, seemingly chance meetings between characters can set great events into motion. These events rely on individual choices, like when the infant Elora decides she likes the sometime farmer and wannabe sorcerer, and Willow decides to go on a quest to save her.

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