For Willow fans and toy collectors, it was a long time coming. In a surprise reveal at D23 Expo 2022 in September, Super7 introduced its new series of Willow ReAction Figures based on the classic 1988 film — the first Willow toys made in over 30 years. Featuring Willow himself, Madmartigan, Sorsha, Bavmorda, and of course, the skull-masked General Kael, all in a vintage style, it’s almost like the toy line that should’ve been, but never was. With the range available now at shopDisney.com and select Disney Parks, and the new Willow Original series hitting Disney+ on November 30, Lucasfilm.com spoke with Super7 founder Brian Flynn about the sorcery behind this long-awaited line of figures.
Lucasfilm.com speaks with Flynn about making the first Willow figures in over 30 years.
Lucasfilm.com: To start, what’s your own history with Willow and Lucasfilm fandom at large?
Brian Flynn: Well, I mean, Lucasfilm fandom, that answer will take about three days. Like anybody my age, I saw Star Wars: A New Hope. I was actually living at Bitburg Air Force base in Germany, and they played it at the officer’s club. So I didn’t even know what it was. My dad just said, “Oh, we’re going to go watch a movie.” And they sat us down at almost like, a projection screen. And then the movie started, Star Destroyer comes over and it keeps coming over and it keeps coming over and it keeps coming over, and my brain just melted at that point. I was just like, “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!” But that’s the only time I ever got to see it for like, at least a decade plus.
And so, the reality there is that I experienced Star Wars from that point on through the toys and comic books, and the occasional photo book that I had. I think I had the official Star Wars book or whatever. But that was it. So my emotional attachment to Star Wars obviously starts at the movie, but it’s defined so heavily by the actual plastic and die-cast [toys] from the movie, because that was how I relived it forever. Like I said, I didn’t get to see Star Wars again, I would say until like, ‘85 or ‘86.
Lucasfilm.com: Do you think your love of those toys kind of put you on the path to toy maker?
Brian Flynn: Completely, completely. They’re just as relevant as the actual movie itself to me if not, in some ways, even more. So that’s obviously how I end up being the toy designer, I guess.
But in terms of Willow, I saw it when it came out. Anything Star Wars tangential, if you will, [I’d see]. “It’s done by Lucasfilm! It’s got [Warwick Davis, who plays] an Ewok in it!” [Laughs.] Although he is not an Ewok this time. It was one of those things where I went and saw it, it was cool, it was fun, I really liked it at the time. You know, it was like, “Oh, General Kael looks kick-ass.” It’s got a lot of really great set dressing and everything, and it was a good movie.
I didn’t have cable, though, so I didn’t see it again a whole bunch, whereas people that work for me are like, “No, no, no. That movie was on cable every day at three o’clock. Like, I watched that movie 75 times.” I didn’t have that, but it was just a cool thing that was in the world.
Lucasfilm.com: I was like your coworkers, where for me it was a cable movie that I watched over and over again. There’s so much Star Wars in Willow, and I do really appreciate that about it. It was like saying, “Let’s take this and just put this medieval fantasy dressing over it and see what happens.”
Brian Flynn: Completely, completely. Warwick Davis plays Luke Skywalker, you know? It is very much the hero’s journey. But it was just a cool, fun movie, and it had its playful moments, like them going down in the sled and everything.
Lucasfilm.com: So how did the collaboration with Lucasfilm for the ReAction line come about?
Brian Flynn: Ironically enough, or maybe un-ironically enough, they actually reached out to us. Obviously, we had worked a long time ago on the Shogun Stormtrooper, and I think our ReAction Figures are fairly well known within the market at this point. Like, “Oh, this is what these things would’ve looked like had they come out when the movie came out.” In that regard, I think the team over at Lucasfilm, and specifically working on Willow, were like, “Okay, who is right for the brand? Who is right for what Willow does?” And I think they looked at what we were doing and said, “Okay, here’s your peanut butter and here’s your chocolate. Let’s make Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”
Lucasfilm.com: The Willow figure, and the line at large, debuted at D23. How on earth did you keep that a secret?
Brian Flynn: For us, it’s not really that hard. You know, we had a meeting with a couple people over at Lucasfilm. They said, “Do you want to make this Willow product?” We said yes. We started working on it, we submitted it. There weren’t enough cooks in the kitchen to let it leak out, if you will. So it was pretty easy for us to kind of keep it under wraps and keep it a surprise, and then just show up like, “Here it is and it’s finished! Ta-da!”
Lucasfilm.com: It’s nice to be surprised, you know?
Brian Flynn: Yeah. When they announced that they were going to work on a new Willow show, we started getting a lot of requests about — not that we hadn’t had them before — “You guys should work on Willow!” And we just had to kind of go, “Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Yeah. We’ve talked about that.” And then just lay low and then show up with it fully formed. [Laughs.]
Lucasfilm.com: You alluded to this, but the ReAction line is based on that vintage Star Wars toy aesthetic, so there’s something that feels right about Willow figures being made in that style. Can you talk about your approach in designing this line of figures?
Brian Flynn: ReAction Figures are a really interesting study in what was actually made and what does your brain remember was made. And that’s always the fine line that we walk. In the very beginning we were very, very slavish to the original retro figures going, “Okay, if this would’ve come out between ‘77 and ‘80, it would’ve done this. If it comes out between ‘80 and ‘83, it looks like this,” you know, getting into really narrow stuff — like, back half of Return of the Jedi, you start to have contrapposto poses with the legs. That’s when you start seeing pant folds, and breaks toward the ankles show up that don’t show up in earlier figures. And that’s all fine and good, but as a kid, you just remember how awesome that figure was, and it was amazing.
As we’ve worked through ReAction, a lot of it is navigating that fine line between appropriate to the time and the sculpting and the style, five points of articulation, hip locks on the backs so the legs can’t rotate backwards, different thicknesses and solidity in sort of how we sculpt things. But then there’s a level of detail. So if you really take a good look at these Willow figures, you’ll see that those sculpts are much more detailed and much have a lot heavier paint opp than actually would’ve happened at that time. But it’s still sculpted and feels like how you remember it, because it would’ve come out around Power of the Force era Star Wars, but the paint detail is still more elaborate than what you would’ve had at that time. It’s finding those ways to reduce the complexity, but adding the detail and finding that fine line. So when you pick it up, you’re like, “Oh man, this feels, emotionally, just like it would have when the movie came out.” But if you technically pick it apart, there’s parts that are older and newer that we’re putting together to make the right stew of elements to make it feel that way.
Lucasfilm.com: How did you decide on the lineup for Willow?
Brian Flynn: The question was more like, “Can we make as many of these people as possible?” Like, I’m gonna make as much as they’re gonna let me. I keep waiting for them to figure out that I’m just some dork making toys and they’re going to stop letting me do this stuff.
So, obviously, Willow himself. You’ve gotta make Warwick [Davis]. You’ve gotta have him. Then Madmartigan’s a big part of it. Sorsha. General Kael, he’s really, really great. Then, Bavmorda’s your main villain. The baby is the plot movement, so how do you bring that in? Because you don’t really want to make that as a figure. So, at least for us on the line list side, it was pretty straightforward.
You have, basically, these five main characters and then everything else is very much a supporting role. Whether it’s the other sorceress [Fin Raziel], the Brownies, or something like that. Those are really neat, but do you really need them to replicate the storyline? And that’s part of it — how do you replicate the storyline? Here are all the people you need for those pivotal moments within the story. So that’s how we came back with, we’ll make two versions of Willow, one with the baby and one without. Here he is with Elora Danan, here he is without, and then we can have the plot point of the movie, but we can also have a point of difference. [Note: This is also a nod to the original ’80s Willow toy line, which saw similar variants of the title character released.]
Lucasfilm.com: So which figure in the line is your favorite?
Brian Flynn: I’m gonna go with General Kael.
Brian Flynn: Just ‘cause. It’s like, you’re watching that movie and then the skull-faced, evil warlord shows up. You’re like, “That’s my guy!” I don’t know if I want to hang out with that guy, but I like that guy.
Lucasfilm.com: It is such a cool design. I’m hoping that with Willow making a comeback, people will appreciate that design more, because I always loved it. I was always like, “Who is that? That mask is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Brian Flynn: Yeah, it’s really good. I mean, that’s the easy answer. And then I’ll follow it up with Willow, and then probably Sorsha.
Lucasfilm.com: When you debuted the line at D23, what was the reaction?
Brian Flynn: No pun intended.
Lucasfilm.com: No pun intended!
Brian Flynn: No pun intended, hey! No, people were shocked and excited. A lot of people were like, “How do I get all this now?” There was a lot of where we had to stop and say like, “Well, we’re showing all these off, but you can get this one Willow figure at the booth across the way from Disney Parks themselves.” [Note: Only the Willow figure was available for purchase at D23.] So I think the reaction was actually incredibly strong, because as you stated earlier, we kept it completely secret. No one knew it was happening, and then it’s like, “Oh, these are done.” And then the immediate reaction is, “Okay, where can I get them?” “Well, you can’t actually get them yet, but you can get this one over here.” So then it became more of a communication game. [Laughs.] Which is why we’re talking today.
Lucasfilm.com: Right. Exactly. I hope I can help.
So I lived in San Francisco for seven years. Super7, to me, was always a point of pride as this local company that made amazing things. Considering what Lucasfilm means to the Bay Area, it feels fitting to me that you would be the ones to make this series of Willow action figures — the first in over 30 years. And I’m wondering what that might mean to you.
Brian Flynn: Well, first, thank you for the nice compliments. Yeah, it’s always been this interesting sort of intersection where, here we are in the city of San Francisco and Lucasfilm is — they’re two miles away! They’re right over there! But like, how do we work together? And we had worked together in the past with the Super Shogun Stormtrooper. It’s always about finding those places that we can work together, and this was, really, a great opportunity for us to renew that relationship. That sounds very corporate and formal, but it just felt right and it is right. It’s so cool that, literally, I can just drive over and sit down with them and show them something. Then it becomes like two neighbors working on something, which is super cool.
Lucasfilm.com: Just one more question. I don’t know what you can talk about, but might there be more to come from Super7 regarding Willow in the future?
Brian Flynn: We’re really excited about Willow. The fans are really excited about it, and we’d love to be involved in more stuff. There’s a lot of exciting stuff happening.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Super7’s Willow ReAction Figures are available now, exclusively at shopDisney.com and at select Disney Parks (while supplies last) until the new Willow Original series debuts November 30 on Disney+. Following the premiere, the five main figures will then become available to specialty shops. The Willow figure with Elora Danan is a shopDisney and Disney Parks exclusive.
— Dan Brooks (Senior Editor, StarWars.com & Lucasfilm.com)