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Ron Howard on His Return to the Realm of Willow

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The executive producer of the series talks about directing the 1988 film that started it all, the enduring legacy of the comedic fantasy, and its recent comeback.

Ron Howard had already won acclaim as a producer and director of Apollo 13 among other films when he stepped into the Academy of Achievement in 1997. The conference for academically gifted high school seniors spoke to interests ranging from science to government to athletics, and Howard was on the guest list to talk about the entertainment industry. “George Lucas was there, as well,” Howard tells “In fact, Kathy Kennedy was there, too.”

And yet every time Howard was pulled into a conversational aside with the talented young students, they didn’t want to discuss his work on Cocoon, Parenthood, or the real-life drama of the space race. “That generation really only wanted to talk to me about Willow.”

At the time, nearly a decade had passed since Howard had directed the Warwick Davis-starring film about the eponymous sorcerer, one of Lucas’ creations. “And I talked to George about it,” Howard recalls. “And he said, ‘This is why we’re continuing with the books. And we should do something more with Warwick Davis. We should do something with the world.’” But his instinct always was that it should be serialized. He felt like television was the place.”

Flash forward to 2017 when Howard was brought on to direct Solo: A Star Wars Story, five years after Lucasfilm was acquired by the Walt Disney Company and during the latter stages of preparations for the launch of the Disney+ streaming service in 2019. Fueled by his close working relationship with Kennedy, now at the helm of Lucasfilm, and Jon Kasdan, the future Willow series creator who was then co-writing the Star Wars standalone film’s script, the idea of a continuation of Willow’s story gained traction. “Jon was of that generation that just really dug the movie [Willow] and played it over and over again, wore out the VHS and moved on to the DVD,” Howard says. “And slowly but surely, in and around the lighting setups of Solo, I began to see that he had a real point of view about how to update it and how to advance it, not just in terms of dealing with the next generation of characters and what to do about Elora Danan and where she’s been and all of that. But also, how to expand on the evil, expand on the threat, and what the dark magic could mean.”

Howard was impressed by Kasdan’s passion and knowledge. Most importantly, the writer understood that the core of the Willow universe, like other Lucasfilm projects, required levity and humor mixed in with relatable characters and high-stakes adventure. “He’s funny, and humor always was so central to the charm of the movie,” Howard says. “It was always a character comedy in our minds and George’s, as well. And I thought with a series you could have more relationships and Jon could find ways to make the fantasy feel present and real, so it’s not tongue-in-cheek, but lets those characters feel relatable and humorous and entertaining in a contemporary way.”

The first season of the series is earnest, joyous, and fun, a mix of high-fantasy story elements and heart, as reflective of today’s society as the original was a mirror to the world of 1988. And just like the film, it continues to blend cutting-edge technological achievements — the movie has the distinction of creating the first morphing shot, the product of Industrial Light & Magic’s own wizards — with characters who are courageous and comedic. “Going back to the original, it’s always about trying to find who you are and the hero’s journey,” Howard notes. “Is Willow a sorcerer? Is Madmartigan a rogue or is he a hero? Who is Sorsha? How does she fit in? Where does she fit in? In our minds, those were always the question marks around the movie. Using adventure, magic, and fantasy to test yourself, to be tested, to ask questions of yourself and, in a kind of an organic way, reveal who you are, how you feel, and what you stand for.”

Although he didn’t consult Lucas on the project, Howard says the film’s creator was happy to see the story continue. “He was glad we were doing it, largely out of affection for and belief in Warwick.” 

And the series quickly gained popularity after its premiere in November. Just before the Christmas holiday, Howard says a bartender in Dublin, Ireland, was passing him a pint of Guinness when he paused. “He said, ‘Before you drink this, I just want you to know I’m loving Willow.’” Like those students more than two decades ago cornering Howard to chat about the film, once again he found himself in conversation with a fan who just wanted to talk about Willow.

As for a potential second season, nothing’s been confirmed, but Howard says Kasdan has a plan for more chapters. “I know where it could go, and it’s great,” Howard says laughing. “I won’t say any more than that, but Jon didn’t want to embark without knowing the destination. He thinks of it as a finite epic tale and this is an early portion of that. It’s been great to work on. And you know, I’d love to see us do more. We’re all standing by. We’ll see!” 

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