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Willow’s World: Friendship & Heroism

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The characters in Lucasfilm’s fantasy adventure must look past their differences to find success.

Willow’s World is a series that explores the fantasy realm first depicted in Lucasfilm’s 1988 adventure, Willow. From its diverse peoples and ranging landscapes to unusual creatures and mystical powers, the world of Willow Ufgood and his companions is a complex mixture of light, dark, and the bond between all living things.

As the central hero and namesake of Lucasfilm’s fantasy adventure Willow, the farmer Willow Ufgood has both a humble desire to care for his family and a deep ambition to become a great sorcerer. It’s an unusual combination for a Nelwyn, a quiet people who dwell in a secluded valley on the River Freen.

Smaller in height than most, the Nelwyn live close to the earth tending their fields and mining their hillsides. Few venture out into the wider world, and most are suspicious of outsiders, if not outright afraid. At home, the Nelwyn are a generally happy folk who enjoy music, good food, and a lively festival. Yet it would also appear that their relative isolation can foster superstitions.

When Willow and his family discover a small baby on the riverbank — one seemingly too big to be a Nelwyn — the farmer ultimately decides to take his first steps outside his homeland in order to return the child to her people. The journey, however, will not only put his courage to the test, but also his assumptions about the other inhabitants of the realm.

Like the baby Elora Danan, the roguish Madmartigan is a Daikini, who live across many different lands. In the movie’s novelization by Wayland Drew, Willow explains to his daughter Mims that Daikini are “giants…from up north. They’re terrible! Greedy! Vicious! You can’t trust them…”

Unlike the generally peaceful Nelwyn, Daikini society is ruptured between warring kingdoms. The evil forces of Nockmaar under the command of Bavmorda and General Kael have already laid waste to the city of Tir Asleen by the time of Willow’s story. The brave knights of Galladoorn lead a force against them, though many other Daikini seem to get by on their own with no clear allegiances, the rapscallion swordsman Madmartigan among them. Others may shift their allegiance all together, like the villainous Bavmorda’s daughter, Sorsha, who finds a change of heart.

If Nelwyn and Daikini were to agree about anything, it might be a mutual dislike for another kind, the comparatively miniature Brownies. With an equal penchant for fun and mischief — which to them might very well mean the same thing — they use their nearly invisible size to a distinct advantage. Often causing havoc and mayhem, such as when a group captures Willow and his companion Meegosh, the Brownies emit “high-pitched laughter” and “malicious grin[s],” according to Drew’s novelization.

But despite their irreverence, the Brownies also appear to bear a distinct connection with other mystical beings in Willow’s world. When the fairy spirit Cherlindrea provides Willow further instructions in his quest, the fast-talking, headstrong Brownies Franjean and Rool accompany him the rest of the way. They play a crucial role in the adventure’s outcome, even in spite of what Willow Sourcebook author Allen Varney described as their sometimes “obstinate stupidity.”

Willow’s production designer Allan Cameron would explain that Willow’s own heroic journey is mirrored in the progression of the film. “It starts out very small in the Nelwyn village,” he said. “Gradually, the film advances. It goes through changes of scale.”

The first new thing Willow encounters is the baby herself, to whom he at first responds with fear and prejudice before later admitting his growing affection. Elora Danan helps change the perceptions of nearly everyone she encounters. As a baby with the potential to grow into a woman who can help save the world from darkness, she’s an example of how not to judge other beings too quickly. “Life is life! Life is precious!” as Meegosh says in the novelization.

Willow is an adventure story filled with excitement, wonder, and danger,” said filmmaker Ron Howard, who directed the original movie and is an executive producer for the series, “but it is also about very unlikely heroes and their efforts — both successful and unsuccessful — learning to trust themselves, follow their heart, and do what they believe is right.” They also learn to trust each other. In nearly every instance, the heroes of the story entertain doubts about each other. Only when they look past their differences do they find the means to succeed in their quest.

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