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Ron Howard isn’t all that surprised that a Willow sequel now exists in the form of a Disney+ series. After all, Willow mastermind George Lucas always believed that a TV series would be the optimal way to expand the world of Willow, and the idea has been kicked around ever since Lucas and Howard collaborated on the latter’s 1988 film.
In retrospect, Howard credits Lucas and Willow for teaching him how to helm effects-heavy films on a larger canvas. He also learned a great deal about narrative, especially when writer Joseph Campbell came to visit Lucas during the development of Willow. Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces served as the foundation for all of Lucas’ mythological narratives.
“We wound up around George’s [Lucas] dinner table, telling [Joseph Campbell] the entire story of Willow, and so he told us the origins of the myths that we were borrowing from,” Howard tells The Hollywood Reporter.
With the first season of Willow now in the books, Howard is still awaiting word on a second second, as the season-one finale’s mid-credit framing device alluded to Willow having a three-season plan.
“Well, there’s always been a hope and a plan for more seasons. There’s certainly more story to tell, but there’s nothing concrete that I can comment on right now,” Howard says. “From a creative standpoint, everybody is energized. Everybody loved working on Willow. It felt like it found its voice and its footing, so we’re just standing by.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Howard also gives credit to series creator Jonathan Kasdan for his contemporary take on Willow, before addressing the future of his Solo: A Star Wars Story characters.
Well, is it still hard to believe that a Willow sequel now exists?
(Laughs.) Well, there’s something about it that has always seemed somewhat inevitable to me. It’s something that George [Lucas] always really believed in. He thought a series was the right way to further develop the world and keep it alive. It was in books, but he always believed that a series would be a great way to explore the world that was launched by the movie. And then when [Lucasfilm boss] Kathy Kennedy was involved, I began mentioning it to her as something that I’d love to be a part of and work on. So that conversation continued on when I came in and began working on Solo.
There were always fans who wanted a sequel, but did it take the creation of Disney+ for the conversation to truly happen?
With Disney+, we finally had the environment that would support the show in a very cinematic way. You could benefit from the work that the movie had done and take it further thanks to digital technology and all that provides us in terms of special effects. So it’s not something that you could necessarily do on a network or cable budget, Game of Thrones aside. But the other thing is that the world has endured. The idea of Willow as a character has just grown over the years, generationally, and the combination of Disney+ wanting to be ambitious, needing to do more and this undercurrent of support made it seem like a good bet for them.
And Jon Kasdan also had a great take on it. He was able to walk into our meeting with a point of view about how to take the world further and broaden the evil in the landscape and look at characters beyond Willow. He had great instincts about who the next generation of adventurers and significant central characters would be and what they would look like.
Did you have any prerequisites or wishes of your own for the series?
[Screenwriter] Bob Dolman, myself and George built the original movie around character humor and relationships, interfacing, interacting, coping with and navigating the magical and fantasy aspect of the story. So we wanted the series’ characters to be really relatable in a kind of contemporary way, as the movie had been, and to upgrade that. So it had to be about these relationships, and in a series, you can service more relationships.
You’re spinning 25 plates at once, usually, so when did you pick your spots with regard to this series?
I worked a bit on the early story phases. Jon would ask me to come in, and he’d pitch. I’d also get on a phone call, react to a script, watch a few early cuts and offer some comments about the early dailies. It was just them asking, “What do you think?” and then me telling them. Once in a while, I’d have a comment or suggestion to offer, and so did Bob Dolman in the early days when he came in and worked on it for a while. It was fun and exciting because none of us wanted to do something that looked like a rehash or felt nostalgic. We wanted to build on the foundation of the movie, with some integrity, and that was also in Jon’s mind from the beginning.
But Jon is that age. I could tell when we were working on Solo that he’s just a fan. He was one of those kids who saw it in the movie theater, and then really watched it over and over again, first on VHS and then on DVD. He just absorbed it all in, and I’ve recognized this across his generation and others.
Is there a dialogue happening currently about Willow season two?
Well, there’s always been a hope and a plan for more seasons. There’s certainly more story to tell, but there’s nothing concrete that I can comment on right now. From a creative standpoint, everybody is energized. Everybody loved working on Willow. It felt like it found its voice and its footing, so we’re just standing by.
Willow was your sixth film, and every film likely provides lessons and takeaways that inform your approach on the next film. Do you recall what you carried with you from Willow?
It was a really important building block for me. It also really deepened my friendship and relationship with George Lucas. It was two-and-a-half years. He was my director on American Graffiti, so I stayed in touch with him and he was a very helpful mentor as I evolved into a filmmaker. But here I was really working with him. This was his vision, and I was trying to realize it as best I could. He was encouraging me to engage as well, and that’s where a lot of the humor and the tone of the relationships comes from. Of course, Bob Dolman contributed a lot, too.
I often say that I came into it as an experienced filmmaker. My post-grad work was done, but Willow was the PhD, because this was big-screen cinema. I really used the canvas in a fuller, richer way, and I learned a lot from George, not just about visual effects, but composition, editing rhythms and narrative. He’s such a student of classical narratives.
We had a chance to sit with Joseph Campbell and his wife [Jean Erdman], and actually tell him the story at a point. He wasn’t brought in for this purpose; he was just visiting George Lucas. But we wound up around George’s dinner table, telling him the entire story of Willow, and so he told us the origins of the myths that we were borrowing from.
My favorite moment in the film is when Willow falls in the snow and Madmartigan (Val KIlmer) picks him up and places him on his shoulders. Warwick Davis’ recollection is that it was all improvised, so is that also how you remember it?
Yes, Val could just do that. He absolutely did it, and it was wonderful. They had great chemistry together, and it was fun for me to reconnect with Warwick on Solo. He didn’t have a large role in Solo, but he was also behind the scenes helping with a lot of the robots and doing some performing himself. So, Warwick and his family were around the movie a good deal, whether it was on camera or just helping, creatively.
Well, I have to tell you that your recent quotes about a Solo sequel not being a “Lucasfilm priority” have caused me a great deal of pain and distress because I really love that movie.
(Laughs.) Thank you.
Is Disney+ an option at all? As Willow and Andor prove, it’s a place where Lucasfilm can take chances.
I’m not a producer on Solo. I came in in support of the project and for my long relationship with George, Kathy and Larry Kasdan. So I have not even been in conversations about it. One would assume that there’s some characters there that could go much further, but I’m not sure where Disney+ is going with the Galaxy. These shows are not only important to everybody who works on them, but they’re a big bet for the company each and every time. They make their choices really carefully, and they want to keep growing and evolving. So I know that’s not really an answer, but there’s a real appetite to understand where Star Wars can take audience members to, in addition to building upon characters and ideas that are already known. But there’s a lot of talent in Solo, and whether I was involved or not, I would love to see some of those characters again.
Things get complicated with legacy characters like Han and Lando, but if nothing else, I just hope that one of the existing shows can find a place for Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra. A female crime boss who quietly helps the Rebellion is just too good to waste.
Qi’ra is pretty interesting, yeah. There are a lot of question marks swirling around her, so I would love to see that, too.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorite films of the last decade, Rush. I still think about the scene where Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) roughs up a reporter in defense of Niki (Daniel Bruhl). Have you felt the appreciation for that film grow over the years?
I really have. I felt a lot of appreciation for it at the time, not so much in North America, because F1 [Formula One] hadn’t quite clicked yet. And so we did only okay at the box office, but the reviews were great, so it was very gratifying. Internationally, it immediately had a place in contemporary movie culture, and thankfully, the F1 community really embraced it. So, ten years later, I can still get pit passes anytime. (Laughs.) It’s just fantastic.
Lastly, in 1981, my folks — before they were technically my folks — bumped into you guys in Kapalua Bay, Hawaii, and my mother said hello to baby Bryce [Dallas Howard] in a stroller. Well, I ended up telling Bryce this story a couple years ago and her head just exploded. She then returned the hello to my mom four decades later.
Well, that is cool. I remember that trip well. We don’t have that many Hawaiian vacations in our family history. I seem to work a lot. (Laughs.) But that was a good trip, so send another hello back to your folks.
Willow is now streaming on Disney+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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