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‘Willow’ Film Writer Says TV Reboot’s Process Had “More of a Corporate Feeling” Than Movie

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The screenwriter of the original Willow film is reflecting on the process of making the movie, along with opening up about ways in which working in the writers room of the new Disney+ television reboot didn’t feel as freeing.

Willowthe tale of a humble farmer enlisted to go on a quest to save the world, hit theaters in 1988 — but the idea for the fantasy film had been on George Lucas’ mind even before the 1977 release of Star Wars. Lucas, an executive producer on Willow and credited with writing the story, brought the project to filmmaker Ron Howard, whom Lucas had directed in 1973’s American Graffiti.

Howard, who had helmed such movies as Splash (1983) and Cocoon (1985), turned to Bob Dolman, his collaborator on a failed NBC pilot in the early 1980s, to write Willow’s script. Its story focuses on the titular farmer, played by then-17-year-old Warwick Davis, joining disgraced warrior Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) on a journey to save a baby prophesied to end the reign of an evil queen (Jean Marsh).

Dolman tells The News84Media that Lucas was very involved in the writing process: “George was really hands-on, wanting to go page by page through each draft, talk about everything we were doing and then send me back to do another draft.” He recalls Lucas initially paying him through Lucasfilm until the movie found distribution from MGM thanks to Lucas’ relationship with studio head Alan Ladd Jr., who had worked on Star Wars during his time at 20th Century Fox.

Willow was released May 20, 1988; THR’s review called it “relentlessly flat” but noted that Howard’s “ever gentle but robust directorial touch is always in evidence.” The film made $57 million worldwide ($144 million today), which was below Lucas’ previous hits.

“By George’s standards, it wasn’t quite the movie that he used to make because it didn’t make as much money as Star Wars and Indiana Jones,” Dolman recalls.

But Willow has maintained a cult following, and a sequel series of the same name debuts Nov. 30 on Disney+, with Davis and Joanne Whalley, as warrior Sorsha, reprising their roles from the film. Dolman was part of the writers room for the show, and although he stresses how much he enjoyed working on it and seeing the film’s world evolve, he felt that the new project had “more of a corporate feeling” than he remembered with the movie.

“It felt that the studio was over our shoulder quite a bit — the studio being Disney and also Lucasfilm,” Dolman tells. THR about the series. “They had good input; they had good notes. You have to move a series along, and you have to be involved in it. But I felt like we weren’t left alone enough just to toss ideas around and have the kind of freedom that I had when I was working with George and Ron. And not be worried about whether or not an idea was good or bad, but just trying things out and taking a chance and having the courage to even find a bad idea, knowing that it could lead to a good idea.”

He continues about today’s era: “There are a lot of voices, and some of them aren’t necessarily voices that know more than the people that have been hired. But those voices are heard, and notes are given. In the writing room of Willow the TV series, there was constant input from other sources outside of the room. So it felt to me like we were never really alone in the room.”

Dolman remains proud that he’s part of Willow, and he emphasizes how much he appreciates Davis’ performance in the film and the series. Dolman adds about the movie, “The creative process was a really happy experience, and a lot of that got through onto the screen.”

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A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 30 issue of The News84Media magazine. Click here to subscribe.



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