Willow Showrunner Jon Kasdan On Imbuing The Show With A 'Spirit Of Adventure’ [Exclusive Interview]

Released in 1988, "Willow" was an epic fantasy film from the mind of George Lucas. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, it had an '80s adventure sensibility while being set firmly in the world of high magic and fantasy. Although it wasn't particularly beloved by critics at the time, it's developed a devoted cult following over the years.

With many fans of the film being put in positions of creative power, it was no surprise to find that Lucasfilm would be developing a sequel to the beloved classic. Jon Kasdan, co-writer of "Solo: A Star Wars Story" (alongside his father, screenwriting legend Lawrence Kasdan), had many conversations on the set of that film with folks like Ron Howard, George Lucas, and Warwick Davis about the property and found himself in a position to shepherd the project at Lucasfilm. He took on the title of showrunner, and put the wheels in motion that will give us this eight-episode sequel series. Ahead of the show's premiere, /Film spoke with Kasdan about his inspirations for the show, the differences between working on "Willow" and "Solo," and more.

'That Trailer Was Absolutely The Reason We Did That'

"Willow" really captures a modern sensibility, but an '80s fantasy tone. There are so many touchstones to '80s adventure, not just your father's work, but across the gamut of the '80s. What were those touchstones for you as you were developing this show?

There's so many. You get to the heart with that question. Those movies are so beloved for me and for all the filmmakers associated with developing the show. To give you an example, I had a producer named Max Taylor who I worked with pretty much every day on the show. And I don't think one of those days went by where we didn't reference "Ghostbusters II" as a stalwart. Like, the plot of "Ghostbusters II" being a point of reference for us in nearly every element of making this show.

It's just because those are the movies we grew up on, and those are the devices and the versions of executing those tropes that we loved, and [we] wanted to service that. You want to get the experience you feel you had of watching trailers as a kid and those big action moments in trailers that you got in movie theaters. For me, it was the "Cliffhanger" trailer. It was stuff like that, that spoke to me about a spirit of adventure and a desperate need to be there Friday night at 8:00 PM for whatever I was going to get to see. That has really sort gone away for me a little bit in the culture, just with -- first of all, how much we get before the movie comes out, how much other stuff there is when you're in that opening weekend. So we wanted to capture a little of that feeling of just anticipatory popcorn excitement.

Speaking of trailers, it's interesting you mentioned that because I have this vivid memory of the "Willow" teaser trailer that was on nine other VHS tapes that I had. And the color palette and the way it looked feels like stuff that you all actually got to put in the show.

Very intentionally. I mean, that trailer was absolutely the reason we did that. In my geek brain, I thought, "Well, what if there was some omnipresent, sort of omniscient intelligence behind the telling of this story? And even when they conceived that teaser trailer in 1987 or whenever it was made, they foresaw a distant episode where you would get to actually go to that place?" And that was exactly what I wanted to do and evoke and hope to keep doing.

A Tale Of Two Properties

You've worked for Lucasfilm on two different huge properties, "Star Wars" and "Willow." With "Star Wars," the canon feels a lot more locked down and "Willow" has a few different options in what had come before, and I'm wondering how it differed and what your experience was in that regard.

What's interesting is there's a similarity. First of all, I mean the connective tissue there, of course, is Pablo [Hidalgo], who is the keeper of those things, and the one who most elegantly dances between what is canon and what is legends and all of that. But I had a conversation with Pablo at the beginning for this very reason and said, "Listen, let's talk about the 'Shadow Wars' novels and how they figure in the canon." And he was very clear with me. He said, "These are books that were been written sort of previously to coming to Lucasfilm. Chris [Claremont] was looking for someone to publish them. There was an opportunity at Lucasfilm to publish fantasy. It felt like with some very minor alterations, it could fit as a continuation of the "Willow" story, but the sort of fantasy that George and Chris were sitting in a room hashing out where Elora's story would go is exactly that -- a fantasy."

And he relieved me of the burden of feeling like I needed to be beholden to those novels. And at that point, I felt like we weren't. But beyond that one thing, we tried to stay very faithful to everything that was written around "Willow," because there's so little. We had this source book for the RPG game. That's a wealth of great trivia and world-building stuff. We have the novel that was in an era when novelizations were real -- as they still are -- but this was a real art form at the time and expanded the story in meaningful ways. And then we had all the stuff that was cut out of the movie. So we treated all that very seriously and we needed to be loyal to those elements of the story.

We've got to wrap up, but I just want to end by saying I hope you can make "Solo 2" happen and maybe an Enfys Nest show.

Well, certainly you're not the only one who would gladly step into an Enfys Nest show and [Erin Kellyman]'s amazing. And I couldn't be a bigger fan.

"Willow" premieres on Disney+ on November 30, 2022.

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