Film Review: Willow (1988)

Release Date: May, 1988 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Bob Dolman, George Lucas
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Kenny Baker (uncredited)

Imagine Entertainment, Lucasfilm Ltd., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.” – High Aldwin

I wish that Willow was more beloved than it is. It definitely has its fans but for whatever reason, it never quite reached the levels of popularity that Lucasfilms’ other big properties reached: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

To be fair, I’d say that this isn’t as good as those other two properties but it is still in the ballpark and not far off.

Willow is an imaginative and fun adventure that was one in a string of special effects milestones in the early days of Lucasfilms’ digital effects mastery. This film had a major breakthrough in its use of visual morphing technology.

But apart from the special effects wizardry in the film, it also came to life with its spectacular sets, wardrobe and art direction.

What makes this click on a level much higher than just being a standard blockbuster is the ensemble cast. Everyone in this film is good and fun to watch, as they all felt like they were giving the movie their all, they had good chemistry and they were believable in their roles. I especially like the chemistry between Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, as well as Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, who became my third or fourth childhood crush because of this film. Apparently, she became Kilmer’s crush too, as they met on this film’s set and married shortly thereafter. And they stayed together for almost a decade, which is in eternity in Hollywood time.

The casting of Jean Marsh as the film’s main villain, an evil sorceress named Bavmorda, was a stroke of genius. One, because she is a damn good actress but can really be terrifying. Two, because her appearance in a similar role from Return to Oz was still fresh in my childhood mind when this came out. And I’m sure it was fresh in a lot of kid’s minds, who were scarred for life by the witch with the interchangeable heads.

I’ve really got to tip my hat to Warwick Davis, though. I don’t think that most people realize that he was just seventeen when this movie was filmed. He carries himself like a true veteran and even though he’s not the top billed star, he is the main character of the film, which is also why the movie’s name is his character’s name. Willow is his journey.

I wish that this had led to more leading roles for Davis but I think that was also the intent had this film done as well as the other Lucasfilm tentpole movies. It underperformed, even though it did make a profit, and that’s probably why this didn’t get the trilogy treatment. Granted, there are still talks of bringing the world of Willow back to the screen and there was also a sequel novel trilogy written by Chris Claremont with the plot outlines done by George Lucas.

Willow is one of the best fantasy epics of its time. I think that revisiting it is long overdue and I assume that it’s going to happen, especially with Disney now owning Lucasfilms and needing content for their Disney+ streaming service. And with that being said, I think a sequel television series would actually work better for this property than a theatrical movie.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lucasfilm movies from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Documentary Review: Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy (2004)

Also known as: Empire of Dreams (shortened title)
Release Date: September 12th, 2004
Directed by: Kevin Burns, Edith Becker
Written by: Ed Singer
Music by: John Williams
Cast: George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, Warwick Davis, Frank Oz, Lawrence Kasdan, John Williams, Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie, Alan Ladd Jr., Irvin Kershner, Steven Spielberg, Walter Cronkite

Prometheus Entertainment, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Fox, A&E, 151 Minutes, 120 Minutes (TV Edit)

Review:

“I think George likes people, I think George is a warm-hearted person, but… he’s a little impatient with the process of acting, of finding something. He thinks that something’s there. “It’s right there, I wrote it down. Do that”. You know, sometimes you can’t just “do that” and make it work.” – Harrison Ford

I can’t believe that it’s been fifteen years since this documentary came out. It was the selling point of getting me to buy the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD though, as I had already owned the movies several times over, in all their incarnations, but wanted to have this documentary to keep and rewatch over the years.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen it but it’s available on Prime Video, as well as Disney+ now.

Seeing this again sparked something in me that I hadn’t felt since Revenge of the Sith came out in 2005. It was that feeling of wonder, excitement and childlike awe. Disney is incapable of generating that sensation in me since they took over the Star Wars franchise and honestly, it’s mostly dead to me.

Empire of Dreams brought me back to where I was though from my childhood and into my twenties when I had a deep love for everything Star Wars. But most importantly, this showed me how much better the original movies were compared to Disney’s schlock and the shoddy prequels.

If Disney tried to make an Empire of Dreams followup about their new trilogy, would anyone care? Well, anyone with actual taste that was alive when the original Star Wars phenomenon was still alive and strong? I mean, how interesting would that documentary even be? And do you really even care about seeing any of the modern Star Wars actors and filmmakers talking about these new movies?

Empire of Dreams does a stupendous job of delving deep into the creation of one of the greatest film franchises of all-time. But seeing it with 2019 eyes, it more importantly shows you just how magical the Star Wars brand once was before Disney retrofitted it for an audience of wine moms and broke social justice warriors who can’t afford to buy the merch in the first place.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the original Star Wars trilogy and other Star Wars documentaries.

Vids I Dig 112: Defunctland: The History of ‘Captain EO’

From Defunctland’s YouTube description: Defunctland takes on the troubled 4D, sci-fi, Disney, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Michael Jackson, and Michael Eisner film, Captian EO.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Shattered Empire

Published: November 18th, 2015
Written by: Greg Rucka, Greg Pak
Art by: Marco Checchetto, Chris Sprouse
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Marvel Comics, 123 Pages

Review:

This came out just before the first Disney Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. It was meant to bridge the gap between Return of the Jedi and the new sequel trilogy.

It’s a complete failure of storytelling though.

Does it bridge the gap? Sort of, I guess.

The story follows the events of the Battle of Endor but focuses on Poe Dameron’s mom, a character we’ve never heard of but is suddenly a hero known by everyone, even Luke Skywalker who basically bows before her presence, alerting us of a character propped up as an infallible Mary Sue. And I hate having to go there but Mama Dameron is the exact definition of a Mary Sue character.

Then she goes on an adventure with Leia to Naboo and they meet the current Queen of Naboo. Then there are only three starfighters, so these three women, two of which are fucking royalty, take off into space to fight a fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers all on their own.

This is heavy handed girl power nonsense and a blight on Star Wars, which is why I don’t consider this Disney bullshit to be canon. It’s not that having strong, heroic women is the problem, it’s that they’re thrown into situations that are nonsensical and pointless other than making some sort of social or political statement.

Frankly, Star Wars: Shattered Empire is a prime example of why modern Marvel has been so widely criticized. I like to give each comic a fair shot and look at them as individual bodies of work judged on their own merits but this comic makes it pretty damn clear why the mainstream comic book industry is shrinking and has nealt lost its entire audience.

This was absolute horseshit.

But the art was really good, to be fair.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: I guess the other recent Marvel Star Wars comics and the Disney sequel films.

Comic Review: Star Wars (Original Marvel Years), Issue #108

Published: May 29th, 2019
Written by: various
Art by: various
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Marvel Comics, 48 Pages

Review:

I picked this up on a whim. The main reason was that I used to love reading the old Marvel Star Wars comics when I was a kid, even if they were a bit weird when compared to the rest of the canon Expanded Universe stuff that would come later. And frankly, the EU is still my canon regardless of what Disney says. But the old school pre-Dark Horse era of the comics were a very mixed and strange bag.

This comic really is no different, as far as being strange… as well as being a bit hokey and wonky.

It’s the 108th issue, as the original run ended at 107. But despite its efforts, it doesn’t quite feel the same. It’s kind of like when a modern filmmaker makes a slasher film that is an homage to the ’80s but no matter how hard they try, they just can’t get the tone or the vibe right.

At its best, this is an amusing homage but that’s all it is.

Not to say that this wasn’t a somewhat decent read for its 48 pages, all of which were put together by multiple creative teams. But this could have been a hell of a lot cooler if it didn’t read like a half assed anthology thrown together for a quick buck by artists and writers that had to find time to squeeze in their contributions between deadlines on their regular comic projects.

In the end, I just wish that Star Wars comics were in more capable hands than what Marvel is able to provide. To them, Star Wars seems like a guaranteed success that doesn’t require much effort on their part.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the old school, original Marvel run on Star Wars, which this is a continuation of.