Kasdan chats with ET about why Madmartigan is, for now, only referenced in the eight-episode series on Disney+.
Warwick Davis has returned as Willow Ufgood in a new series on Disney+, following decades of producer George Lucas and director Ron Howard’s fantasy adventure slowly acquiring a devoted cult fanbase. The series showrunner, Jon Kasdan, explained to ET’s Ash Crossan how he picked up the legendary Nelwyn’s story over 30 years later, why Val Kilmer could still yet reprise his role as Madmartigan, and how Enfys Nest became one of the Star Wars universe's most beloved characters.
Speaking of lovable mercenaries, Kasdan details his first meeting with the titular star and conversing with Howard on the set of Solo: A Star Wars Story, where he revealed himself to be one of those devotees and spoke his eight-episode season into existence. In fact, when asked whether Willow’s return would have happened if not for the Han Solo prequel, Kasdan firmly replies: “Not at all.”
“It's a very weird thing, because that was a hard shoot,” he recalls of Solo, which faced a directorial turnover mid-shoot, with Howard replacing original co-helmers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. The shocking change in leadership, according to Kasdan, who co-wrote the movie with his father and prolific screenwriter, Lawrence Kasdan (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Big Chill), required cast and crew to “have patience and embrace what was clearly a long and arduous process.”
Kasdan added, “But in the middle of it, what emerged for me was this close friendship with Ron and this kinship specifically about Willow, which I loved and he had spent a career of having people come up to him and say, ‘I love that movie.’”
To celebrate Willow’s two-episode debut, Kasdan shared a selfie he took behind the scenes on Solo with Davis, who quote tweeted the message and joked that he thought Kasdan was a “crazy fan” who snuck onto the set (Howard, who’s an executive producer on the series, retweeted this exchange).
“The first moment we met, I sort of said, ‘I want to make this happen,’” Kasdan remembers. “And [Warwick] sort of looked at me like: ‘Is this the guy?’ It was a little bit like, ‘I've heard it before, young man.’ It's a common refrain, because people love the movie and filmmakers love the movie.”
Around the premiere of Solo, Kasdan was already boasting his fan credentials, pointing out how the Corellian Hounds chasing Han were directly inspired by Willow’s similarly ferocious Devil Dogs. “[Willow has] always been one of my favorites and I grew up on it,” he says. “[Ron] knew that I felt this way and that I was one of those people and I was a good person to talk to about potentially continuing this story.”
And that story is a personal one for Howard. Willow not only marked his first collaboration with Lucasfilm at the time, but it was a full-circle moment between him and Lucas, who previously cast Howard in his seminal classic American Graffiti. Together, they crafted the story about a fantasy-based medieval period and an amateur sorcerer heeding the call to adventure after coming across an abandoned child, Elora Danan, who appears to be wanted by the magical realm’s worst of the worst.
“I think what really did it, for all of us, is that we really had a point of view about what that story could be and how to make Elora and the people around her vivid and real like Willow,” Kasdan says of those early discussions.
In the series premiere, a recap montage (helpful for fans old, new and completely unfamiliar, alike) recaps events from the original 1988 film and provides an overview of what’s happened since Elora’s rescue. The story picks up with familiar faces (Joanne Whalley also returns as Princess turned Queen Sorsha), descendants of familiar faces (Sorsha and Mardmartigan’s children, Kit and Airk), and a handful of new characters who round out the brand new batch of misfit heroes.
In addition, the debut immediately addresses Kilmer’s on-screen absence, explaining that Madmartigan had long-since vanished and teasing that his mysterious disappearance would play a pivotal role in the stories to come. In fact, while plans had been in the works to have Kilmer be part of the series -- and soon after his celebrated return as Iceman in one of Top Gun: Maverick’s most touching scenes amid the actor’s fight against throat cancer -- but production obstacles forced producers to table the idea, for now.
“I went to visit Val in Hollywood at his studio,” Kasdan explains. “And he could not have been more up front and game and ready to come be a part of it. I told him right then that the sort of quest of the season would involve the search for him. And when we got to shooting and we sort of dug in in Wales and it was really hard to get any of our American cast out, we simply pushed that story back a little further,” adding that the opportunity would always exist for Madmartigan to “be waiting down the road.”
The two characters most likely to pick up that future side quest are Kit (Ruby Cruz, Mare of Easttown) and Airk (Dempsey Bryk, Black Mirror), who were both handed down trademark qualities from their father. Kit is a warrior at heart, while Airk is also quite the swordsman and clearly inherited his father's romantic charm (fans might also clock the hair style similarities between Airk and Kilmer’s portrayal of Jim Morrison in The Doors).
For Kasdan, it was obvious early on that Kit should take up the mantle left by Madmartigan. “[It’s] a theme in a lot of stories that I like, where we go in search of our parents and find ourselves a little bit,” he says, adding his excitement for Cruz’s casting. “Instantly, we knew that what [Ruby] had was not an imitation of Val, but the same kind of originality and sort of buoyancy that he brought to the movie, [which] she could bring in her own way to the series.”
Another familiar face, at least for Kasdan and Davis, is Erin Kellyman, who plays Kit’s devoted friend and sparring partner, Jade. The role marks her third under the Disney umbrella, following Kellyman’s sympathetic villain, Karli Morgenthau, in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and resistance fighter Enfys Nest in Solo. “In a way, of all the things in Solo, Enfys Nest is kind of the purest continuation of George's legacy,” Kasdan figures. “Because it's so brief and so economically done, yet communicates so much emotion and pathos and humanity behind this fierce girl.”
Four years on and many Star Wars TV spinoffs on Disney+ later, Enfys Nest has yet to be seen again, but Kasdan hints both the character and Kellyman’s popularity could potentially lead to another appearance in the ever-expanding galaxy far, far away.
“Everywhere I go, people tell me [Enfys Nest is] an element they love. Even within Lucasfilm, there are people who passionately would love a Cloud-Rider show, so you never know,” Kasdan offers. “It’s a good time to be someone who is a fan of stuff, because there's opportunity to tell those stories.”
Circling back to Willow, Kasdan says no concrete plans were made for his story to continue past one season, but notes that this new chapter was crafted to be agile after it concludes in January. “My sort of love of what's happening in television is that we're getting longer-form stories, but they are really stories with a beginning, and a middle, and an end that can be satisfied and conclusive,” he says. “I would love to do a couple of more years, but we wanted to create a show that could be satisfying at the end of this season, satisfying at the end of next season. And beyond that, whatever comes our way we'd love to finish it.”
Willow debuts new episodes Wednesdays on Disney+.