Little is currently known about the series, but there are some things we can reasonably assume:
- The series will take place several years, if not decades, after the original film.
- Warwick Davis will undoubtedly reprise his role as the heroic Nelwyn, Willow Ufgood.
- Elora Danan will probably be one of, if not the, main protagonists of the series.
- It’s unlikely Val Kilmer will be able to reprise his role as Madmartigan, but it is plausible that Joanne Whalley could return as Sorsha.
Beyond that, the series could go in any direction. Unlike the Star Wars sequel trilogy, there’s significantly less lore and expectations surrounding the series, giving Kasdan and his writers’ room a near blank slate with which to tell their story.
But I’m not here to speculate. I’m here to explain why the Disney+ series needs to use the Willow sequel novels, The Chronicles of the Shadow War Trilogy, as its sourcebook.
And if you never heard of The Chronicles of the Shadow War, don’t worry you’re not alone.
George Lucas was directly involved with the Willow novels
I became fascinated by George Lucas’s “other” sequel trilogy about two years ago, in part because I wanted insight into what kind of stories Lucas might have told had he directed the Star Wars sequels. Much like the seminal Thrawn Trilogy did for Star Wars, these novels feel as if Lucasfilm was testing the waters for interest in more Willow stories. But whereas Lucas was generally hands-off with the development of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, he was directly involved crafting Willow’s next chapter, and is listed as a co-author of Shadow Moon—alongside legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont—and has a “story by” credit for Shadow Dawn and Shadow Star.
The books have become increasingly hard to find and, frankly, aren’t very good; in fact, they might be terrible. Claremont’s prose is clunky, rambling, and frequently impenetrable. The plot is convoluted and confusing. And worst, the surviving characters are completely unrecognizable from their film incarnations. But despite that and other really questionable story choices, within these novels are some incredibly inspired ideas that the Disney+ series should use as inspiration.
The books are super weird
Shadow Moon begins innocently enough, with a prologue picking up a year after Willow saved the infant Elora Danan from the evil sorceress, Queen Bavmorda.
Willow is living with his family in the Nelwyn Vale when he dreams of a dragon taking him to visit Madmartigan, Sorsha, and Elora at Tir Asleen, where Willow is inexplicably given the name “Thorn Drumheller.” When he awakes, a catastrophic event known as the Cataclysm has ripped the world asunder and killed a majority of the film’s supporting cast, including Madmartigan and Sorsha.
What’s worse is that the Cataclysm occurs completely offscreen between the prologue and first chapter.
The novel then jumps ahead thirteen years, with the world still recovering from the Cataclysm. Willow has gone into self-imposed exile, abandoning his family and his name—now going by Thorn Drumheller—to travel the world in hopes of learning the cause of the Cataclysm. (If that sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. Lucas’ plans for Willow are extremely similar to his plans for Luke Skywalker, which ultimately ended up being used in the Star Wars sequel trilogy.)
Meanwhile, Elora Danan, having miraculously survived the Cataclysm, has grown up to be an overweight brat.
And then the story gets… weird.
With all three books clocking it at just under 1500 pages total, it would take too long to explain all the bewildering and bizarre creative turns Lucas and Claremont take in this trilogy; choices that often feel completely off-brand for both creators. And thanks to Claremont’s clumsy prose, those jaw-dropping decisions don’t resonate until hundreds of pages later.
One of the most cringeworthy decisions occurs roughly midway through Shadow Moon, when a desperate, imprisoned Thorn–remember that’s Willow’s name now–agrees to help a Demon (dialogue in bold) implant the consciousness of its child into the mind of a comatose woman.
To come to Be in this place is to be imprisoned as I was. That, I will not permit. For your life and freedom, I require the same for my child.
His head shook of its own volition, eyes flashing from the body before to the heart of darkness beyond.
“No,” he said. “I cannot. I will not. That is an abomination!”
Does not the one gift balance the other?
“She had a life and being all her own, you have no right to steal it!”
Both life and being are gone, wherein is the harm in using what remains? (Lucas, Claremont 197)
…Yeah. A whole lot of yikes.
At first blush, the series reads like standard fantasy fare, with a (literally) silver-skinned Elora fighting the evil, shape-shifting entity known as the Deceiver.
But what makes the Shadow War novels truly unique is the major twist that occurs toward the end of second novel, Shadow Dawn:
Mohdri raised his head, only it wasn’t his head any longer. The Deceiver’s mask had been torn away.
What Elora beheld was her own face.
Older, so much older, skin touched with gold instead of gleaming silver, hair the vaguely remembered shade of strawberry blond. Not so ready a smile anymore, and lines etched deep wherever lines could go. It was a face that had never known physical hardship or privation, whose fiercest struggles had always been on the battlefield of the soul. Win or lose, she had paid a terrible price.
It’s a lie, Elora wanted to say, desiring more than anything to shout it to the highest point of the heavens. What else to expect from a creature called the Deceiver?
Yet it explained so much. Knowledge that no one else could have, and the power over Elora herself came with it. The ability to anticipate events: a small surprise if they had already happened to her at some point in the past.
Their eyes met, across an expanse of sand.
“You’re not me,” was what finally emerged.
“If I fail,” her older self replied, “I am.” (Claremont 506)
The Deceiver isn’t just the trilogy’s main villain… She is a future Elora from an alternate universe who travelled back in time so she could “fix” the past and in doing so caused the Cataclysm.
For all of the novels’ flaws—and there are so, so many—this reveal radically reshapes the narrative. It’s Willow’s “I am your father” moment merged with the visuals of Rey versus Dark Rey.
As presented in the novels, this twist feels like a game changer, a plot point that makes you want to go back to the first book and look for clues you might have missed. After slogging through over a thousand pages of prose, it makes you excited about what could happen in the final chapter in the trilogy.
I’m not going to lie to you. The third book, Shadow Star, is easily the worst of the three. Claremont’s prose is so incomprehensible that even though I read the book last year I don’t remember a single thing that happened beyond the “something about dragon eggs.”
The themes and story points would make for a great TV series
This might not sound like a ringing endorsement for the story told in the novels, and to be honest, the story as presented in the novels is some of the worst fantasy I’ve ever read. But, in the right hands, Willow and Elora’s war against the Deceiver could be a mind-bending mix of Fringe and Game of Thrones.
Willow’s rise out of the darkness could be a powerful story of redemption akin to Luke Skywalker’s emotional arc in The Last Jedi. And Elora’s struggle to accept her role as the world’s “Chosen One” against the Deceiver’s benevolent motives would keep the audience on their toes. Is Elora our hero? Or is the Deceiver? The added aspects of time travel, alternate futures, and parallel dimensions would make the Willow sequel series a unique fantasy adventure, one full of surprises and unlimited storytelling opportunities. Plus, there’s something incredibly exciting about structuring an entire narrative around a protagonist literally facing her darker self.
Let’s just hope they don’t include Willow putting a demon children into the mind of a comatose women.
Featured Image: Lucasfilm