‘Willow’ Creator Jonathan Kasdan Talks the Series’ Origin and the Case for More of Emilia Clarke’s ‘Solo’ Character
The filmmaker also looks back at one thing that haunts him from his ‘Star Wars’ movie: “It was a problem that I was eager to retcon in a sequel.”
In December 2015, Jonathan Kasdan was in attendance for the WGA screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and he overheard Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy tell a quick little anecdote that would ultimately get the ball rolling on his Willow series.
Kasdan knew right away that Elora Danan (Ellie Bamber), the central and infantile figure of Ron Howard’s 1988 film, was the way into a legacy sequel of sorts and that a series would have to account for the future empress that was prophesied to unite the various kingdoms in the Willow-verse.
“I was sitting with my father [Lawrence Kasdan] and Kathy [Kennedy], waiting for the WGA screening of The Force Awakens. And Kathy told a story about George [Lucas] and how George had mentioned to her that … he would love to see … more Willow stories,” Kasdan tells The Hollywood Reporter. “She meant it kind of casually and probably didn’t give it much thought at the time, but this eagle-eared listener perked up instantly because I’d grown up on Willow.”
Kasdan is also well aware that there’s an appetite among fans to see more stories told in relation to 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, which he co-wrote alongside his father, Lawrence Kasdan. Last year, Emilia Clarke told THR that her femme fatale Solo character, Qi’ra, is still the one character of hers that she’d most like to revisit. But at the moment, Kasdan is in the dark about any plans to resume the world of Solo, be it as a feature or a Disney+ series.
“I don’t honestly know. I’m always afraid to ask Kathy because she can see right through me. She can see my desire to tell more stories there,” Kasdan says. “But in recent months, I have been intrigued by the wonderful Werewolf by Night as a potential form of storytelling … So I would love to see Lucasfilm embrace a short-form novella version for telling some of their stories. That certainly seems like a place where future stories about those characters could live.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Kasdan also discusses Val Kilmer’s beloved Willow character Madmartigan and the inspiration that Kilmer’s Top Gun: Maverick scene has provided.
So in relation to Solo, when did Willow start to gain steam?
The moment that it first started to gain steam actually predated Solo. I was sitting with my father [Lawrence Kasdan] and Kathy [Kennedy], waiting for the WGA screening of The Force Awakens. It was the same night that the movie came out, so it was a crazy night for all of us who’d spent some real time on that thing. And among many other things, Kathy told a story about George [Lucas] and how George had mentioned to her that something he would love to see happen in this Disney age of Lucasfilm was more Willow stories. She meant it kind of casually and probably didn’t give it much thought at the time, but this eagle-eared listener perked up instantly because I’d grown up on Willow.
And from that moment on, I thought that as long as I was involved with these guys, this was something I was going to try to see if it could happen. But truthfully, the stars aligned during the making of Solo. I got involved with Warwick [Davis] first, then Ron [Howard] came into the picture and together we were able to get the momentum needed to get something going. But the real catalyzing moment was when Disney+ was born. Suddenly, there was a place for it to live.
You’ve had a front row seat to a few franchise revivals and legacy prequels/sequels, so what were some of the key lessons you applied to Willow?
That’s a great question, and I have a really honest answer for you. What’s demanded of these movies now is an idea that’s easily communicable as a reason for it to exist. And for me, that reason was Elora Danan [Ellie Bamber]. Willow the movie was sort of the Elora Danan story. She was this baby at the center of it who’s told she has this incredible power. And from when I saw the movie at [age] eight, more than anything in the Lucas oeuvre, it suggested more stories to me and that I would see that empress matriculate into a leadership role by the end of what I assumed at the time would be three epic movies set over two decades. So this always seemed like one that was just pregnant with possibility to continue, and it’s a shame that it didn’t because Ron and George had so beautifully rendered the world of Willow. They’d done it as beautifully as George had rendered the world of Star Wars and Indy.
For my money, Val Kilmer is a part of the best scene of the year in Top Gun: Maverick. Has that movie given you guys any food for thought regarding Madmartigan?
Not only did it give us food for thought, but my executive producer, Tommy Harper, was the executive producer of Top Gun: Maverick, so he worked with Val then. I had already met Val when we were setting out to do this thing. We’ve been talking pretty consistently every day of our lives about how to bring Madmartigan back and how that character can continue to live within the Willow universe. And much of the first season asks the question of what happened to Madmartigan. And when there was a real shot at getting him out to Wales during our first season, we had a very specific moment when that question was going to be answered. But when it became clear that we weren’t going to get him out there because of the restrictions that Covid was putting on all of us, we simply pushed the question a little further down the road and continued to build it out in ways that we thought were tantalizing and fun.
Most specifically, we added this old member of his team that felt like he would fit into this sort of Madmartigan school of scoundrels, and the only person we wanted for the part was Christian Slater. And you can imagine my shock when Christian Slater was like, “Absolutely. Sign me up, give me a sword and I’ll kick some ass.” It was one of the most exciting moments ever. And then Christian reached out to Val, and they had some communication. So there was a real sense of family and community around it, and also with Joanne [Whalley]. Joanne and Val have two lovely children together. So this universe exists because of him and because he was that hero for our generation.
So I’m a big fan of Solo, and I’ve been wanting to run a theory by you for years. Was Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) the one who was leaking intel, such as the train heist, to Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman) in hopes of freeing herself from Crimson Dawn or grabbing power from Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany)?
It’s a great theory. It was not what we were thinking exactly, but I’ll tell you the biggest problem that has always haunted me about Solo. I’m going to reveal the writer’s nightmare right now. If Dryden Vos [Paul Bettany] is so concerned about exposing his gang in the [Kessel] heist, why does he send his most trusted aid [Qi’ra] to be the most visible member of the team that steals the coaxium? It seems to me that he’s going to have to kill her almost immediately just to separate himself from that job. So it always drove me crazy, and it was a problem that I was eager to retcon in a sequel.
Qi’ra was really caught off guard when she first learned that Han was working with Beckett (Woody Harrelson). The camera even shows her doing the math on screen, and I always imagined that moment as her realizing her leak could’ve killed Han during the botched train heist.
Before I got involved and before anyone was involved, my dad was really passionate about creating a different kind of femme fatale in the Star Wars universe, someone who was sincerely morally ambiguous. Qi’ra had grown up very hard, she’d had a life that forced her to become a survivor, and she was going to have to make tough choices that Han [Alden Ehrenreich] couldn’t quite make. Even in the final moments of his life, Han was always going to be undone by his humanism and his heart, but Qi’ra was on the other side of the line.
So what I thought Emilia brought to it wonderfully is that she’s not evil or duplicitous. She’s a survivor and she’s maneuvering through all these different powerful entities to get to the end of the game. As the years have gone by and there has been more Star Wars, my enthusiasm for doing more Solo has waned only because there’s so much great Star Wars out there right now. But the thing that I would love to revisit is the relationship between the two of them, because there’s so much fun and complexity to be found in the relationship between Han and Qi’ra.
At the very least, it’d be a real shame to not see Qi’ra again. Are you somewhat optimistic that Disney+ can create a path for her?
I don’t honestly know. I’m always afraid to ask Kathy because she can see right through me. Despite all my resistance, she instantly sees right through me, and she can see my desire to tell more stories there. But in recent months, I have been intrigued by the wonderful Werewolf by Night as a potential form of storytelling on Disney+. So I would love to see Lucasfilm embrace a short-form novella version for telling some of their stories. That certainly seems like a place where future stories about those characters could live.
Willow is now airing on Disney+. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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