'Willow' Is A Watered-Down Version Of 'The Lord Of The Rings'

The creator of one of the most epic space adventures of all time also gets to claim credit for one of the silliest sci-fi movies ever created. There are a lot of bad '80s films, but a definite standout is George Lucas's Willow. Lucas wrote and produced this story, which centers around a heroic dwarf named Willow (Warwick Davis) who just wants to be a sorcerer, tasked with protecting a baby from the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) with the help of Madmartigan (Val Kilmer).

It's one of those fantasy films that couldn't find a tonal balance, but that doesn't completely cover Willow's problems. The movie tried to copy the formula established by The Lord of the Rings novels, but while Peter Jackson's adaptation became of the best in the history of cinema, Willow grew more ridiculous in hindsight.

Unlike delightfully dark and strange films like Labyrinth or Dark Crystal, Willow was not destined to become one of the most beloved fantasy movies of the '80s. It was destined to become nothing more than George Lucas's embarrassing attempt at fantasy (and to a lesser extent, Ron Howard, but he was still a young director so he gets a pass).


  • A Baby Is Sent Down A River, Just Like The One Ring

    A Baby Is Sent Down A River, Just Like The One Ring
    Photo: MGM

    George Lucas and screenwriter Bob Dolman replaced the One Ring with a baby, perhaps hoping no one would recognize the paralleled plot device. It might have worked, but putting the child on the river was a mistake, as it mirrors Smeagol finding the Ring in a similar body of water.

    Perhaps Lucas and Dolman deserve a little creative credit, though, as Willow finding the child eliminates the need for a Smeagol character to turn into Gollum, which would have taken up an inordinate amount of screen time. 

  • A Dwarf Finds The Baby And Becomes Its Protector

    A Dwarf Finds The Baby And Becomes Its Protector
    Photo: MGM

    The baby floats down the river to a village inhabited by Nelwyn. The Nelwyn are a group of dwarves, not to be confused with Tolkien's diminutive miners, the Naugrim. There, she's discovered by a farmer/conjurer named Willow (Warwick Davis). Willow takes her in and quickly falls in love with her, essentially adopting her as his own.

    However, trouble follows and a Nockmaar hound attacks the village. The beast was sent by the evil queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh), and was clearly seeking the child. 

    The Nockmaar hound is a clear stand in for the Nazgul, and Bavmorda resembles the dark lord, Sauron.

  • A Wizard Sends The Dwarf And The Child On An Epic Journey

    A Wizard Sends The Dwarf And The Child On An Epic Journey
    Photo: MGM

    In response to the hound attack, the village's wizard, the High Aldwin (Billy Barty), chooses to send Willow and a few companions to return the baby to the humans. Willow is unsatisfied with his lot in life, and agrees to embark on this journey. He and his small friends leave the little farming community to start their adventure.

    Aldwin mirrors both Elrond and Gandalf, while Willow adopts the Frodo archetype. The small town also bears a striking resemblance to the Shire.

  • Willow Is Accompanied By Other Dwarves

    Willow Is Accompanied By Other Dwarves
    Photo: MGM

    Willow's friend Meegosh (David Steinberg) is one of his companions, and they're joined by two other dwarves there to provide comic relief, much like Merry and Pippin. Eventually, Meegosh ends up as Willow's sole associate, and he becomes his Samwise Gamgee. 

  • They Meet A Handsome Rogue Who Joins Their Party

    They Meet A Handsome Rogue Who Joins Their Party
    Photo: MGM

    At a crossroads they meet a capable loner, Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), a carbon copy of the Tolkienian Ranger, Aragorn. Madmartigan joins them, and here the dwarf party splits, which happens earlier in this movie than the Hobbits going their separate ways in The Lord of the Rings. Once again, the filmmakers narrowly dodge excessive similarities between the two stories.

    Madmartigan introduces Willow to his friend, a general named Airk Thaughbaer (Gavan O'Herlihy), who they fight beside later.

  • Their Group Then Attracts More Companions, Forming A Sort Of Fellowship

    Their Group Then Attracts More Companions, Forming A Sort Of Fellowship
    Photo: MGM

    Willow's cadre grows again when Franjean (Rick Overton) and Rool (Kevin Polak), two Brownies (a mischievous race of warriors), are instructed to aid him in his quest given to him by the Fairy Queen Cherlindrea (Maria Holvoe). This entire scene resembles the Fellowship meeting Galadriel for the first time.

    At this point Meegosh is sent home, perhaps to keep audiences from seeing his obvious parallel with Samwise Gamgee. The remaining companions seek out and add the sorceress Raziel (Patricia Hayes) to their group.