Willow's Jon Kasdan on How Its Recent Cameo Came to Be

What have you been thinking of the Disney+ sequel series so far?

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Warwick Davis as Willow in the 2022 sequel series.
Image: Disney/Lucasfilm

Before the release of the Willow sequel series for Disney+, showrunner Jon Kasdan had stated that the show would take some time in putting Val Kilmer’s character of Madmartigan from the original film on screen. (Kilmer, it should be said, has had throat cancer in 2015 and has undergone chemotherapy and two tracheotomies since then.) The show has taken steps to make sure that the character’s presence is felt throughout the series, though, thanks to archive footage from the 1988 film, and also through the recent appearance of Christian Slater as Allagash, a close friend of the hero who crosses paths with the show’s young heroes.

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This past week’s episode, “Prisoners of Skellin,” manages to bring back Kilmer’s character in a different way. As Allagash and the teens look for a magical artifact inside the tomb of Wiggledoom, Kit (Ruby Cruz) hears her father Madmartigan’s voice calling to her from somewhere inside the tomb. He doesn’t make a physical appearance, as he’s trapped in either Skellin (or another dimension that Skellin leads to), but it’s looking as though getting him out of there will serve as part of the drive for the season’s final two episodes.

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As far as how the show brought Madmartigan to vocal life, Kasdan revealed that it was a combination of a few things, with two of them being that they recorded Kilmer’s performance, and that of his son Jack. (He narrated the 2021 documentary Val, and apparently has an “uncanny match” for his dad’s voice, according to Kasdan.) Jack’s voice was taken by Lucasfilm sound designer David W. Collins and then blended with Sonantic, which uses AI to generate the voice of a real person.

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The use of AI tech in Willow is coming at the same time as there’s been a larger conversation about the place of the technology in the art community. Many in who work in art as it pertains to the entertainment industry aren’t exactly enthused at ArtStation and Kickstarter taking a “well, let’s wait and see approach” to allowing art made by the technology to exist on their platforms. It’s particularly egregious since AI art is just made from art that was made by human creators who know how to accurately draw hands and fingers.

As for Disney specifically, this isn’t their first rodeo with AI. James Earl Jones signed away his voice to an AI firm back in September so Darth Vader’s vocal performance could never truly be lost, and that technology was also used for Mark Hamill’s Luke Skywalker in The Book of Boba Fett. It was strange then, and it’s weird here—and that feeling of AI being iffy to use from a business and creative standpoint may just never truly go away.

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