Rewatching the 1988 movie Willow scene-by-scene. Why? Because it’s freaking Willow! We check in on our villains, and it’s the first appearance of General Kael, 22:36-24-44 on the Blu-ray.
We begin with a shot of NockMaar Castle, with no other buildings around it. This movie often references huge cities and vast kingdoms that we never see. NockMaar Castle appears to be both the seat of government for NockMaar, while simultaneously acting as a border fort, protecting the kingdom from outsiders. Perhaps this system is to make it easier for the queen to visit with foreign dignitaries. Or, perhaps this one of many castles within NockMaar. We don’t know.
We then see the castle interior, a dark brick hallway lined with torches. Bavmorda and Sorsha stand in the center of the hall. Bavmorda tells Sorsha she didn’t ask for a dead nursemaid. With over-the-top anger, Bavmorda tells Sorsha, “You’re useless!” Sorsha is all business, though, saying her men are tracking the nursemaid’s trail, and are still in pursuit of the village. This maybe explains how the Death Dogs found their way to the Nelwyn village. Two huge doors open at the far end of the hall, and Bavmorda says “General Kael, at last.”
In walks General Kael, filling the screen with his suit of armor, cloak, and skull-faced helmet. The skull appears to not be human, but that of some kind of animal. He says, “My queen, I have destroyed the castle at Galladoorn.” A few scenes from now, when we meet the character Airk, we’ll see the fallout of this battle. Bavmorda says, “Well done,” adding she has another task for him. He is to help her daughter to find “that tiny, helpless baby that continues somehow to elude her.”
Then Kael lifts up the skull face on his helmet, revealing himself to be a man, and not some inhuman monster. (This is probably also so the audience doesn’t think he’s a total ripoff of Darth Vader.) He does some exposition speak, asking “The baby of the prophecy? The one that will destroy you?” Bavmorda won’t have that, saying “I need that baby alive.” Then she does some exposition-speak of her own, saying she must perform a ritual to “exile the child’s spirit into oblivion.” How much of this sentence is literal and how much is hyperbole, I cannot say. We’ll see this ritual later in the film. Bavmorda then adds an extra-dramatic “Find her!”
Sorsha says she doesn’t need Kael’s help. Bavmorda says, “You will do as I say, child.” She then makes a motion with her right arm, but her hand is below the screen, so we can’t see what she’s doing. Whatever it is, it makes Kael smile slightly. Sorsha puts on her clunky black metal helmet and marches out of the room. Note that throughout all this, we see she has a quiver full of arrows on her back. Sorsha did the redheaded female archer thing way before Katniss and Merida made it cool. General Kael follows her.
Bavmorda’s druid advisor says to Bavmorda, “I’ve seen the signs. I fear your daughter will betray you.” Bavmorda responds with an uncalled-for insult, “I trust her loyalty more than I trust yours.” I’ve been researching all week, and I can’t find any background info on this character. His name in the credits is just “Druid.” All we know is that there are good druids named the Senkadi, and evil druids named the Brithemain. He’s obviously one of the latter. The question is whether he saw “the signs” using genuine magic, or if he could just tell this after seeing Bavmorda trash-talk her daughter. This could be his version of “the bones tell me nothing.”
Critics of the movie often argue that Bavmorda is a one-note villain. The tie-in books respond by giving her a lengthy and detailed backstory. A native of the kingdom of Tir Asleen, Bavmorda developed great magical powers at a young age, as well as an aptitude for evil scheming. Bavmorda’s chief rival since childhood was Fin Raziel, a sorceress whom we’ll meet later in the movie. When Raziel got engaged to Mikal, a prince of Tir Asleen, Bavmorda used magic to seduce the prince and make him obedient to her. She married Mikal, and worked her up through the royal family, eventually overthrowing and then destroying Tir Asleen. Now known by the moniker “the Demon Queen,” Bavmorda then conquered the kingdom of NockMaar, formerly a wild land made up of criminals and barbarians. With these ruffians serving as the NockMaar army, Bavmorda wages war against the two remaining free kingdoms, Galladoorn and Cashmere.
As for General Kael, we know that he is in command of the entire NockMaar army, with Sorsha being second in command. The novelization gives us a little insight into Kael’s thoughts. When he’s wearing the skull mask, he believes himself to be invincible. When not wearing the mask, he feels like a weary old man, overwhelmed by a lifetime of death and violence. This is important to remember when we get to the final battle. Behind the scenes, General Kael was allegedly named after film critic Pauline Kael. I say allegedly because it appears the filmmakers never did go on the record to confirm this. Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer have joked about this in interviews, but I doubt they’re the ones who came up with the name.
There’s also a lot to say about Sorsha and her backstory, but I’ll save that for upcoming scenes.
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