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‘Cobra Kai’: Why Ralph Macchio Revisited ‘Karate Kid’ Character After 30 Years

Ralph Macchio said that he resisted any attempt to revisit “The Karate Kid” until the producing and directing team of Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg and Josh Heald made their “convincing” pitch to him.

“I said no for 30 years for a reason,” Macchio said at the New York premiere of YouTube Red’s “Cobra Kai.” “The legacy should stand on its own, unless it’s really smart.”

“The creators had such a great vision, and a unique angle into the ‘Karate Kid’ universe,” he said of the television revival. “It was fresh and original. ‘Karate Kid’ for these guys is like ‘Star Wars.'”

The series, which premiered at New York’s SVA Theater as part of the Tribeca Film Festival, follows the adventures of Macchio’s character Daniel LaRusso and former rival Johnny Lawrence, played by William Zabka, now a maintenance man struggling for direction in life. The two characters were first introduced in the 1984 film “Karate Kid.”

“They really wanted to pay homage to the legacy and the nostalgia and respect the tone of what the film was,” Macchio said. “Being that they wrote the ‘Harold and Kumar’ movies and ‘Hot Tub Time Machine,’ they knew how to write for the now, younger generation. It infuses both. It’s going to make the fans happy.”

Macchio promised the series would pay tribute to his sensei Mr. Miyagi, portrayed in the original films by the late Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, noting that it “was very important” to him before he signed on. “His essence is peppered throughout the series,” he said. “I think we all wish we had that human Yoda, whether we were 16 or 56. That’s part of the arc and journey of the adult Daniel, still drawing on that.”

During a post-screening panel with the stars and producers, Zabka recalled how the trio of producers, who had gotten to know him after he made a cameo in “Hot Tub Time Machine,” went out for chips and salsa and pitched him on their idea for the series. Before the screening, Hurwitz told Variety that he felt Zabka’s character was the key to updating the series.

“We wanted to explore the topic of bullying while having the most iconic bully of all time at the center of it,” Hurwitz said. “You always think when you’re in high school that there are guys who are jerks that you hope to never see again, and years down you get to see what happened to Johnny Lawrence. Can he turn his life around? Can he be a better man than he was than he was a teenager?”

The series finds Lawrence reopening the titular dojo to train a new generation of students, including Miguel Diaz, played by Xolo Maridueña.

“I didn’t think it was going to be such a big deal. I was going over the script with my mom and she said, ‘You know what Cobra Kai is, right? It’s the “Karate Kid,” you idiot!'” Maridueña admitted. “It’s so close to her, growing up in the ’80s. It opened my eyes to how much this meant to others, so I really wanted to carry that torch on for a new generation.”

“Cobra Kai” airs May 2 on YouTube Red.

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