Warning! The following contains spoilers for Cobra Kai Season 3. Read at your own risk!
Cobra Kai Season 3 featured many surprises and, while the return of Ali Mills Schwarber was telegraphed in Season 2, it may have been the most surprising at all. At least, that much I've gathered from my conversations with the series's co-creators, who said they had no idea that Elisabeth Shue would join the show when they first teased her way back then.
Cobra Kai co-creator Josh Heald told me in our conversation about Season 3 that while Elisabeth Shue's return as a guest star was a welcome one, it was not a sure thing when they first teased her character. Heald talked about the tease in Season 2 and what the team's goal was in filming that tease to begin with:
When we shot that moment of Johnny throwing his phone on the beach and the camera finds that Ali Mills Schwarber accepted his friend request, we did not know that Elisabeth Shue was going to return. We certainly hoped she would! That was a little bit of a flare being shot into the sky to say we’re over here.
Cobra Kai's team threw up a "bat signal" of sorts to get Elisabeth Shue's attention and, lucky for the Netflix original, Shue answered the call. Ali Mills came back to town fresh off a divorce from her husband and met up with Johnny to reconnect and talk about their lives since high school. Her return isn't just key in helping Johnny move on from his past heartbreak for a new shot at love, but it's fair to say her involvement eventually helps play a part in putting Daniel LaRusso and Johnny back on good terms.
So while Elisabeth Shue's appearance is relatively short in comparison to the length of the season, it's fair to say a good amount of groundwork for Season 4 hinged on her appearance. With that in mind, one had to wonder what would've happened had Shue not joined the series for Season 3. I asked Josh Heald if contingency plans were in place had Shue turned them down and, to put it simply, Season 3 wouldn't have been the same without her:
Not really. We talked kind of jokingly about a couple of contingency plans, but none of them were actually real enough that would pack that kind of emotional punch that we knew was necessary to bring Ali back at this time. To have something else that becomes a catalyst for that moment would’ve felt inauthentic, and we would’ve had to start chipping away at what we had to do at the end of the season. It would’ve been us going back to the drawing board to figure out other ways in how the season culminated. Thankfully we were able to share our passion and have her back in this universe and it was truly amazing.
The fact that Ali Mills' return was given such weight to move the story ahead for the central characters certainly showed the love the Cobra Kai team has for The Karate Kid's classic characters and perhaps why they've snagged many past actors from the franchise in three seasons. Elisabeth Shue wasn't the only actor from the original franchise to reprise their role, as Season 3 also featured Yuji Okumoto's return as Chozen and Tamlyn Tomita as Kumiko.
Cobra Kai snagged many former Karate Kid actors for Season 3 and between all three seasons, has featured a staggering amount of character returns. As far as how the co-creators continually manage to snag these names, Heald inferred the success is rooted in the passion he and the crew have for the source material:
We tend to lead with our confidence that the karate gods will continue to smile upon this project as they have in the beginning. We write with real earnestness and a passion for the original material that hopefully doesn’t fly in the face of what anybody hoped their character is who they were. We try to make it a very inviting scenario for anybody from the original franchise to want to put back on that character and step back into the universe.
Cobra Kai has successfully brought in many characters from The Karate Kid, but there are still more to welcome. One major get would be actress Hilary Swank, whose breakout performance as Julie Pierce in The Next Karate Kid played a role in her rise in Hollywood. The verdict is still out as to whether the show will get her or others who still have yet to appear, but it seems the "karate gods" haven't shunned them yet.
Cobra Kai Season 3 is currently available to stream on Netflix. Continue to stick with CinemaBlend for all the latest happenings in the series and more news in television and movies.