The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance Is Beautiful And Bittersweet
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance arrived at last. The 10-episode prequel-to-the-movie series premiered August 30 on Netflix, and dramatically expands the world of the original film. Fans have waited over thirty years to see the creatures of The Dark Crystal on screen again. Was it worth the wait? The answer to that question is as complicated as the mythology of The Dark Crystal itself. And don’t worry, there are no spoilers below (at least, no spoilers that the original film didn’t already reveal).
A Long Journey Back to Screen for The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
Credit: Netflix / Jim Henson Company
The possibility of a sequel to The Dark Crystal floated around for years before Netflix picked up on it. Back in 2007, I met the artists behind the puppets for The Dark Crystal at FaerieCon in Philadelphia. Brian and Wendy Froud are the unsung heroes behind many of our childhood favorites (they also created the puppets for Labyrinth, and Wendy Froud, one of the people who saved Star Wars by helping design the original Yoda puppet). Years ago I asked the Frouds about the rumors of a sequel to The Dark Crystal, and they were not hopeful about it. It was a time when the future of all things fantasy looked like CGI. Puppet-masters were no longer needed, and the Frouds ended up shut out of the process. So when I heard that the Frouds (along with their son Toby, who has long been part of the family business since his stint as the baby in Labyrinth) were an active part of the Netflix series, I was elated.
The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance Owes Its Success To The Frouds And The Cast.
The most successful elements of Age of Resistance is due to the outstanding work of the Frouds. Netflix executive Ted Biaselli took a big risk utilizing puppetry and practical effects over CGI. Bringing the Frouds into the production process was the right decision. The art and design of the world of Thra is stunning and immersive. Every part of the world feels real and lived in, true to the original vision of the movie. At one point there is a puppet show to depict the history of Thra. A puppet show within a puppet show? Brilliant!
Credit must also go to the A-list cast of actors who lent their voices to the series. Mark Hamill, Jason Isaacs, Taran Edgerton, Caitriona Balfe, and Lena Headey all imbue their puppets with life and energy. Simon Pegg deserves special recognition for nailing the voice of the Chamberlain. His rendition of this character is not so much an imitation as a near-perfect replication – complete with the signature whine that so many of us remember.
Who Is The Dark Crystal For?
Credit: Netflix / Jim Henson Company
The Dark Crystal was an entry-point into fantasy for many young genre fans. It is ostensibly a children’s movie, produced by the Jim Henson Company, featuring puppets. It is also a dark parable. Themes of genocide, slavery, isolation, and death are prevalent. Derided. However, the core ideas of duality, and a relatively straightforward narrative made it easily digestible for children.
Age of Resistance does not feel like it is meant for kids, even though it is supposed to be. Netflix was clearly banking on 80’s nostalgia in order to draw in adult fans who grew up with the movie. But they also want this to be an epic fantasy series that feels relevant and topical. At times the show resembles a puppet version of Game of Thrones. There is torture, murder, betrayal, dramatic battles, and liberal amounts of gore. Spoiler alert: there is no puppet sex (this isn’t Avenue Q after all). While executed spectacularly, these elements still felt fundamentally off-putting to me. In many ways, the conflicts feel too human, whereas the races established in the original movie felt uniquely alien.
Making The Dark Crystal Relevant To Modern Society
Credit: Netflix / Jim Henson Company
Duality was the primary theme of The Dark Crystal. You cannot have light without darkness. There is no good without evil. No joy without sorrow. Age of Resistance pays some lip service to this original idea, before over-complicating it in a way that is not always successful.
Age of Resistance raises thornier questions about complacency in the face of evil. Central to the plot is the titular resistance against corrupt leaders, and speaking truth to power. This is a great idea in theory, but it makes the struggle between the Gelfling and the Skeksis less nuanced than it could be. Questions arise over the nature of power, who holds it and why they deserve to wield it. In the end that nuance is stripped away to the most basic premise: the Skeksis want to live forever and will do anything to achieve that end.
We enter the world of Thra at the point where the Skeksis discover that they can drain essence from other creatures to bolster their own life force. Never do we see the Skeksis as benevolent rulers that the world claims they once were. Nor do we see how their counterparts – the Mystics – are living in harmony with nature. The Skeksis are power hungry oppressors. The Gelfling are the noble race of beings that suffers under tyrannical rule. This definitely evokes real-world parallels that are fascinating to contemplate. But in the end this lack of nuance makes the plot of the series both convoluted, and overly simplistic.
Will There Be Another Season? Do We Want To Watch What Happens Next?
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance could certainly stand on its own, if we didn’t know that it was a prequel. Perhaps the biggest issue with The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is that the viewers know how it will end. It can be difficult to invest in characters that you know will ultimately fail. We can root for the resistance, for the heroes of Thra. You can buy into the ideas of hope and unity that the series espouses. But we all know that, in the end, the Gelfling race will be decimated. Only two will remain by the time we get to The Dark Crystal: Jen and Kira. They will be the ones to heal the crystal of truth, and the division between Skeksis and Mystic. The protagonists in Age of Resistance will not succeed in that quest.
The Gelfling are a doomed race. That is bitter knowledge to have when we are supposed to be rooting for these heroes to succeed. They may win some small battles, but will ultimately lose the war. This makes the idea of another season daunting. Do we really want to see the genocide of the Gelfling race? Are we ready to see the oppressors win? We know that it has to happen to pave the way for the story told in the The Dark Crystal, but it would be an incredibly depressing story to watch unfold. Also, if they somehow “save” most of the Gelflings, it undercuts the lore of the original film.
Then again, life – death – it is all a circle in the end. We will inevitably come back around to end at the beginning with the events of The Dark Crystal. The only question is whether or not the journey will be worth it.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is available for streaming now on Netflix.
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Featured image: Netflix / Jim Henson Company
Emily O'Donnell is a writer and photographer with roots in some of the earliest online fandoms. She cut her genre teeth on the Wizard of Oz books at the tender age of 6 years old, and was reading epic adult fantasy novels by the age of 10. Decades later, she still consumes genre fiction like there is no tomorrow. She is delighted to be living through the golden age of sci-fi and fantasy popularity. She is unashamed of the amount of fanfiction that still lingers online under her name.