It’s been almost forty years since Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s The Dark Crystal hit theaters in 1982. The magic, the imagination and the soul of the Gelfling and Skeksis in the original movie has continued to tell the story of what happened before the original, in the prequel series on Netflix: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.
When I first heard this project would be coming to Netflix, I literally jumped inside with excitement. I didn’t know what to expect, but was more than thrilled to hear that there would be more of the story that I had loved so much as a kid.
The original story
For a bit of background to those unfamiliar, The Dark Crystal is a story focusing on the world of Thra, which to some might be translated as life and the afterlife, or even the soul of all creatures in the world of the Dark Crystal.
Many years ago, alien beings came to the world and made an impression both good and bad. There were the Skeksis, giant, bird-like creatures that promised to care for the crystal that overlooked the world and the Mystics, sacred beings and watchers that were connected to the Skeksis.
The Skeksis, entrusted to watch the all-powerful crystal, used it’s immense power for seeking to rule with an Emporer and drew from its life-giving force. Due to their misuse, the crystal cracked and a shard of crystal fell from the original, which also led from its turning from crystal clear to a dark purple.
The Skeksis continued to rule with the patriarchal emperor and enslaved many of the world’s creatures to include the Podlings, small human-like beings, and the Gelflings, elf-like people that lived all over the world and celebrated Thra.
In the original, two lone Gelflings, Jen and Kira struggle to find the lost shard of the crystal and return it, in hopes to restore order and peace to the Thra.
The story of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
I was nearly jumping out of my chair when I discovered ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ was coming to Netflix. I also nearly screamed out loud when I discovered it was going to be a series. I had set aside some time over the weekend to watch so I could review it, then shortly realized it wasn't one movie, but a 10-part series. I was going to have to settle in for a nice bit of binge-watching.
It was one million percent worth it.
The story follows the previously untold story about the seven clans of the Gelfling. More specifically, regarding Deet a young girl Gelfling from the underground and cave-dwellers and Rian, the young warrior-in-training Gelfling who seeks to fight against the ominous Skeksis.
From an Indigenous perspective, the story of struggle is a familiar one. And the backstory of the original Dark Crystal makes its impression as to how incredibly detail-oriented and passionate Jim Henson and Frank Oz were about the stories that came to the world.
In other words, the creators of this series, which included the daughters of Jim Henson, had a lot of background material to work with.
The patriarchal Skeksis versus the Indigenous society of the Gelflings is a struggle that begs to be discussed
Once freely visible to all creatures in its world, the Crystal has long had the castle of the Skeksis constructed around it.
The Skeksis have drawn the life force from the Crystal to cater to their own selfish desires for power, dominance and everlasting life for many thrine (years). The Gelflings, who were once considered equal to all life in Thra, have been answering to the Skesis for so long as the sacred caretakers of the Crystal - they just believe that's the way it has always been. Thus they do the bidding of the Skeksis - who go by such names as the Emperor, the General, the Chamberlain, Scientist and the Scrollkeeper - with few questions.
The Gelflings believe the Skeksis are the rulers of the land and give annual tribute to them. After many years, the Gelflings lose their way.
The Gelflings believe they must continue to do the bidding of the entitled Skeksis. Instead of realizing the Skeksis are taking advantage of the situation? The Gelfings turn against each other.
It’s not until the Dark Crystal breaks down and is no longer able to give life force to the Skeksis, and the Scientist learns to arrange machines around the Dark Crystal in order to drain life essence from Podlings and Gelflings, that some of the Gleflings realize, the Skeksis are not caretakers, but takers.
This Indigenous story is all too real. The Dark Crystal does an excellent job of portraying an Indigenous people, such as Native people, or Celtic cultures that have so often fought against patriarchal oppression.
There could be room for concern that the Dark Crystal might “cartoonize” or make a parody of the Indigenous struggle, but there is real death in this series, real Gelfling blood, and real ugly truths when some of them realize the Skeksis are not looking out for the best interests of those they rule.
There is a lot of room to discuss how Indigenous people might turn against each other when faced with a patriarchal society, and how when they come together there is real power in the unity they can obtain.
Is this appropriation of culture? Perhaps this is best posed as a question to consider than a statement. It is a topic worth discussing, to say the least.
But perhaps most importantly is taking the time to recognize an inspiring story about the matriarchal society of the Gelfling who must unite to face the patriarchal dominance of the Skeksis.
Overall thoughts about The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance and some comparisons to the original 1982 The Dark Crystal by Jim Henson
The series is magic. The series is enchantment, imagination, beauty and an all-encompassing immersion back into the world created by Jim Henson. I enjoyed it immensely.
If I had to offer any critique, and I have no right to assume what Jim Henson might have said, but I would suspect he might tell folks to slow down just a touch in a few moments and invest in a little more conscious thought. There are very few moments where I feel this way, but I would offer a few moments to ponder as food for thought:
If you compare The Dark Crystal original to The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, I would ask the creators to compare the moments when the Skeksis are eating at the feasts. In the original, there was a bit less frenzy - as they might pause to look at their food, take a bite, chew it and revel in the moment of over-indulgence.
While in the Netflix series, some brief moments like this are glossed over and perhaps a bit over-generalized. It is the subtlest measure of critique, but I am writing it because I noticed it.
There are similar moments with the Podlings and even the Gelflings. These are the most minor of moments, yet I wonder if Jim Henson might have noticed it, and corrected it.
There is one scene in the series of ten episodes, that I can’t go into too much or less I would reveal a spoiler, that was so magical, it literally took my breath away. I can only imagine that Jim Henson and Frank Oz would be standing on their feet applauding. There was a scene in which two main characters in the Dark Crystal world use puppetry to tell a story. It was one of the most magical moments I have ever witnessed, it was quite simply, perfection.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance was beautiful, fun, sad, troubling, frightening and a beautiful tribute to The Dark Crystal world of Thra.
The series introduces a new generation to the world, who will certainly want to rush and watch or re-watch The Dark Crystal. I certainly did.
It doesn’t take away from The Dark Crystal, it adds to it. And I think that would be the best part about it all to Jim Henson.
If you haven’t seen it yet. Sit down with some comfortable clothes or pajamas, and get ready to dive into the world of the Gelfling, Podlings, Skeksis and so much more.
Follow the #NativeNerd, Vincent Schilling, associate editor for Indian Country Today
Twitter at @VinceSchilling
Instagram at @VinceSchilling
Vincent Schilling is a certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/vincent-schilling/movies
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org