The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance may be perfect nostalgia... because it never acts nostalgic. It’s a gripping fantasy that expands Jim Henson’s iconic world, challenging viewers of all ages with complex themes, horrifying imagery and an environmental message we may need now more than ever. Also, it’s a technological masterpiece.
Netflix’s Age of Resistance takes place “many years” before the events of the 1982 film (the teaser trailer description on Netflix says 50 years, though that’s unconfirmed). The Gelfling are spread throughout Thra as seven distinct clans under a shared matriarchal rule. However, they’re subservient to the Skeksis – a mysterious and seemingly immortal race that Mother Aughra had tasked with protecting the Crystal of Truth, the heart of their world. But the Skeksis have a dark and terrible secret: they’re not protecting the crystal, they’re stealing from it.
For those who’ve seen the film or read the expanded lore, this will all sound familiar. Age of Resistance acts as a natural filler for elements of the saga we’ve already been told, with some changes. But you don’t need to have seen or read this stuff for the show to make sense. It’s totally fine (maybe even better) to come into Age of Resistance fresh, as the show does a good job of filling in the blanks. There’s one scene in particular of two characters doing an expository puppet show, which was not only gorgeous but felt like a great inside joke, that will give newbies everything they need to feel caught up. (If you want more context, I wrote an explainer).
The original Dark Crystal was an achievement in the art form of puppetry. Age of Resistance not only continues that legacy, it builds on it. Every scene is teeming with life, from the smallest critters in the corners of the screen to the large, imposing monsters and machines. The characters aren’t just puppets, they’re living beings. Their ears twitch, their lungs expand, their bodies move and sway with the breeze. There are digital effects, including parts of action sequences, scenic vistas, and some puppeteers who’ve been removed in post, but they never feel like they’re taking away from the practical magic.
The voice acting is also pretty stellar. There’s a huge, very famous cast in Age of Resistance, and all of them have earned their place. Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel as the sweet and earnest Deet was my favorite of the protagonists, and I adored her Podling paladin pal Hup (voiced by puppeteer Victor Yerrid). Some of the actors you’ll recognise right away in their roles, but others were a shock to me – mainly the folks voicing the Skeksis. I was amazed by Awkwafina’s SkekLach and Simon Pegg’s Chamberlain (a dead ringer for Barry Dennen from the original). Mark Hamill was basically Skeksis Joker, and it worked fine, but Jason Isaacs as the Emperor was, simply put, imposing.
The only complaint I have is sometimes the character voices didn’t match the mouth movements. The puppeteers filmed the series before the actors lent their voices and some actors clearly had a harder time than others doing the dubbing work. It’s the downside of not having the puppeteers doing all the voices too, and it’s something you just have to get used to. That said, I’m glad the series credits the puppeteers alongside the voice actors, as it was an equal effort bringing these characters to life.
The Emperor (Jason Isaacs) consults with his fellow Skeksis. Photo: John Wilson (Netflix)
The season centres around the Gelfling uncovering the truth about who the Skeksis are and what they’ve done (which I won’t spoil). Much like Stranger Things 3, the show starts by giving each of our three protagonists pieces of a much larger puzzle that will eventually bring them together. But here, things unfold more naturally. You’re not yelling at the screen for these characters to pick up the phone already. The season is extremely well-paced, with each episode serving an important function. It also makes sense that it takes a while for our heroes to come together, because the Skeksis have cultivated mistrust among the Gelfling, keeping them at odds with each other to hold their power.
The plot might sound like a simple hero’s tale, but it’s much more complicated than that. Age of Resistance deals with some really challenging stuff and isn’t afraid to ask tough questions of its characters and audience. Topics like corruption, greed, class conflict, enablement and turning a blind eye to atrocities as long as you’re not personally affected. This last one is especially impactful, as it has a long history in the United States and still happens today.
Then, there’s climate change denial – you didn’t expect to get through a Jim Henson production without an environmental message, did you? The show’s underlying threat involves the Darkening, a mysterious blight spreading throughout the land because the crystal is out of balance. Without revealing too much, let’s say the Skeksis have a vested interest in sowing doubt about this very real problem, and the parallels to our own rising doom are palpable and clever. I’m sure it could turn off some parents, but let’s be honest: some of them probably weren’t going to let their kids watch this anyway.
That’s because Age of Resistance does not hold back on the scary stuff. Those parts that made the original movie so horrifying for a generation of children, many of whom now have their own kids, are back... and there’s more of them. After all, we’ve got 10 episodes to fill now. Most of the actual gore is kept offscreen, save for a few blood splatters, but it’s made clear every time something fucked-up is happening. Characters are maimed, tortured, even killed. That thing you might remember the Skeksis doing to Podlings and Gelfling, yeah, there’s even more of it. There is no shortage of death and tragedy here – along with the grim reality of what’s to come in the future.
That doesn’t mean this show isn’t for children. On the contrary, I’d argue Age of Resistance is just as much of a family-friendly experience as The Dark Crystal was (Common Sense Media recommends Dark Crystal for kids ages 7 and older). Sure it’s dark, but it’s healthy to introduce complex stories like this to children, just as they were introduced to us when we were growing up. Children are tougher and smarter than we sometimes give them credit for and this is a show that’s meant to be discussed among families, not sheltered from them. Plus, the moments of darkness and pain makes the moments of love, silliness and beauty all the brighter. There are many bright spots to be found on this show.
Brea (Anya Taylor-Joy) examines a symbol in her books. Photo: Kevin Baker (Netflix)
I did not think I would fall in love with The Dark Crystal. It wasn’t something I grew up with. I only saw it for the first time this year, and I never expected the world of The Dark Crystal to become part of my own world. But it has, and so has this show.
Age of Resistance is a treasure, one that starts strong and grows even stronger. The season has what feels like an end, so if Netflix and the Jim Henson Company don’t produce another series, it doesn’t feel incomplete. But I do hope it continues. This is a story unfolding like a book, each episode bringing me further into a beautiful and thoughtful place where talent can be seen, stories can be appreciated and legends are born.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance debuts on Netflix on August 30.
Featured photo: Kevin Baker (Netflix)