The most haunting aspect of the original Dark Crystal movie was not the groundbreaking puppetry or high fantasy storyline, but the sense of menace embodied in the ravaged Skekis, the mangled vulture-like creatures that rule over the fictional world of Thra. For those of you who embark on Netflix's prequel series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, you’re going to have to face that same peril and heartbreak again – and, this time, it’s even better than before.
One of the most important aspects of the original Dark Crystal, released in 1982 and directed by master puppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz, is that it never shied away from big, scary ideas despite its young audience. And while we were all left with deep psychological scars, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance follows that same rule. Power, loss, grief, and corruption all simmer under the shimmering, beautiful surface.
In Age of Resistance, the Gelfing - an Elfin race living on Thraa who are split across a number of different tribes - serve the Skeksis, who are the keepers of The Crystal of Truth. All is not well: a sickness called The Darkening is spreading and the planet is dying. The villainous Skeksis, at the peak of their power, are desperate to stay on top and are willing to do terrible things to maintain the current equilibrium. Three Gelflings - Rian, Brea, and Deet, (voiced by Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nathalie Emmanuel) - find themselves tasked with fighting back. And, yes, the Skesis are still hauntingly hideous, their twisted bodies still disturbing, and the finery they parade around in only makes it worse.
Between the internal power struggles of the Skeksis and the rich traditions and divisions of the Gelfling civilization, Age of Resistance features world-building on the scale of Game of Thrones’ Westeros. Thra makes for a rich and complex landscape with moments of beauty blooming amidst war and horror. From the forests and fields to the stark, jagged edges of the Skeksis residence, it's all a desktop wallpaper waiting to happen, and every inch feels inhabited and alive.
The Henson puppetry is so believable, so lifelike, that it's strange when you recognize their voices as coming from one of the many celebrity actors. Alicia Vikander, Mark Hamill, and Awkwafina give their all to the roles, to the point where you almost forget that the Tomb Raider actress isn't actually a Gelfling guard at the Castle of the Crystal.
The first episode sparks a lot of storylines - Rian, Brea, and Deet are all off on their own journeys - and sets in motion bigger events through the political maneuvering of the Skeksis. Fans of the original movie will, of course, know how this all ends, but somehow the show manages to make you excited to see how events unfold anyway. You want to live through it with these characters. One episode in and I felt protective of all the Gelfling, particularly the gentle Deet. She's leaving the safety of the Grottan clan, the smallest tribe and one that lives underground, and I feel like a first-time mother watching her baby go off to school.
There's no doubt heartache and difficult choices ahead for all the characters, but you'll be fully invested from the first few moments, and an expert on the political history of Thra after about 20 minutes. It's exciting to see a huge Jim Henson production again, and it feels like The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is about to be as big for the audiences of 2019 as the original was in 1982.