Last week Matt tackled the 1982 film The Dark Crystal, one of the most impactful movies of my childhood, right up there with Stand by Me, Labyrinth, and the hundreds of action movies I devoured in the 80s and early 90s. I could easily overstate The Dark Crystal‘s importance in my life because as much as I am a fan, I’m not diehard enough to have sought out the various comic book and novelization follow-ons. I do have some Brian Froud art books because I like those, but I never felt like I needed more from The Dark Crystal than was presented to me in the film.
I still felt that way when Age of Resistance was rumored to be in production a couple years ago. I figured it’d be some CGI laden crapfest seeking to “correct” or “update” elements of the story that didn’t really need correction or updating. Then some trailers dropped, demonstrating that not only was this not some hackneyed bullcrap remake in the typical Hollywood fashion, but was in fact a true-to-form prequel that didn’t seek to upend what had come before.
Following on the heels of Stranger Things, which isn’t a remake of anything in particular but a loving homage to 80s action sf/horror movies with kid protagonists, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance seems to have captured everything that was great about intellectual properties from the time period while updating them for an audience used to more sophisticated visual and audio production. The original The Dark Crystal aged pretty well considering its nature as a puppet and matte painting vehicle, but that wasn’t going to fly in exactly the same way. The same is true with how Stranger Things uses practical effects augmented and supplemented with competent CGI rather than supplanted by them (Although I really like the Marvel superhero flicks, I’m not sure how well those will stand the test of time as the CGI will likely look outdated in 10-15 years). This seems to be a common theme with the best of the film properties coming out today, properties like John Wick and Mad Max Fury Road.
In any case, Age of Resistance is more than just a loving homage. It’s actually a prequel. I have complaints about prequels for properties where we as viewers know the end of the story, especially for a story like The Dark Crystal where we know that the Skeksis have all but destroyed Thra leaving only two known Gelflings alive and decimating the rest of the sentient life on the plant. There’s room to tell competent stories about what happened before, but filmmakers run the risk of being too hamstrung by later concrete facts of the story or else providing unnecessary or inconsistent details that undermine the original. I’m thinking primarily here about Rogue One and Solo, both from the Star Wars film universe. Rogue One did pretty well in theaters, but Solo did not, and neither of them are exactly lighting strong fires for the fan base to rally behind. There are segments of the population who have glommed onto one or the other, but they don’t really overlap and those segments are also noticeably not the whole population that loved Star Wars. The Lucas era prequels had the same problem, but to a much lesser extent, and likely because we weren’t at peak Star Wars saturation in 1999 the way we are now.
Age of Resistance could have suffered from those same problems, but it manages to fight against that exceedingly well. This is partly because the time period during which the events of the story happen isn’t made explicitly clear. Unlike Rogue One or Solo, when Age of Resistance takes place isn’t clearly defined. The last episode doesn’t lead directly into the events of the film the way Rogue One leads directly into A New Hope, nor is it clearly during the lifetime of the movie’s protagonist, as in Solo. Although there are prophetic flashes that includes bits from the film, there’s no telling exactly how far into the future they are occurring.
So all this analysis aside, what is the series actually about then? At the start of the first episode the Skeksis are the rulers of Thra, and the subservient Gelflings are actually split into several different clans who all are subservient to one Gelfling queen, the All-Maudra. Unbeknownst to the Gelflings, who largely consider the Skeksis to be benevolent, or at least aloof, overlords ensuring safety and security, the Skeksis have actually been siphoning off energy from the Crystal of Truth in order to maintain their fantasy that they are immortal. However, the corruption of the Crystal has weakened it to the point where it no longer provides the life-sustaining energy the Skeksis need. So the Scientist has developed a new method of gaining energy, by exposing subservient living beings to the corrupted Crystal and draining the “essence” out of those creatures, which is then distributed as a sort of potion of life to each of the Skeksis. A group of Gelfling, led by one of the main characters Rian, stumbles across the Skeksis ritual chamber, and one of Gelfling, Mira, Rian’s girlfriend, is caught and sacrificed to the Crystal while Rian watches from hiding. He runs away and tries to warn the Gelfling leadership, but the Skeksis, who spotted him shortly after the draining, have already planned to undermine his authority by claiming he’s sick and deranged. Rian is left an outlaw from his own people and has to find a way to get them to believe that the Skeksis are actually evil.
That’s about as much plot as I’m willing to divulge here, spoiling essentially only the first half or so of the first episode. Suffice to say there’s a lot more going on with political machinations, explicit racism on the behalf of the various clans of Gelfling, and a deepening corruption that spreads even outside of the knowledge of the Skeksis themselves.
I deliberately didn’t look up any of the plot lines or actors or anything until after finishing the first season, so it was with some real surprise that I saw so many big name Hollywood actors associated with the project. For starters, Rian, one of three main focus characters, is voiced by Taron Egerton, fresh on the heels of his successful roles in both the Kingsman movies and as Elton John in the Rocketman biopic. Anya Taylor-Joy, who starred in my favorite horror movie in recent memory, The Witch, voices Brea, one of the daughters of the previously mentioned All-Maudra. The All-Maudra herself is voiced by one of my wife’s least favorite actresses (and one of my favorites) Helena Bonham Carter.
I’m just going to spit out the rest of the names of the excellent cast here because there are just too many to list all their characters and backgrounds. In this cast are *deep inhale* Nathalie Emmanuel, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Eddie Izzard, Caitriona Balfe, Toby Jones, Lena Headey, Alicia Vikander, Mark Strong, Natalie Dormer, Theo James, Jason Isaacs, Benedict Wong, Mark Hamill, Andy Samberg, Keegan-Michael Key, Awkwafina, Harvey Fierstein, Bill Hader, Olafur Olafsson, Simon Pegg, and Sigourney Weaver as the narrator *exhale*. And those are just the names I recognize.
With that kind of acting star power, the Jim Henson Company as creators, and the budget of Netflix all behind the series, it would have been awful if the show had stunk. The good news is that the show not only doesn’t stink, but is in fact one of my favorite television shows of the last few years, standing alongside Stranger Things and the first and third seasons of True Detective. My biggest complaint is one I mentioned above – it’s a prequel, and one in which the end result of everything that happens is already a known quantity. So while I am excited for future seasons and watching the characters continue to grow and fight back against the corrupting influence of the selfish life-hoarding Skeksis, ultimately I know that the Resistance will fail and that the fate of the entire world will be left in the hands of two Gelflings, one male and one female, as they restore the shard to the Crystal of Truth, thereby uniting the Skeksis and the elusive Mystics into the spacefaring UrSkeks and restoring the balance of life to Thra.
 – Tangent, I vastly preferred Solo to Rogue One, because although some of the characters in Rogue One were cool, that’s it for them. The story wasn’t one that I felt needed to be expanded on more than what was explained in A New Hope, and all of the characters are dead now anyway, so what was the point of introducing cool new characters only for them to be completely irrelevant from that point on? I dunno. Just not my cup of tea.
 – I’m not sure how well The Widow did for Amazon Prime. I liked about 80% of it, but the resolution was weak and the setup and advertising promised a lot more behind the conspiracy aspects of the show than what was delivered. I’d give the show a solid C, moments of brilliance, moments of absurdity, averaging out to a simple mediocre. In any case, while the show itself isn’t something I have deep feelings for, Olafsson’s performance in it is fantastic.