Television Reviews

REVIEW: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Season 1 (2019)

“Now we shall see what lies at the dream’s end.”

Virginia: Today, we’ll be discussing the Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. A prequel to Jim Henson’s original 1982 film, Age of Resistance re-introduces favorites like the Chamberlain and Mother Aughra while creating plenty of new ones. The prophecy from the movie is expanded, and we also get more backstory about the Gelfling, Skeksis, Mystics, and other creatures of Thra. Like any prequel, Age of Resistance shows how the events of The Dark Crystal came to pass. However, unlike every other prequel I’ve ever encountered, I enjoyed this very much. I found the season’s story and characters very engaging and I genuinely worried when any principal character was in danger. We’ll be reviewing the season in general, but to start off, I’d like to see if we can discover why that is. What is it that makes this show something very rare: a good prequel? What do you think, Munir?

Munir: I agree entirely. I think we should begin this review by talking a little bit about the 1982 film. Just to put things in context, I never saw the movie when I was little, or even heard of it until Netflix announced they were making a prequel series. I know now that it has a cult following and it remains an impressive achievement of puppetry. I saw the film for the first time a week before the series’ premiere, and while I agree that it’s an impressive achievement, I wasn’t grabbed by the story. I found Jen, the lead character, flat, while I liked Kira much more and rooted for her. However, even if the story left me a little cold, I was immersed in the world Jim Henson, Brian Froud, and Frank Oz created. The sets, the puppets’ designs, the music, and the whole concept of Thra were enthralling. I liked the decadent Skeksis, particularly the Chamberlain, and overall it was a satisfying, if a bit uneven, adventure. What do you think of the film, Virginia?

V: I did see the original film as a kid, and I watched it again right before starting the series. I agree with you for the most part; visually, the movie is stunning, and the puppetry is most impressive. I also love the original musical score by Trevor Jones. I agree that Jen is a really basic character, and while I also like Kira better, it’s only by a little. It’s an entertaining movie, but I don’t feel emotionally connected to any of the characters. I agree that the Chamberlain is the most interesting Skeksis and an entertaining character in general.

M: From what I’ve read, Jim Henson intended for the film to be the first of many, as he was very enthralled by that world. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be the case, as it was a costly production. I would link this to what also happened with Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Walt intended Fantasia to be an ongoing franchise, with one new film every year. That also didn’t happen for financial reasons, and we didn’t get a new Fantasia film until the year 2000 (and I doubt we’ll ever see another one). But just like the original Fantasia, the stature of The Dark Crystal grew as the years went by, and as I said before, it became a cult classic. While I don’t feel any strong connection to it, I can understand why so many people do. It’s a rich fantasy world, even if the characters that inhabit it are not very complex. Now, 37 years after the film first premiered, the world of Thra has returned, this time as a 10-episode TV series. I have to say that everything good about the movie gets enhanced in the series, while it also provides an emotional story and more complex characters. It’s obvious from the very beginning that the filmmakers and the Jim Henson Company wanted to honor Henson’s vision. Personally, I think they did that and beyond because this series is one of the best things that I’ve seen this year.

Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Season 1

V: Your comparison to Fantasia is a good one, and not something I had considered. While the original Fantasia is in a league all its own, The Dark Crystal got the better follow-up. I agree with you about Age of Resistance’s characters; it’s effortless to become invested with Rian, Deet, and Brea. Even the series’ secondary and background characters have decent personalities and backstories. In this regard, Age of Resistance actually reminds me of my personal favorite TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. The two shows also share a childlike sense of adventure and fantastic worldbuilding.

M: It’s funny that you should mention Avatar. I actually read an article that said the filmmakers were influenced by that series and Game of Thrones when expanding the world of Thra. I think that from the very first scene, the series lets you know you are in for a grand, epic, and wonderful tale. In the film, you saw a destroyed Thra; no Gelflings whatsoever (except for Jen and Kira) and the Skeksis were living in a crumbling palace in a crumbling empire. You could tell something awful happened, and the world there reflects that. Here, however, since it begins many years before that, you can see Thra in its splendor and all the Gleflings clans living and thriving. The Skeksis are there too, but their empire is a prosperous one, at least on the surface. You learn more about the different types of Gelflings, their distinct characteristics, and what they are known for. Sigourney Weaver’s narration at the beginning sets the perfect mood to enjoy the story and tells you everything you need to know without turning it into boring exposition. Another thing I liked is that the series makes it very easy to love the leading trio of characters. From the beginning, you like Rian, Deet, and Brea, and as the series goes along and their troubles become bigger, you can’t help but care about them and want them to triumph. The Skeksis are also deliciously and grotesquely evil, and all of them get more personality traits than in the film, where only the Chamberlain stood out. Here, he’s still the main highlight of the group, but you get to see more of the Emperor, the General, the Scientist, and we meet new ones like the Hunter and the Collector. I think that a TV series was the perfect medium for this story to unfold, since its world is so rich that a 2-hour film couldn’t do it justice.

Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Season 1

V: I didn’t know the makers of this series were directly inspired by Avatar, but that makes a lot of sense. Hopefully, it continues in Avatar‘s path rather than devolving like Thrones. I totally agree with you about Sigourney Weaver; she was the perfect choice to narrate the beginning of the story. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the series is our first chance to see female Skeksis, the Collector (Awkwafina) being one. I believe the remaining ten in the film were all men.

M: The Ornamentalist is also female, voiced by Alice Dinnean. The rest are all male, but yeah, we didn’t see any female Skeksis in the film. Then again, most of them didn’t stand out (except for the Chamberlain).

V: You make an excellent point about how they’re able to expand this universe with the series. Oftentimes, TV provides the perfect format for larger-than-life stories and long-form character development. The series also maintains the film’s merits of beautiful, distinct music and lush visuals, the latter even noticeably improved by modern technology and perhaps budget.

M: Indeed. Now, let’s talk about the main characters’ arcs. First, Rian. In the beginning, he’s a guard in the Skeksis castle and in a relationship with a fellow guard, Mira. They seem happy, and they take pride in their work, since they are guarding the “Lord Skeksis,” who are supposedly benevolent masters. He’s the one that first learns their treachery, and he suffers a significant loss at the very beginning. His girlfriend Mira is tragically the first victim of the Skeksis’ new instrument to drain the Gelfling’s essence to remain alive. After that, Rian is cast as an outlaw and rejected by everyone until the others learn the truth. I like Rian very much. He’s brave, and although he loses many important people in his life (his father also dies during the series), he remains focused on the mission and hellbent on exposing the Skeksis and uniting all Gelfling. Brea is Gelfling royalty. The youngest daughter of the All-Maudra, she is curious about everything, something that gets her into trouble, but her curiosity also leads her to great discoveries. Like Rian, she’s also brave and willing to fight for what’s right. Deet is part of the little-known Grottan Clan, which is assumed to be very ignorant and animal-like. Deet is a resourceful Gelfling and, above all, very kind to everyone. Together, they carry the bulk of the story, and their trials and tribulations are very compelling to watch. Also, by the end, you can see that Rian and Deet have developed feelings for each other. This is something I would like to see developed more in the future. Do you think they could be Jen or Kira’s parents? That could nicely tie the series to the film. On the other side of the spectrum are the Skeksis, which, as I said above, are awful but also very interesting. Just like in the film, the Chamberlain remains the MVP, but the Emperor, the Scientist, the Collector, and the Hunter are also very well-realized characters. The supporting characters also enrich the series, with Mother Aughra being a highlight.

The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance

V: I agree entirely with you about Rian. I also think it would be fair to say that he has matured a lot throughout the season. He first loses his love and learns that his whole life has been based on a lie, and then is treated like a criminal just for what he knows. Then, as you mentioned, his only family, his father, is killed. From then, Rian truly had to traverse his own path in the world, with only the support of relative strangers. I also really love Brea. She’s intelligent but impetuous, brilliant but outspoken, idealistic but immature. I also love her relationships with her mother and two sisters, Seladon and Tavra. Deet is very sweet, and I enjoyed her friendship with Hup very much in the earlier episodes. I’m glad you asked about her and Rian, as near the end of the season, I thought that the secret she wanted to tell him was that she loved him. Mira can never be replaced, but it would be sweet for Rian to find love again. And coupling a Gelfling from Stone-in-the Wood with a Grotten would be in keeping with the show’s themes of equality and unity. It would be exciting if they turn out to be related to either Kira or Jen. I also agree with you about the Skeksis; the Chamberlain is conniving, clever, and manipulative, just like in the movie, but we get to know him better. The others are greatly improved, perhaps to an even greater extent, as they were barely characters in the film. I will again agree that Mother Aughra is fantastic, and I also loved the Archer, the Heretic, and the Wanderer.

M: Speaking of the Heretic and the Wanderer, I really liked the concept of a rogue Skeksis who knew the truth and went against the others. I also love the scene where both the Heretic and Wanderer explained the true origin of the Skeksis via puppets. It was beautiful and kind of funny that the puppets were using puppets. Pairing Andy Samberg and Bill Hader to play both characters was a stroke of genius, as they are hysterical together and have great chemistry. While we are on the subject of casting, I have to say that this series has an impressive array of actors voicing the characters. They are mostly big names, but what I like is that every actor fits their role perfectly. Taron Egerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Nathalie Emmanuel are great as the central trio. In the case of Emmanuel, you can’t really tell she’s Missandei from Game of Thrones. Personally, I think that’s great, since Deet is a completely different character. Simon Pegg is amazing as the Chamberlain, nailing the tone set by Barry Denned in the original film, and the rest of the actors voicing the Skeksis are wonderful as well. Mark Hamill is particularly good as the Scientist. Awkawfina as the Collector, Jason Isaacs as the Emperor, Benedict Wong as the General, and Ralph Ineson as the Hunter are all stand-out performances. In supporting roles, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is great as the conniving Seladon, while both Helena Bonham Carter and Lena Headey give great performances as the All-Maudra and Maudra Fara, respectively. Overall, it’s an impressive feat of casting.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

V: The cast is one of the things that brought my attention to this series. As I mentioned, I had seen the film before but wasn’t a huge fan or anything. I usually hate big, blanket statements, but there isn’t a single performer in this series that I have issue with. For such a huge cast, I really think they found the perfect person for each character. As you said, there are many stars involved, but it never feels like stunt casting. They genuinely choose talented and sometimes underrated actors and give them a great opportunity to show their mettle.

M: I also want to mention Mother Aughra’s arc. As it’s explained in the beginning, she’s one with Thra, and she let the Skeksis take control of it in exchange for her space observatory, which kept her busy for many years. Once she wakes up and finds out what the Skeksis have been doing, she is filled with guilt, and at first, she’s wholly disconnected from Thra. I like that. While she’s powerful and wise, she’s not perfect, and she has made mistakes which she has to amend. I think that makes her character more interesting than having an all-powerful and perfect mentor figure.

V: It’s also interesting that while she is closest with Thra, the Gelfling are distrustful of her at first in favor of the treacherous Skeksis. I really liked Aughra’s scenes with the Archer and seeing her discover what she needed to do to hear the Song of Thra. I also think Donna Kimball does a spectacular job recreating Frank Oz’s original performance as Aughra.

M: Indeed. The Song of Thra scene is excellent, one of the many highlights of the series. I’d also like to talk about Seladon. She’s an interesting character because, just like Rian (and everyone else), she discovers that the Skeksis have been lying to them. But instead of confronting them, like Rian Brea, Deet and later, her own mother, did, she tries to maintain the status quo. She’s not even swayed when Aughra calls all of them and tells them the truth. Her need for order supersedes the need for justice, and she sides with the enemy. She’s a hateful character, but is compelling to watch. Just like there is a rogue Skeksis, there’s a treacherous Gelfling, and I liked her arc. Her design, when she decides to dress like a Skeksis, is amazing. In fact, I would like to have a Funko figure like that one. However, if there’s one minor issue in the series, it’s her redemption at the end. I think it goes too fast, and her change is very drastic. Also, she doesn’t face any consequences for her actions (aside from Tavra dying.) I felt we needed more time with Brea and her to work out their relationship. In the end, I’m glad she finally saw the light, but her road to getting there is a little bumpy.

Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Season 1

V: I agree wholeheartedly. It was very easy to hate Seladon, and her beliefs made perfect sense with her character. However, you’re right on the money in that her turn happens too quickly. The Skeksis come right out and tell her that they plan to drain all Gelfling, and that’s that. It feels like she and Brea need to have a long conversation about this.

M: Maybe they can, should the series get a second season. Speaking of which, when they first announced this series, I thought it was going to lead directly into the film. As such, I was expecting a Rogue One type of thing where everyone died at the end. I’m very glad that wasn’t the case, because it’s obvious that there’s a lot of stories to cover before we get to the events of the movie. I want to see more about these characters. Also interesting, at a recent interview at IndieWire, the show’s writers hinted that what we saw in the film is one specific thing and that Thra is very big. It was a way of stating that while they will honor the original film and the continuity, not everything will have to end so gloomily. What do you think are the chances of this getting a second season? I really hope Netflix does renew it. I realize it’s an expensive endeavor, but it’s also one of the best things they’ve released.

V: Age of Resistance seems to have received lots of love from critics and viewers alike, so I think Netflix will renew it. It’s not a cultural phenomenon like Stranger Things, but Netflix keeps some cult shows around if they are well received. I’d love to see how far the creators can take this gorgeous show.

Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Season 1

M: Me too. It’ll be a shame for it to be canceled just when things are heating up. The whole team of writers, puppeteers, designers, and more are in top form and can take future seasons to new heights. I would also like to commend director Louis Leterrier. Based on his filmography, you would think he’s an odd choice for helming this series. However, he does a fantastic job mixing emotional moments with great action sequences and moving the story forward. In the fantastic making-of documentary The Crystal Calls: The Making of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (which you should see right after you finish the series), every person that’s part of the crew praises Letterrier for his hard work, and it’s very well-deserved. Helming all 10 episodes of this complex series wouldn’t have been easy, but he makes it looks like it was. Hopefully, if the series is renewed, he will return as well.

V: I would also recommend the documentary. I even found it surprisingly emotional. It’s so great getting to see all the people behind-the-scenes, including Toby Froid, who played the baby in Labyrinth. Listening to these people and seeing their passion for their unique craft is really inspiring. I also liked seeing how the puppeteers and actors worked together to craft the characters’ performances.

M: Agreed. It’s similar to how animators and voice actors work together to create a character in an animated film. It’s good that they make documentaries like this to turn the spotlight onto the people that work very hard to create a piece of entertainment. Usually, in both animation and puppeteering, only voice actors are the ones recognized since they have the bigger names, but in both mediums, it’s a two-man/woman show and both should be recognized.

V: I agree completely. The people behind the curtain (so to speak) rarely get the credit they deserve. Puppetry, stop-motion, and animation fascinate me, and I love to see how people create these effects.

The Dark Crystal Age of Resistance

M: Before we go, we need to talk about the ending. After the battle of Stone In the Wood, all the Gelfling clans have united and defeated the Skeksis. Brea found the broken shard from the crystal, and everyone looked hopeful to the future. However, Deet absorbed the Darkening that the Emperor unleashed, and now she is affecting all living beings in Thra. She also looks different, and how the Darkening will affect her will play a big part in the potential second season. The only one who saw was Rian, and it would be interesting to see how their relationship develops as well. Both sides of the battle suffered heavy losses, with Princess Tavra and Maudra Fara dying on the Gelfling side, and the General, the Hunter, and the Collector dying on the Skeksis side. The General was killed by the Chamberlain, and it will also be interesting to see how the power dynamics change for the Skeksis now. The Scientist has also created the Garthims, which, as we know, are very deadly for the Gelfling. What do you think the future awaits for Age of Resistance, Virginia?

V: I’m most interested to see what becomes of Deet and how this impacts Rian and Brea. I doubt she will die, but time will tell. I also liked the fallout on the Skeksis side. By virtue of this being a prequel, we got to meet additional Skeksis who weren’t in the film, and I appreciate that.

M: To wrap up, when I first watched the original film, I was enthralled by the world but not so much by its characters. I was curious about Age of Resistance, but I couldn’t say I was excited. Now, I’m a huge fan. Honoring and expanding everything from Henson, Froud, and Oz’s film, AOR offers great, multilayered characters, a compelling story, and exciting action sequences. The story flows organically and, save for some minor issues, it’s a resounding success. I want to see more of this world, and I hope Netflix renews it soon. We need a second season!

V: I think you’ve said it all. Age of Resistance continues the gorgeous visuals and smart worldbuilding of The Dark Crystal while creating a compelling story and brilliantly developed characters.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Season One

Plot - 9.5
Acting - 10
Progression - 9.5
Production Design - 10
Action - 10

9.8

Outstanding

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is a great series full of well-developed characters, lush visuals, and atmospheric music. Seladon's heel-face-turn is a tad rushed, but otherwise, this is a great watch that we can't recommend highly enough.

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