It was a surprise. The Jim Henson Company had been seeking to revisit the world of Thra for quite some time. There were, of course, developments. TokyoPop’s Legends of The Dark Crystal and The Dark Crystal Creation Myths were released detailing the events that preceded the virtual extinction of the Gelfling race, and the arrival and division of the urSkeks into the urRu and the Skeksis respectively. For a while, there was even talk of a sequel film to The Dark Crystal called The Power of the Dark Crystal before it was quietly adapted into an ongoing twelve issue comics miniseries instead. There was also the Gelfling Gathering Author’s Quest where many writers were invited to write the story of the Gelfling discovering that their seemingly benevolent Skeksis overlords were much more sinister than they seemed: leading to J.M. Lee’s Shadows of the Dark Crystal novel series.
And that seemed to be it. I’ve written about much of this before, especially with regards to The Power of The Dark Crystal. With the sequel film no longer happening, it seemed as though The Dark Crystal’s only cinematic presence would remain the original 1982 film.
But there were signs that the Jim Henson Company still wasn’t ruling out a movie in their own multimedia quest. For instance, there were the other contests: the Create a Dark Crystal Creature, the Threadless contest to make T-shirt merchandise, and even The Dark Crystal Fan Film Competition. Suffice to say, there was creative movement happening and you’d be forgiven if you thought it might lead into the sequel film that didn’t happen. You could also be pardoned in thinking that all of the media exposure and work could have led to a project that simply wasn’t happening, or turned out not to happen due to a variety of different issues. And, even now at the time of this writing, none of these contests sponsored by the Jim Henson Company might have any, or at least any direct, bearing on the news and development of a Dark Crystal prequel Netflix series.
According to the information released by various media outlets The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, will take place – like most of the stories created in Thra aside from the movie – long before Jen’s quest to heal the Crystal: where three Gelfling realize the horrifying truth behind the Skeksis and begin their race’s rebellion against their overlords.
It is going to be interesting for a few reasons. First, the Jim Henson Company’s decision to use Netflix to stream their series feels, to me, like an encouraging one. There are many shows such as Sense8, and the Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage Marvel programs that could have been films but when split into sequences of serial episodes allows for more storytelling opportunities, character development, world-building, and creative microcosms that Netflix users can watch practically at will. The world of Thra already has enough material, but creating that streaming environment to expand on it, the struggle of the Gelfling, the evil of the Skeksis, and potentially the investment into further puppeteering and scene creation can take us to places in The Dark Crystal that would could only dream of going to beyond what we can see through written words and comics panels.
The importance of the episodic model, with or without being able to stream all of the program in one sitting, cannot be understated. As I said before, not only does it allow for one episodes and seasons to be created if the program does well, but many different stories under an overarching narrative can also be told. There are a few movies that exist which could have benefited from this model under Netflix, Starz and others such as the treatment for Max Brooks’ World War Z. That particular example, while it has little to nothing to do with The Dark Crystal, is something that deserves its own article or series, but suffice to say I can see an oral history, an epistolary format with some voice-overs, or series of perspectives being portrayed in Age of Resistance from the three Gelfling, or at least from others that they might know. I will get back to this strange parallel in a bit.
The other element that I find fascinating is how they are going to tie Age of Resistance with their Mythology, or their canon timeline. I mean, it doesn’t look like they are going to necessarily pull a LucasFilm Story Group situation and render their previous stories non-canon. In this context, the ironically named Legends of the Dark Crystal series portrays the remaining Gelfling attempting to hide from, and thus survive, the Skeksis and their Garthim soldiers. In that story, the Gelfling Lahr and Neffi manage to rescue their village members and other Gelfling from the Castle of the Crystal. Likewise, in Shadows of the Dark Crystal #1, Naia – a member of the swamp-dwelling Gelfling Drenchen Clan – discovers that her twin brother Gurjin, who had been a Guard at the Castle, and his comrade Rian uncovered the truth about the Skeksis: that they were consuming Gelfling essence.
So will Age of Resistance take place right after this book, or will there be more books that lead into the era of this program? It’s hard to say. I feel, in the immortal words of Jim Henson through his character Cantus the Minstrel Fraggle, that “It’s part of it, but not all of it.”
Just who are these three Gelfling that discover the truth about the Skeksis? In the Gelfling Gathering Author Quest PDF and the Dark Crystal site, prospective writers were given various prompts for the contest: including the fact that three Gelfling – Rian of the Woodland Clan, Jul of the Spriton Clan, and Gurjin of the Drenchen Clan – become aware of the Skeksis’ true plans. At the time, there was more focus on Rian while the other two Gelfling were associated as friends of his – or hers as Rian didn’t have a gender at the time.
My question is if Rian, Gurjin, and Jul are the three Gelfling? If so, that means this series happens before Naia ventures out to find her brother. However, in the Mythology timeline it is clear that at some point the Gelfling do resist and attempt to defend themselves against Skeksis depredation. Does this happen after or towards the creation of the Wall of Destiny: which is the dream-etching that ultimately creates the Prophecy that will destroy all Skeksis? If so, then these Gelfling are entirely different characters and what we might be seeing is nothing short of either the Skeksis invasion of Gelfling civilization, or mass genocide.
Either way, it is a dark story: in some ways even more so than what happens in the original film. I mean, Jen and Kira have to navigate a world in which they are seemingly the last of their kind while travelling through the ruins of what their people left behind. But Age of Resistance seems to be the story of how the Gelfling fight back and, ultimately, fail. At the same time, if it ends with the creation of the Wall of Destiny, or even showing how Jen is left with the urRu – the Mystics – and Kira with the Podlings, there can be a little sliver of hope: much like the piece of the Crystal that was originally shattered.
And now I am going to revisit an idea. Do you remember when I mentioned World War Z even though, as I said before, it has nothing to do with The Dark Crystal? Well, there is a chapter in that book that explores the power of film. Allow me to explain. In this particular part of the book, Max Brooks introduces two kinds of film dealing with a catastrophic war scenario. The first film, he explains through the persona of one of his characters, deals with a positive spin on the situation. The defending soldiers, the humans against the zombies, are staunch, brave, and sacrifice themselves for the good of others. Humanity is seen as a virtue, a light, against the encroaching darkness of the enemy. It is essentially a war movie created during the midst of that conflict. In contrast, after the war is a longer movie, or longer films about the darkness of humanity: the hopelessness, the despair, the friction of survivors in the worst circumstances, and the exploration of these grim elements against the spectre of death. The argument presented in that story is that the latter psychological films condemning war and atrocities wouldn’t have been accepted during “the war” because it would have destroyed morale, whereas the previous movie was created, much like propaganda films, to instill hope and said morale in the survivors of that time.
This unrelated book brings up an interesting context about why Age of Resistance is coming out in the near future. But this idea of art putting a positive spin on reality in the midst of conflict or strife, or at least providing an escape from such during a dark time, while being overly critical of that time after it is over doesn’t take into account what happens if the chaos of a certain period occurs over an extended amount of time.
Let me see if I can write this more plainly. The Dark Crystal was created in 1982. It was formulated in the 1970s. During that time, the world was locked into the Cold War, some repressive and reactionary conservative regimes, and the constant threat of mutual global obliteration. It is no coincidence that a lot of the fantasy then was dark, but no less wondrous for it. Of course, there is yet another fallacy in stating that fantasy as a genre completely reflects the politics and happenings of the real world: much like stating that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were J.R.R. Tolkien’s commentaries on his experiences in World War I and what was going in Europe during World War Two respectively.
It is never this reductive, but these sociopolitical elements do influence art and literature, and in a time where Brexit and political and racial turmoil in the United States is occurring is it any coincidence that Starz has brought out its episodic version of American Gods with a black male protagonist that nearly gets lynched by a bunch of anonymous blank-faced beings, The Handmaid’s Tale dealing with a woman surviving a failed American State turned fundamentalist regime is playing on Hulu, or that the Jim Henson Company is planning to release a series about the diminutive and relatable Gelfling bravely fighting against what is essentially to become the genocide of their entire race instigated by the aristocratic, greedy, gluttonous, and corrupted Skeksis in what seems to be a show for all-ages? Even The Power of the Dark Crystal comics series, the sequel to the film’s story line, seems to be about the return of the Skeksis and darkness after Jen’s work occurring due to Gelfling complacency, arrogance, self-entitlement, and a decided lack of communication and understanding.
Of course, many of these shows and works – including Resistance – were in conception, pre-production, and production well before Brexit and the political climate in America, but that doesn’t mean many of the events or sentiments leading to these points in time can’t be reflected by these shows. Sesame Street, another Jim Henson creation and children’s show, has taken shots at particular political figures and their policies in the past, so there is definitely a precedent for it. And I mean, come on, the literal name of this new Dark Crystal series is called the Age of Resistance.
Perhaps the creation of this show was a surprise. But, as I said before, the signs were there. The contests, the media attention, and the original mandate of Jim Henson himself to say something meaningful about this world. Who knows how this show, and others might have been seen in another climate, or timeline. But what will The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance tell us? What will it tell us, children and nostalgics from the 1980s or farther, about its world? What will it tell us about our future? What will it tell us about ourselves?
Personally, between you and I, I think it is already beginning to show us that age-old truth: that everything is connected.