Image via The Jim Henson Company

Henson Week: The Dark Crystal

In honor of Netflix’s release of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, we’re taking a look at some of Jim Henson’s other works.

Another world. Another time. In the age of wonder.

In 1982, long-time friends and collaborators Jim Henson and Frank Oz (Sesame Street, The Muppet Show) came together to co-direct the dark fantasy film, The Dark Crystal. The screenplay was written by David Odell (Tales From the Darkside) and the film was produced by Gary Kurtz (Star Wars Episode IV and V, Return to Oz). What was originally intended to be a family-marketed film wound up being a bit on the darker side.

A thousand years ago, the Dark Crystal—a crystal that is somewhat of a conduit for the life force of its planet, Thra—cracked under initially mysterious circumstances. When the Crystal was damaged, two new races appeared on Thra: the cruel Skeksis, an evil race who rule over Thra, and the wise Mystics, gentle giants who live mostly in isolation. The Skeksis corrupted the purpose of Dark Crystal, which was to give life to the inhabitants of Thra. Instead of giving life,  the Skeksis use it to drain life from others in order to sustain themselves.

Because of a prophecy that said the Skeksis would fall at the hands of Gelflings, a race who are native to Thra, they exterminated all the Gelflings—or so they thought. The story begins with Jen, a young Gelfling who is thought to be the last of his race. He was raised by the Mystics who send him on the quest to repair the Dark Crystal and restore balance to the world.

Jen’s first stop is to see Aughra, an astronomer and prophetess who is the embodiment of Thra. She possesses the shard needed to repair the Crystal and reveals that Jen must repair it before the planet’s three suns align in what is called the Great Conjunction—otherwise, Skeksis will continue to rule over Thra and the world will remain out of balance.

Skeksis
Image via Henson Associates, Inc. and ITC Entertainment

Along the way, Jen encounters Kira, another Gelfling. She was raised among another race, the Podlings, and she believed that she was the last of her kind. She accompanies Jen on his journey to the Crystal Castle to repair the crystal and defeat the Skeksis for good.

Although the film is a mere 93 minutes long, it manages to create an incredibly vivid world—an entire planet full of different races with distinctive looks, cultures, languages, and beliefs, creatures of all shapes and sizes, and the imprint left by a war that abolished (arguably) the world’s most important population. The Skeksis are creepy, yet somehow comical. The Mystics seem like they know all of the world’s secrets. Aughra is funny and frustrating. Jen and Kira are just what we want to see in a couple of heroes who are undertaking a huge responsibility. Not only do they have to repair the Crystal and defeat the Skeksis within a limited amount of time, but they have to figure out how to live once balance has been restored.

My first viewing of The Dark Crystal was when I was around five or six years old. I didn’t really understand the depth of the story at the time, and I forgot about the movie until I was a teenager. I clung to fantasy and fiction, particularly darker and heavier works, throughout my teenage years to help me cope with anxiety, depression, and neurodivergent tendencies. When I discovered the film Labyrinth, I rediscovered The Dark Crystal. Jen’s loneliness, solitude, and uniqueness struck a chord with me, and I felt hugely sympathetic towards the task he had been burdened with. When he finds Kira, he also finds hope that they can build a better, balanced world.

The Dark Crystal generated so much rich, intriguing material to work with, it’s no wonder that an entire prequel series was developed to provide a backstory for the events that led to the war between the Skeksis and the Gelflings. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve nearly finished Age of Resistance, and I am astounded by how substantial, gorgeous, and faithful the show is to the world that Henson and Oz established nearly 40 years ago. I can’t wait to bring you my thoughts on the series.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is available on Netflix.

Dark Crystal Poster
Image via Henson Associates, Inc. and ITC Entertainment
Written by Alix Teague
(Alix is a fan of memes, puns, and unironically using words like “yeet.” She also has an MA in literature, so she’s clearly putting it to good use. She likes to refer to herself as the Millennial Bard. Follow Alix on anything at @alixplainlater)
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