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  • Margaret A. Robbins, PhD

Review: The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix)

One of my favorite moments at DragonConAtlanta this year was getting to see The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance previews, courtesy of the panel moderated by Brian Henson that included several creators of the show. Like most kids born in the 1980s, I loved Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal movie, even though it terrified me. One of the first things I did when I got home from DragonCon was to watch the original movie, so I could be fully prepared to watch season one of the Netflix series.

After refreshing myself with the tale of Jen and Kira restoring the dark crystal to positive power, I came into the new Netflix TV show, which serves as a prequel to the 1982 classic movie, with high expectations. I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint. The scenery and the world building was absolutely amazing, and the set designs of the universe were breathtaking and colorful. Technology has grown in leaps and bounds since the early 1980s, and it shows not only in the puppetry art, but also in the set design. I felt like I was in the world of Thra right along with the characters. The puppet design of the Gelflings, Podlings, and Skeksis are all brilliant, and most of the time, I forgot I was watching a puppet television show because the movements and the actions were so realistic. The creators at DragonCon expressed their view that this was their most ambitious project yet, and from what I’ve seen of past muppet and puppet movies, I would have to agree.

As for the female characters: I can only imagine what it would have meant to me to have Brea and Deet as role models when I was a kid. Kira, the main female protagonist in the first movie, was great, but she took a back seat role as compared to Jen. However, Brea, Deet, and Mira are all initially stronger characters than the male character Rian, who has to grow and change into a braver character as the show progresses. Mira, Brea, and Deet serve as anchors to Rian rather than the other way around. I found this characterization refreshing, and it reminds me of past work I’ve done about how Angel from the Buffy-verse feels anchored by the strong women in his life. Mother Okra, the witch mother earth figure of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, proves to be a clever character who gets the beloved Gelfling out of scrapes. She also conveys important messages about taking care of one’s planet, which is important in today’s technology age in which too much goes to waste.

Much of what I love about the show is that the female characters show different strengths. Brea uses her book knowledge and sense of adventure to learn what she needs about the Skeksis rule. Deet’s intuition helps her to make the allies she needs to complete her quest. Mother Okra is forceful and willful, and her age wisdom proves to be an asset. Mira’s boldness leads her into a troublesome and dangerous situation, but without it, the Gelfling would never have learned the truth about the Skeksis’s nefarious intentions for them. Thinking back to the show and the movie alike, it appears that the Skeksis characters are all male. I wonder if this was an intentional choice and if the Skeksis are symbolic of a patriarchal government that should topple and become reorganized by better leadership, including the empowered female leaders of the Gelfling tribes. This ending would not fit with the direction the movie went in, but regardless, I wonder if this theme will become further developed in Season Two.

The message of the show is very timely right now: the Gelfling clans have to look past their differences to unite against the evil Skeksis, who are using their power selfishly to try to live forever. Although the Gelfling have grown up believing that some clans are superior to others, toward the end of the series, they find common ground and work together to protect what is theirs. In an era in which we are polarized by politics, the message of unity and collaboration is refreshing for me.

There’s already buzz about a Season Two in creation for the series, which would also take place before the actions of the movie. The show appears to have a solid fan base of adults who loved the movie when we were kids. The story line is rather dark for young kids, but I wonder if a fan base will grow among Generation Z and the generation after them. If so, I hope the show will continue to explore gender and class issues. I work with Generation Z students, and I believe they have a social conscience that is worth tapping into, and emerging pop culture fandoms such as The Dark Crystal may be one way to do so.

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