Prequels, especially those for beloved stories, have a daunting task. How can they both remain true to the original product while simultaneously creating an experience that stands in its own right, satisfying existing fans and winning over new ones? For Netflix's prequel series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, it's a challenge made even more complicated by original film's status as a master work of puppetry, animatronics, and rich, unique fantasy narrative that has earned a passionate cult following since its debut in 1982. And, even with the bar set so high, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance more than delivers, offering viewers a rich, expansive world and story that doesn't just honor the original, but surpasses it.
Immediately, Age of Resistance is both familiar and brand new at the same moment. The series features a host of exquisitely detailed and immediately recognizable puppets created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop just as the original Dark Crystal film does, but whereas the original had a darkness and a muted quality to the world and often unnerving-looking characters -- a necessity, given the bleak tone of the story -- Age of Resistance is bright, sharp, and lush. It's a perfect balance between the incredibly puppetry and just a bit of CGI magic. Henson's world of Thra was always a delight, but Age of Resistance makes it pure visual ecstasy.
Beyond the stunning visuals, Age of Resistance story also is a rich creation. In the opening, a voiceover reintroduces viewers to the world of Thra, offering a brief but complete overview of the point in time we're entering the story. The Crystal of Truth -- that would be the Dark Crystal from the first film -- has been corrupted by the Skeksis who have ruled Thra and its clans of Gelfling by presenting themselves as benevolent leaders when they are, in fact, monsters. Unfortunately, their corruption of the Crystal is starting to spread a sickness, the Darkening, across Thra while the Gelfling and others who inhabit the world remain largely oblivious to the truth -- at least until a few Gelfling discover it. It's the discovery that kicks off the tale, and it's done in a way that is both exciting and heart-wrenching as it sets the characters what will ultimately be a tale of devastation by the time we get to The Dark Crystal.
This is where things get tricky, but it's also where Age of Resistance shines. We already know the outcome of this story. It's not a spoiler to say that things do not go well for the Gelfling The Dark Crystal has already shown us where the story leads. Knowing that should make Age of Resistance a bit of a sad, difficult watch but the exact opposite is true. There is genuine hope in this story. Viewers will find themselves rooting for the Gelfling and genuinely believing that their efforts will win the day. The story also does a keen job of offering a depth to the overall story that we didn't get in The Dark Crystal. In that film, the Skeksis are clearly the villains, the architects of Thra's suffering who have decimated the world and the innocent Gelfling. That remains true here, but we also get to see how the Gelfling are also a participant in the downfall of their civilization and world. As in real-life, no one is truly innocent but Age of Resistance reminds us that how we respond to a coming disaster is what sets the heroes apart from the villains.
All of this richness is brought to life by the excellent voice cast the film has assembled. Nathalie Emmanuel (Deet), Anya Taylor-Joy (Brea), and Taron Egerton (Rian) all do an outstanding job of bringing the Gelfling to life while Jason Isaacs Skeksis leader skekSo/The Emperor is chillingly cruel. Mark Hamill, however, may just steal the show with his role as skekTek, the Skeksis Scientist who is both diabolical and hilarious in equal turns. Yes, you will cry in Age of Resistance -- there's a moment early on deeply evocative of one of the most terrifying in the first film that will hurt your heart -- but you will laugh as well. After all, Thra is about balance and Age of Resistance certainly has that.
Of course, for everything about Age of Resistance that is a glowing success, the series is not perfect. While breaking this prequel story out over 10 total episodes is absolutely the right decision, one that allows it to avoid the slightly confusing narrative issue The Dark Crystal had at points, Age or Resistance does take a bit of time to get to the heart of the action. The series spends a good bit of time establishing the characters and the world of Thra. It's necessary, but at times feels perhaps a bit too bloated, too expository. Fortunately, once things pick up that flaw quickly disappears. There's also the occasional insertion of humor that feels a little less nuanced and organic than some of the visual jokes from Henson's original. It's not bad, just notable, sticking out a bit in an otherwise beautifully fluid tale.
Ultimately, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance prequel is a more than worthy "successor" to Henson's 1982 masterpiece while establishing itself as a master work in its own right. There is something for everyone in this exquisite offering, a true world of wonder and delight and a story you absolutely cannot miss.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance debuts on Netflix Friday, August 30th.