Why “Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” matters so damn much

I can’t remember the first time I watched Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. Rather like being born. I simply remember rewatching it — and rewatching it, over and over again, from as early as I can recall. It came out two years before I was born, so by the time I was a young child, it would have become subject to my father’s VHS recording habit.

Which means, to this day, that when I hear the opening musical score, my brain expects it to warble, right where the wrinkle on my old well-loved VHS recording had been.

I loved the Dark Crystal. In a way I could never articulate as a child — but which many of my childhood peers also felt, nonetheless. The Skeksis; the Mystics; the incredible truth demonstrated when the two re-combine and become whole again. The most violent, hideous depiction of evil: stealing other beings’ very essences in a foolish quest for immortality. The stunning, hilarious revelation that of COURSE only girls have wings.

Our parents distinctly didn’t “get it”. I think it was the grotesque costumes. Or maybe the torture. Or maybe the Skeksi dinner party scenes.

“Why do you watch that movie?” they’d say. “It’s so scary,” or “it’s so dark and negative,” or “Henson really burnt down one too many on that one,” and such things.

But we children of the 80’s ate that shit up with two spoons. Children see things differently than adults.

As evidenced, clearly, by the movie’s re-emergence as — praise be to our Patron Saint of Adlessness, Netflix — a mini series prequel. We kids who grew up enraptured by Jim Henson’s weirdest work by a long shot are now elder millennials and Xers, and we are now the ones writing and shooting the movies ourselves. A Dark Crystalreboot was only a matter of time. The only question was: how well would it be done?

Thankfully, the answer is the best possible outcome: Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is done masterfully. Just absolutely pitch perfect, from the story to the art design to the execution. The visual and thematic consistency between Jim Henson’s original and the prequel is seamless — having the Froud family, which worked on the original, back on art concepting clearly hasn’t hurt at all. There are one or two sparing scenes which use CGI which I’d critique (battle scenes with The Hunter, I’m looking at you). But there’s volumes in character development, theme, and the parallels between the plot of Age of Resistance and current events which could keep me explicating for days.

Which is why, in lieu of a 10,000 word essay, I’ll probably break the 10 episode series up into 5–8 separate future analysis, and focus here on the larger issue which looms over the entire Dark Crystal franchise:

What’s all the fuss about?

There are concrete answers to that question, and I’d like to pose a few here.

Why the Dark Crystal mattered to Henson

By all accounts, Jim Henson was about the most intensely “good” a person as one can find in this lifetime. Unflappably calm, an empath to the bone, and a boundless well of positive energy and productivity. A very wise, powerful teacher once said that you can tell a tree by its fruit. By the measure of Henson’s works, he has brought joy, laughter, and an empowering sense of self-exploration to billions of people around the globe, for over a half century now. That’s some pretty damn good fruit.

And The Dark Crystal was what Henson considered to be his most spiritually and morally significant work. It’s the work he hung it all out there for. Quite literally — fearful that it would be undervalued by the production house which had acquired it, Jim Henson broke Hollywood’s cardinal rule and bought his own movie before it was released.

According to the film’s screenwriter, David Odell, Henson based a good deal of the concepts we find in Thra on literature which mainstream society would classify as occult: a book of channellings titled Seth Speaks. Channellings, if you’re not familiar, are when a highly empathic person (like, borderline ESP) enters a trance state (using meditation, medication, and everything in between), and invites an authoritative entity from a higher dimension to use their body as a channel of communication. This falls in the same category of extra-dimensional work as does astral projection and the works of those such as Robert Monroe.

Henson asked both David Odell, Dark Crystal’s screenplay writer, and Brian Froud, its art director, to read Seth Speaks as context for understanding the world of Thra he’d created. Rumor is that Henson carried multiple copies of the book, and would often hand them out to people he felt would be open to its ideas — not at all unlike how some Christians carry and hand out copies of the New Testament.

Henson sketched out the details for the Dark Crystal while snowed in at an airport hotel one fated afternoon in between his work on Sesame Street and The Muppets. He poured it out virtually in one sitting — it was a classic moment of an inspired great work, as channelled by a visionary who is tapped into sources of truth not from this time and dimension. The world surrounding the Dark Crystal, and the story therein, is not only Henson’s artistic interpretation of a sacred text, but of his entire worldview.

The part where we talk about Jung

Back to the part about how Henson’s great work and worldview is based on a book of “channellings” spoken by a sci-fi writer, and how that seems kind of weird. Let’s examine this, for a moment. They may sound woo-woo and scary, but channelling, astral projection, and inter-dimensional communication haven’t been at all uncommon to communities of sci-fi writers, intellectuals, healers, politicians, and powerful people for centuries. This ranges from the more dark, occultists like Aleister Crowley to accidental astral projectors like Robert Monroe to far-reaching silent organizations like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. These ideas and practices are native to much of Western and American society, even if they have been absent from mainstream discussion. Carl Jung, a 19th century visionary and the founding father of modern analytical psychology, had waking dreams and visions which drove him to create his illustrated manuscript and opus, the Red Book.

In the Red Book, we find illustrations and allusions not at all dissimilar to Seth Speaks; we have depictions of three concentric circles, four quadrants in a circle, of multiple circles, of contrasting opposites (shadow/light). We see many of these manifest in his clinical work, as his model for identity (self, ego, and outer world in three concentric circles), as the four functions of behavior (thinking, intuition, feeling, sensing), and in his yin-yan like theory that the self has a shadow side, as our gendered identities also have shadow anima or animus sides.

If you know and love the Dark Crystal, some of this should feel a little familiar. Thra’s world has three suns, which occasionally align to mark the end of one age and the beginning of a new one — there’s your concentric circles.

During one of these alignments, the Urskeks used the Crystal to split themselves into two beings: the Skeksis and the Mystics, which are complete counterparts to each other. Skeksies are selfish, greedy, destructive, violent, and extremely effective at getting shit done. Mystics are communal, generous, creative, peaceful, and extremely ineffective at getting shit done. It’s a stunningly gorgeous anthropomorphization of Jung’s concepts of the self’s light and shadow side.

What’s up with the crystals, tho?

This is really hard to explain, probably because I need to know more — but in my defense, there are MANY things to know in the realm of spirituality, mysticism, paganism, neo-paganism, the occult, and science.

What makes crystals a common denominator across all these is sacred geometry of their origins, and the subsequent unique vibratory properties they retain.

I mean…it’s like so many things in both mystical circles and in quantum physics. It’s scientific, and also it’s not. Remember that science fiction is based in real science, often to degrees we grossly underestimate. Quantum physicists are the ones who discovered the existence of parallel universes, a multi-verse, time travel through black holes, quantum entanglement, and so on and so forth. When it comes to frequency and vibration and their relationship with crystals, we need look no further than the works of Dr. Masaru Emoto and his study of how emotions and environment change water’s crystalline formation as it freezes.

Different types of crystals are associated with different properties — just like the terpene components found in most essential oils and other herbal products, the medicinal effectiveness of which science is only beginning to identify.

Crystals are a source of power. Literally — like, our laptops and cellphones and large technological equipment all have electrical systems regulated by tiny crystals. Usually quartz.

There’s a bunch of ancient pure quartz crystal, water or laser-jet cut into precise basins with drain plugs, sitting in the middle of the desert not too far from Giza (the Great Pyramids) that have no known origin. Nobody knows who made them, or for what. But they certainly were made for something specific.

As to exactly what Henson’s purpose is in putting a giant crystal at the center of his world, I’m honestly not sure. I think it’s safe to say, at the least, that it’s a literal manifestation of the heart and soul of the planet herself, Thra — an analogy of course for our earth. She gives power and life to the planet, and when she is damaged and cracked, its inhabitants are split into their polarized forms, and everyone suffers.

Why the Dark Crystal matters to us now

The ecological relevance of the Dark Crystal franchise’s demand that we respect our environment and planet is clear. Whether you’re hanging your hat on climate change or are shaking your fists at geoengineering and state-sponsored pesticide sprays, I think pretty much everyone can agree that the damage we’re doing to our planet is not good.

In this regard, Netflix’s Age of Resistance cranks the original’s metaphor of Thra to eleven by introducing “the darkening” — an evil blight creeping across the land, inciting all creatures infected by it to behave with rabid violence.

That about describes where we’re at as a society right now, I’d say.

But beyond the obvious, where I think Age of Resistance really hits home the most is in the naive relationship we find between the gelflings and the Skeksis at the opening of the series. A relationship which lingers for far too many of the gelflings until it’s too late — or nearly so.

It’s the propaganda that’s sold to the gelflings, which they buy wholesale. Voiced by the philosophical soul of the Skeksies: the sniveling Chamberlain, whose hunt is for power.

Just after the Skeksi scientist discovers how to use the Crystal to extract gelfling essence to become young again, our young hero Rian escapes as a witness, and the Skeksies panic to hunt him down before he can tell other gelflings. But the Chamberlain has faith in their web of propaganda, and in gelflings’ desire to be ruled.

“We are Lords of the Crystal, yes? Even if Rian talk, none will believe. They will shun him. Cast him out. How can they not? To believe him is not to believe themselves.

“Skeksies reign a thousand trine, and will reign a thousand thousand more, until last eye in the sky goes dark. Gelfling will submit, head bowed, back bent, as have always done. Gelfling want to be ruled. Gelfling need to be ruled. Because gelfling are weak. Gelfling are small. And Skeksies are forever. We took the crystal. Thra belongs to us now. And is nothing, nothing gelfling can do.”

And it’s the chilling way in which the gelflings refuse to believe that the worst not only could happen, but is happening under their nose. It’s their blind trust in the authority of who they perceive to be superior beings.

It’s the entire reason that anyone who’s familiar with the original Dark Crystal is hesitant to watch a prequel series. Because we already know what’s going to happen, and it’s not good.

We know the gelflings will loose this fight (spoiler alert for those who’ve been in a bunker since 1982). They’ll loose it hard. Which means that watching the prequel is watching a slow motion train wreck of the highest order. It’s watching the story of how gelflings — Henson’s analogy for humanity — allow themselves to be pushed to the brink of extinction by the Skeksies, before finally defeating them in desperation.

In the beginning, everyone is quite content under the Skeksies’ rule — hell, they even think their lords are benevolent. But we know that everyone is going to die.

With gelflings standing as our analogy for humans, that doesn’t bode well for humanity’s current situation. Most people are still quite content to trust the system, and to stubbornly believe that things cannot possibly change — much like the experts stubbornly believed the American housing market could never crash before 2008.

Age of Resistance also ominously prompts us to consider who, then, the Skeksies are analagous to in our modern society. The government? Corporations? Both? Illuminati? The Rothchilds and Bildebergs? Lizard aliens disguised as people?

There’s a rabbit hole I don’t care to fall into just yet. But we’ll get there. I have an entire series to review, piece by piece.

The point of all this is that if the original Dark Crystal was/is relevant to us because it presents fundamental truths and archetypes which explain the unexplainable around us, then Age of Resistance is relevant to us because it explains what’s about to happen to us — and exactly how we’ll allow it to happen to ourselves.

Which means we might — just might — have the chance to change our storyline.

After all, humanity’s chronological Dark Crystal hasn’t been written yet.

Or, as Aughra would say: “Has it?”