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Promotional art for Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance showing Aughra looking over a landscape and the Sanctuary Tree.

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How The Dark Crystal’s Skeksis rose to power and invaded your childhood nightmares

Looking deep into the past to understand Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

Jeffrey Parkin (he/him) has been writing video game guides for Polygon for almost seven years. He has learned to love just about every genre of game that exists.

The Dark Crystal has been a masterpiece of world-building and storytelling since its 1982 theatrical release, even though its events take place in an ancient universe where much of the story already happened. That’s because The Dark Crystal is, effectively, the end of the story. We don’t see the thousands of years of history that the movie resolves.

A tiny part of that history exists in the new Netflix series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, which takes place 50 years before the movie. But it doesn’t answer every question from the movie, and it raises new ones of its own — perhaps none greater than the role of the Skeksis.

In the movie, the Skeksis are the evil overlords of Thra who, as far as we know, have ruled for all of time with an iron fist. Fifty years earlier, in the Netflix series, the Skeksis are allies whom our heroes look to for guidance and leadership. That’s a big change, and it’s not explained.

To understand how we got there, we have to look even farther back. We need to turn to the comics published by Boom! Studios’ Archaia imprint. The three volumes of Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths by Brian Froud and Brian Holguin, Joshua Dysart, and Matthew Dow Smith explore the depths of the universe’s history, explaining some of the mysteries of the movie and the new series.

The comics’ stories start at the beginning of time and end about 1,000 years before the movie. Understanding the past is crucial to understanding the present (and the future), so let’s review the Creation Myths and see what we can learn about the events that shaped the world and led to the setting we see in Age of Resistance — specifically, why everyone seems cool with the Skeksis all of the sudden.

The universe sings a song of creation

Music, specifically song, is integral to the Dark Crystal universe. It’s mentioned in the movie and the new Netflix series many times, but the Creation Myths comics explain its mysticism more deeply.

In the first pages of the comics, the unnamed narrator explains, “At first, there was silence, and then the song began.” The universe itself sung this song of creation, which awoke the stars, created three suns, and birthed Thra, the world where the Dark Crystal takes place.

In the heart of that planet is a perfect crystal. The Crystal. The Crystal of Truth. And, eventually, the Dark Crystal.

But the Crystal isn’t alone in the universe. There are others, all sung into existence and joining the chorus of that same creation song. The Crystals and the song unify the universe. As the comics point out, “uni” means one, and “verse” means song. The Crystals and the song connect the uni-verse.

Back on Thra, the Crystal wasn’t done singing.

Mother Aughra watches it all

In time, the Crystal — and, by extension, Thra itself — realized the need for someone to watch over the newborn planet. The Crystal created Aughra, grown from the earth and the roots of the world. She is Mother. Earthwitch. Watcher. Goddess.

A comic panel showing Aughra and her all-seeing eye. Brian Froud, Brian Holguin, Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John/Archaia

Aughra is a bit of a Tom Bombadil character. She’s all-powerful but tends to observe more than act. She’s wise, but she’s always seeking knowledge. Her search for answers and understanding eventually draws her attention to the sky and Thra’s three suns.

The Great Conjunction brings the Urskek

Charting the movements of the three suns, Aughra predicted a coming Conjunction — an alignment of Thra’s three suns. We see a similar Great Conjunction in the movie, but this one took place 2,000 years earlier (and 1,950 years before the events of the Netflix series).

Aughra couldn’t look away from the Conjunction’s beauty. She … well, she stared right at the sun(s). Which is something your parents usually warn you about, but, since her only parent was a planet, we have to forgive Aughra for this. She paid for her mistake when the blinding light of the Conjunction destroyed her right eye.

With the Conjunction, visitors from another world appeared on Thra — the Urskeks. These were (and will be) the beings from the end of the movie. The Urskeks explained that, during the Great Conjunction, the Crystal and all the other Crystals like it scattered throughout the universe sang to one another. And during that moment of conjunction, a door opened between them.

A comic panel showing the arrival of four glowing Urskek Brian Froud, Brian Holguin, Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John/Archaia

The Urskek pilgrims brought gifts to Thra, but their presence (and presents) changed the face of the planet. They sang to Thra and grew a great fortress. They said it was shaped to reflect the beauty of their homeworld. They sang more, and raised the Crystal from the heart of Thra into their new citadel.

They also brought knowledge, culture, and civilization to the Gelfling, the elf-like race we know from the movie (the Gelfling aren’t the only sentient race on Thra, but they’re the most prominent — and Aughra’s favorites). And the Gelfling thrived. Vast Gelfling societies reached to the seven corners of Thra. Some even began to worship the Urskeks. (This makes sense since the Urskeks have five fingers compared to the Gelfling’s four — just like God on the Simpsons.)

According to the comics, the Urskeks built Aughra the Great Observatory — her orrery where she could explore the stars. In the first episode of the Netflix series, it’s said that the Skeksis built her observatory. Both statements can actually be true, though, because …

The Urskeks are liars

The Urskeks had a secret. They weren’t pilgrims or tourists. The 18 Urskeks that arrived on Thra had actually been banished from their homeworld. They were disruptors — dissenting voices in a utopian culture, and they’d been sent here to overcome their doubts.

They lived for 1,000 years on Thra in exile, studying the Crystal and themselves. They spent their banishment sharing in the connection of all life — and all planets — learning to listen to the Crystal’s song. After a millennium, they were mostly ready to go rejoin society. Mostly.

A comic panel showing a dark and angry Urskek Brian Froud, Joshua Dysart, Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John/Archaia

One Urskek, hurting from being separated from his home for so long and resenting his exile to a backward planet (in their opinion), had grown bitter and angry. There was darkness in their heart. When the time came for the Urskeks to return home, that darkness became their undoing.

At the next Great Conjunction — 1,000 years after their arrival, and 1,000 years before the movie — the Urskeks gathered around the Crystal. But instead of traveling home, the darkness in the heart of one doomed them all. The Urskeks were violently sundered into two new races.

The Mystics and the Skeksis are born

A comic panel showing the Crystal and two Urskek being divided into new creatures Brian Froud, Joshua Dysart, Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John/Archaia

These new races, the Urru (who we know better as the Mystics) and the Skeksis, represented the dual nature of the Urskeks. Where the Urru were peaceful observers, the Skeksis were violent and greedy.

The Skeksis were violent from the start. Minutes after finding themselves on Thra, due to a residual anger at the Crystal for their birth and its denial of their journey home (and their general rage issues), a Skeksis attacked the Crystal, chipping off a Shard that fell down the Crystal’s shaft. The Crystal, the beating heart of Thra, screamed in pain and the entire planet shook.

The Urru fled the Crystal Fortress and the Skeksis aggression, at which point they mostly disappear from the story for a long, long time. The Skeksis, on the other hand, started making themselves at home.

The Gelfling ally with the Skeksis

Aughra descended into the depths of Thra, looking for the missing shard that would heal the Crystal. She looked for a very long time and gathered many shards, but she was never certain which one was the Shard. (She doesn’t actually know until the events of the movie.)

Meanwhile, on the surface, Thra was in crisis.

Only a few on the entire planet had seen what happened during the second Great Conjunction — and even fewer of them really understood it. Instead, most Thra-born just knew that the Urskeks and Aughra vanished, and the Skeksis were here now (nearly no one even knew of the existence of the Urru).

The Skeksis installed themselves as Protectors and Masters of the Crystal. They even lied to the Gelflings they met, saying that the Urskeks brought them to Thra to take over, and no Gelfling suspected anything different.

A full page of the comic with four panels showing strange creatures wading through lava and climbing to the surface of Thra. Brian Froud, Matthew Dow Smith, Alex Sheikman, Lizzy John/Archaia

The great earthquakes that shook Thra when the Crystal was broken cracked open the planet. A new race, never before seen, made its way to the surface. This new race (known as the Miners in the notes after the comic), were lost, confused, and poisoned by the air on the surface. Their pain and confusion looked a lot like rampage to the frightened Gelfling.

Their fear led the Gelfling to turn to the Skeksis for Protection from these unknown monsters from the depths. After all, the Urskeks left them in charge, so they couldn’t be all bad, right? The Skeksis taught the Gelfling weapon and armorcraft. The Skeksis taught them war.

This alliance, we know from the movie, doesn’t end well. But for the first 950 years, the Gelflings and Skeksis alliance was strong.

Welcome to the Age of Resistance

And that’s where the Netflix series picks up — 50 years before the next Great Conjunction and the events of the movie. The seven Gelfling clans are thriving with a huge population all over the world, but the Skeksis’ inherent greed is killing Thra. The Skeksis are looking for new ways to survive — to beat death and rule Thra (and the Crystal) forever.

What’s to come

Knowing how we got here, and how the story ends in The Dark Crystal, what can we guess about the new series?

A still from The Dark Crystal showing the gelfling Jen looking at some ruins. The Jim Henson Company/Universal Pictures

Age of Resistance is a prequel, so, while we don’t know exactly how it will end, we do know what the world looks like 50 years later. By the time of the movie, the Gelfling civilization is in ruins — Jen and Kira visit literal ruins during the movie — and the Gelfling are either wiped out or in hiding — we only see Jen and Kira, not a thriving civilization.

So we know that the Gelfling will lose. The rebellion of Age of Resistance is doomed to fail. Or, at least, fail to remove the Skeksis from power.

In the sequel comic series set after the events of the movie, Jim Henson’s Beneath the Dark Crystal and Jim Henson’s The Power of the Dark Crystal, the Gelfling are again thriving. There’s a huge population of Gelfling all over the Thra. There are huge leaps in population from Age of Resistance to The Dark Crystal and then to Beneath the Dark Crystal.

And those leaps are something the writers are aware of. In an interview with The Beat, Age of Resistance writer/producer Javier Grillo-Marxuach said, “It’s very easy to look at the film and believe that you know exactly what happened already and how it all played out. I assure you, we have an answer for how Thra got to the state it’s in in the movie, and it may not be what you think it is, based on having seen the film. Thra is a big place … there’s a lot of space for hope there.”

We also know that the Skeksis aren’t eternal. In 50 years, Jen — with a whole lot of help from Kira (seriously, Jen is Luke Skywalker-level clueless in the movie while Kira gets shit done) — will heal the Crystal and, in doing so, restore the Urskek.

And that means that Age of Resistance is a story of what hope looks like in the world’s darkest hour. Even while all appears lost, like it does in the movie, Age of Resistance might just answer what happens in that gap between rebellion and reconstruction, and what’s happening elsewhere on Thra.

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