With Age of Resistance, Netflix is returning to the world of Jim Henson’s 1982 film The Dark Crystal, a rousing fantasy epic starring a full cast of puppets. It was something of a confusion at the time—not as kid-friendly as the Muppets, not as accessible as human-led fantasy movies—and yet, because of Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s devotion to not just craftsmanship and practical effects but also the depth of world-building, The Dark Crystal still very much holds up. And so Netflix, wisely, has seen fit to revisit that world and expand upon it with the release of the prequel series Age of Resistance.
The first line of my glowing review of Age of Resistance gives the short answer to the most often asked question I get regarding the series: No, you don’t have to watch The Dark Crystal movie beforehand. The key word for Age of Resistance is prequel—it comes before the events of the film, and ultimately it ends up not only revealing all of the mythology that the movie does, but also using scenes from the movie as prophesy for what’s to come. So while there are some familiar characters and connections for those who have seen the movie, it’s not imperative for understanding the story.
Having said that, this is a massive fantasy series with tons of creatures and characters. If you want a head-start on remembering the differences among the wizened Skeksis or why Gelfling are different than Podlings, or what a Mystic is (and why they matter), the movie is the perfect primer as an entry to this world (and runs for a very economical 93 minutes).
The movie, however, also reveals an unsettling eventuality which casts a little extra darkness on the series and what happens in the years between. So if you want to go into it with a pure, unfettered appreciation for the world of Thra without knowing how things appear to end up in the impending war between the forces of good and evil, then skip it. (Also, watching the movie after Age of Resistance is sure to be a heck of a thing).
It’s also worth noting that if the puppetry is any kind of barrier to your enjoyment of either offering, it might be better to start with Age of Resistance. The Dark Crystal is still an outstanding achievement in puppetry and animatronic arts, but Age of Resistance uses modern CG to smooth out some of the background and action, and provides an even more immersive experience for those who may be curious but are not yet hardcore fantasy fans. The focus in both productions, though, is on practical effects and truly exceptional artistry, which is one reason that the movie holds up as well as it does.
If you are someone who is just curious about The Dark Crystal in general, it’s totally fine to jump into Age of Resistance without sampling the movie first. For movie fans, there’s plenty in Age of Resistance that will be familiar and ties in, and the fidelity to Henson’s original vision is really stunning. But whichever path you choose, do give the Netflix series a shot. It’s one of the most magnificent and unique TV shows you will ever see.
The Dark Crystal is currently available on Netflix; Age of Resistance premieres Friday, August 30th on Netflix.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV