The Dark Crystal’s plot and dialogue are often dissed in favor of the film’s rich visual world-building and dark tone, which is accurate. The plot itself is a moderately by-the-numbers epic fantasy tale, with an evil race out for world domination, a group of elderly Obi-Wan-type mentors, a random witch, a sweet girl who talks to animals, and a young guy, Jen, on a quest. None of the Skeksis turn out to be Jen’s father, though. Interestingly, the best parts of the plot stemmed from the world-building.
Since plenty of film reviewers more competent than I am, and even plenty who aren’t, I went in a different direction and threw together a list of the most memorable of Dark Crystal’s world-building elements below. Spoilers.
1. The Skeksis/Mystic race connection.
The MacGuffin of the film, a shard from the dark crystal, is responsible for the existence of both the evil race of the Skeksis and the wise, gentle race of the Mystics. The two are tied together — as implied by the dual deaths of the Skeksi emperor and “the wisest of the Mystics” and then actually shown when a wound on one Skeksis makes a Mystic miles away bleed in the same spot. In the end, the two races join together when the crystal is whole again.
The concept of one race — the Urskeks — split into two bound ones is definitely more original than the rest of the story. I haven’t exhaustively researched if that concept has been used before, but it’s entertaining since it’s such a scientific impossibility. It wouldn’t be out of place in Doctor Who or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
The race-connection raises further, unanswered questions that would have been fun to explore. Are they somehow sharing bodies? Do they give illnesses to each other? Do they ever hear the same things, smell the same things, or feel the same things? Or, since one is good and the other is bad, do they have opposite interests? Like, one hates broccoli while the other loves it?
Of course, the fact that none of the Skeksis or Mystics appear to be female is a little odd. Maybe that explains why they’re dying races.
2. Female Gelflings have wings.
This shows up as a combination plot twist and joke: Kira, an animal-loving girl who joins Jen on his quest, is caught in a cliff-hanger and merely jumps off with a surprised Jen, only to float to the ground on her butterfly wings. When he asks how she got them, she just says that he only doesn’t have them because he’s a boy. It’s not a normal distinction to make: when it comes to wings, the typical earth creature will share their possession or lack thereof with their significant other.
The film’s exuberance to throwing out facts about their creatures give the story a fun sense that anything could happen. The quirkiness has a bit of logic to it, but only a tiny bit.
Not all of the world-building plot elements were clever. I’ve lumped a few lame plot point together here:
The Mystics’ Humming
While a cool audio element in a very visual world, the Mystics’ hums were one of the most offensively useful plot crutches I’ve ever seen. They hum to signal the end of a day. Jen copies their hums to make the crystal shard glow so that he can tell where it is. The Mystics use their hum to subdue the beetle-like Garthim. It’s a multi-purpose plot device, on par with a sonic-screwdriver.
When the two Gelflings touch, they experience each other’s lives or something. They were “dreamfasted.” This isn’t explained, and a mind meld has already been explored in plenty of sci-fi and fantasy tales. It allows them to communicate later in the film, though. Convenient. Did the past Gelflings constantly experience dreamfasting? Maybe they just tried not to touch each other until they found someone they didn’t mind telepathic chatting with.
The Animal Lover
Kira’s ability to talk to animals is random. No one else can talk to animals, but they threw it in there. Again, it’s far from original.