It was marketed as a family film but was notably darker than the creators' previous material, and it was heavily influenced by the new age movement. The animatronics used in the film were considered groundbreaking. The primary concept artist was fantasy illustrator Brian Froud, famous for his distinctive fairy and dwarf designs. Froud also collaborated with Henson and Oz for their next project, the 1986 film Labyrinth.
The Dark Crystal was produced by Gary Kurtz, while the screenplay was written by David Odell, who had worked with Henson as a staff writer on The Muppet Show. The film score was composed by Trevor Jones. The film was produced by ITC Entertainment, the British production company responsible for producing The Muppet Show. The film earned mixed to positive reviews from multiple critics, with particular praise on its special effects.
A thousand years ago on the planet Thra, a magical crystal cracked, and two new races appeared: the malevolent Skeksis, who use the power of the "Dark Crystal" to continually replenish themselves, and kind wizards called Mystics.
Jen, an elf-like Gelfling taken in by the Mystics after his clan was killed, is told by his Mystic master that he must heal the Crystal, a shard of which is held by the astronomer, Aughra. If he fails to do so before the planet's three suns align, then the Skeksis will rule forever. The Skeksis' emperor and Jen's master die simultaneously. A duel ensues between the Skeksis Chamberlain and General, both of whom desire the throne. The General wins, taking power and exiling the Chamberlain. Learning of Jen's existence, the Skeksis send large crab-like creatures called Garthim to track him.
Jen reaches Aughra and is taken to her home, which contains an enormous orrery she uses to predict the motions of the heavens. She has a box full of shards, from which Jen selects the correct one by playing music on his flute to cause it to resonate. Aughra tells Jen of the upcoming Great Conjunction, the alignment of the three suns, but he learns little of its connection to the shard. Suddenly, the Garthim appear and destroy Aughra's home, taking her prisoner as Jen flees.