While Steven Universe: The Movie’s very much a story about the Crystal Gems’ future, it spends a fair amount of time exploring the Gems’ pasts in a novel way that makes you appreciate how far everyone’s come. The movie introduces some rather interesting new aspects of all the Gems’ personalities, Pearl in particular.
Deedee Magno Hall’s Pearl has always been extra to a fault (in a good way), so it’s hardly surprising that she ends up being one of the movie’s brighter spots. But when you actually take a moment to think about Pearl’s songs featured in the movie, you realise that the character’s arc has a significance that’s larger than her specific experience.
Steven Universe: The Movie sets basically all of it heroes back to their original, most basic selves after Spinel hits Ruby, Sapphire, Pearl and Amethyst with her Rejuvenator weapon.
As Bismuth explains, the Rejuvenator was a tool used by the Diamond Authority, and while it doesn’t exactly destroy Gems, it does revert them to their original physical and psychological forms — a hard reset. The Diamonds used it at some point in the past to control any unruly Gems.
After taking a bunch of direct hits, all of the Crystal Gems end up poofed, which has happened before, but the weapon’s energy means that when they come back they have no memory of who they were. Steven figures out a way to bring them all back gradually over the course of the movie, but we get to see some nifty things about what the Gems were like in their most elementary forms along the way.
When it’s Pearl’s turn to come back, what you see is that Pearls (or at the very least this Pearl) didn’t begin as a fully actualised Gem with an identity. When Pearl begins to reform, the first thing Steven and Greg are presented with is a cartoonish clamshell, a nod to one of the ways to harvest actual pearls — which makes them start asking questions.
What neither Steven nor Greg quite get is that Pearl, in her elementary form, is programmed to mould herself according to the desires of whichever person owns and/or activates her gem for the first time.
Steven Universe had already insinuated that Pearls were unique within Gem culture because of the way they’re regarded and treated as objects in ways that other Gems simply aren’t.
You understand that Pearls are people just as much as Amethyst or Peridot but within the Homeworld Gem hierarchy, Pearls were categorised as being... well, things. Everything about Pearl’s new introductory song “system/BOOT. PearlFinal (3).Info” feels as if it was cribbed from an internal Apple video from a few years back before the company gave up on tacky skeuomorphism.
Out of context, this depiction of Pearl might not have been all that fascinating, but because the movie shows you how a number of different Gems apparently got their starts, Pearl’s is uniquely interesting because she’s seemingly designed to be an advice tool as well as a person.
Later in the film, you’re introduced to proto-Amethyst who, like Pearl, is simpler, but she’s able to manifest outside of her gem without needing to be told what kind of person to be. To be fair, she doesn’t know what kind of person she wants to be, but the fact that she isn’t given a clear directive is interesting in and of itself, because the implication is that Amethysts aren’t meant to be told who to be quite as explicitly as Pearls.
By establishing how Pearl, like all Pearls presumably, was created to be an assistant and stan for her owners, Steven Universe: The Movie adds a new layer of complexity to the character’s larger journey because it makes her ultimate rebellion feel that much more substantial.
Ironically, the movie gives you the distinct sense that Pink Diamond was never really in control as much as she might have thought herself to be, and that she would have been inclined to take cues from the people around her as she figured out what kind of presence she wanted to establish on Earth. Pearl began as a follower, but with time, a bit of guidance, and space, she was able to come into her own in a way that would have made Pink proud.
What’s going to be interesting to see should Steven Universe continue is whether the series ends up doing anything with this weird facet of Pearl’s origins, because it’s ripe with opportunity for storytelling that fleshes out more of the Gems’ culture.
We’ve always known that the Gems were, you know, weird, but to see that weirdness borne out in these kinds of eccentric ways is thrilling, and only makes you want to see more of it given the space to shine on the small screen.