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Babylon 5

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The Babylon 5 Station
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The Babylon 5 Station

Babylon 5 is an epic science fiction television series created, produced, and largely written by J. Michael Straczynski. The music for the TV series and related TV movies was composed by Christopher Franke. The pilot movie, The Gathering, aired on February 22, 1993, and the regular series initially aired from January 26, 1994 through November 25, 1998, first in syndication on the short-lived Prime Time Entertainment Network, then on cable network TNT. Because the show was aired every week in the United Kingdom on Channel 4 without a break, the last four or five episodes of the early seasons were shown in the UK before the US.

The series won several awards [1] (http://babylon5.isnnews.net/info/b5awards.shtml), including two Hugos for Best Dramatic Presentation. One of the Hugo awards is used as a prop in the final episode, marking the first time that a Hugo has been shown on-screen in a series that won a Hugo.

The Babylon 5 Universe:
Topic index - Episode list - People list
Articles by category
Characters - Cast & Crew - Episodes
Movies - Races - Ships - Wars
Contents

Concept

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Babylon5_01.jpg
Another shot of the Babylon 5 station

The series, often held as a good example of space opera, consists of a five-year story arc taking place over five seasons of 22 episodes each. The hub of the story is a large space station named Babylon 5; the five-mile-long, 2.5-million-ton rotating colony is built to be a gathering place for fostering peace through diplomacy, trade, and cooperation. In the words of its commander, it is humanity's "last, best hope for peace." However, Babylon 5 is the center of political intrigue and conflict, and eventually becomes a pawn in a massive interstellar conflict from which it emerges with a Pyrrhic victory over forces of darkness and chaos.

Having long been a science fiction fan himself, Straczynski was determined to produce a science fiction series for adults where, for once, things would be done properly: consistent technology, "no kids or cute robots", no new "particle of the week" to tie up a plot. It was not a utopian future — there is greed and homelessness. It was not a place where everything was the same at the end of the day — main characters grow, develop, live, and die. An unabashedly political show, it was always ready to deal with politics, sex, religion, and philosophy.

Unlike most television shows, this series was conceived as a novel, with a defined beginning, middle, and end. In addition, even tie-in novels, comic books, and short stories play a significant part of the overall story.

The overall story of the show was plotted out in some detail before the first episode was ever shot. Having a (loosely) predetermined plot was advantageous in many respects, as longer-term planning greatly reduced the working budget required on sets and costumes. The planned plot arc, allowing largely fixed sets and economies of scale, favorably compared with more episodic series which might require an entirely new set of props or costumes for each episode.

Though conceived as a whole, and with Straczynski writing most of the episodes (including all of the episodes of the third and fourth seasons, a feat never before accomplished in American television), it was necessary to adjust the plotline to accommodate external influences. The replacement of actor Michael O'Hare as the station commander after the first season, the unexpected departure of actresses Claudia Christian and Andrea Thompson, and the necessity to compress the fourth season story arc due to fears of cancellation proved to be major challenges.

Babylon 5 is often cited as raising the bar for science fiction television, using an arc-driven storytelling style now prevalent not only in sci-fi, but in mainstream dramas as well. Straczynski anticipated the rise of digital television, shooting the series in 1.78:1 format rather than the normal 1.33:1 - a full six years before ER and many other dramas began doing the same thing. Babylon 5 also revolutionized the use of computer technology in creating visual effects at a time when using models and miniatures was the norm.

Cast and primary characters

See also: List of people involved with Babylon 5

Regular cast

Recurring guest characters

There was also a group of actors who each played numerous bit parts, known informally as "The Babylon 5 Players". For example, each of the actors who played a Drazi ambassador during the series also appeared as another minor character elsewhere in the Babylon 5 saga.

Babylon stations

Babylon 5 is the fifth, and last, of the Babylon stations. Its predecessors Babylon, Babylon 2, and Babylon 3 were all sabotaged and destroyed before their completion. Twenty-four hours before its completion, Babylon 4 disappeared without a trace. The episode "Babylon Squared" and the two-part episode "War Without End" deal with the disappearance of Babylon 4. Babylon 5 is substantially smaller than the previous stations because so much money was spent on the prior stations. For example, Babylon 4 had its own propulsion system, while Babylon 5 has none.

Straczynski has said that he has detailed notes on the inauguration of the Babylon station program, and that one man was at the heart of the effort to get the first one built.

Each Babylon station is a different color: Babylon 1 was red, Babylon 2 orange, Babylon 3 yellow, Babylon 4 green, and Babylon 5 blue.

Bruce Boxleitner described the spacestation Babylon 5 as "... A free port for diplomats, travelers and businessmen. A combination of building the United Nations and Times Square on an intergalactic scale. ...", in the introduction of "The Guide to Babylon 5".

Civilizations

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B5_aliens.jpg

One of the show's many themes is the cultural and social interaction between civilizations: the station is, after all, a diplomatic meeting-place. The show is as much political thriller as science fiction.

Five dominant civilizations are represented on Babylon 5, and more than a dozen less powerful ones.

Note: the interactions between civilizations caused profound alterations throughout the course of the show. Further information on specific civilizations in the Babylon 5 universe can be found on the Civilizations page.

Themes

Through its ongoing story arc, Babylon 5 found ways to portray themes relevant to modern social issues.

Authoritarianism vs. anarchy; light vs. dark vs. gray

The central theme in Babylon 5 is the conflict between order and chaos, and the people caught between.

The Vorlons and the Earth Alliance Government both represent oppressive, authoritarian philosophies: you will do what we tell you to, because we tell you to do it. Who are you? Are you willing to sacrifice yourself for a greater cause, or are you merely serving your own petty interests?

The Shadows represent chaos. Their belief is that by creating conflict, a stronger generation is born — pure "survival of the fittest". To accomplish this, the Shadows encourage conflict between other groups, who choose to serve their own glory or profit. What do you want? Money, territory, fame, power?

The Rangers, composed mainly of Minbari and Humans with a scattering of other races, represent a third way; their unwavering commitment to compassion and self-sacrifice, epitomised by the character of Marcus Cole, opposes both the emotionless war of the Vorlons and the chaotic brutality of the Shadows.

Ultimately, the main characters strike a balance: sometimes selfish, sometime self-sacrificing, making many mistakes along the way. Sometimes they impress us, and sometimes they horrify us. Do you have anything worth living for? Do you love? Do you have a true calling?

Straczynski occasionally hinted that there was a "fourth question." One suggestion that has been made for this question is "Why are you here?" Another possibility is Lorien's final question to Sheridan: "Where are you going?"

It is ironic (intentionally so) that the Earth Alliance government, an incarnation of Vorlon-style order, allied itself with the Shadows during the course of the series.

Bigotry and forgiveness

The Babylon 5 timeline includes numerous major armed conflicts:

  • The first war between the Narn and Centauri, which ends four decades before the series.
  • The war between the Dilgar and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds (aided by the Earth Alliance), which takes place three decades before the series.
  • The war between the Humans and the Minbari, which takes place ten years before the series starts.
  • The second war between the Narn and Centauri, which takes place during the series.
  • The eons-old conflict between the Vorlons and the Shadows.
  • The civil war between the Minbari religious caste and warrior caste.
  • The civil war between President Clark's corrupt Earthgov and the Babylon 5-led resistance.
  • The war between the new Interstellar Alliance and the Centauri republic.
  • The war between the Earth Alliance and the Drakh.
  • The conflict between telepathic Humans and mundanes (non-telepathic Humans), the major part of which takes place shortly after the series.
  • The battle to free Centauri Prime from Drakh occupation, which takes place a decade and a half after the series.
  • The Great Burn, a civil war between factions of the Earth Alliance that takes place five centuries after the series.

Most of the above conflicts end when the side with superior firepower gives in to the side with the superior understanding. Every conflict has a forgotten "third side," people crushed beneath the feet of the powerful. Usually a single individual willing to sacrifice himself is more powerful than the greatest army, while an individual willing to sacrifice everyone else to serve his own objectives can turn worlds into ashes, yet still be defeated.

After all is done, we find members of the opposing sides working together to forge a new future. (Examples: the Rangers, Delenn and Neroon, Delenn and Sheridan, Londo and G'Kar, Garibaldi and Lochley.)

Ultimately, every violent conflict is born out of self interest, perpetuated by prejudice and ideology, and resolved by the realization that each side needs the other to survive. Hatred is associated with stupidity, forgiveness is associated with pragmatism, and wisdom follows conflict.

Love and true seekers

Unrequited love may be the source of all pain in Babylon 5. Ivanova loses everyone she loves. Lennier is the ultimate victim of unrequited love, but also of his own foolishness. Sheridan and Delenn know true love; Sheridan comes back from the dead for love. Marcus says, "Sometimes love is funny, sometimes very sad." Garibaldi has trouble figuring it out. Vir knows what true love is from the beginning; his problem is getting to "number six."

But there are a few who have forsaken physical desire for a greater calling: finding the holy grail, all the names of God, or the fulfilment of a thousand year old prophecy.

The only alternative to having love or a true calling is to be insane, addicted to some petty need, a tool for some other power, or to be adrift among the stars. Although it must be said: almost everyone in love or walking a true path is insane.

Straczynski's recurring message is to always accept passion when it calls.

An interesting bit of trivia is that in the B5 universe, every intelligent species in the galaxy has, apparently on its own, developed the food that we call Swedish meatballs. Each species has a different name for it (the Narn call it "breen"). This is reminiscent of a phenomenon reported in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: every intelligent race has a drink called "gin and tonic" - but only the name is the same, and the actual drink is unique to each species.

Addiction

Addiction plays a recurring role in the saga of Babylon 5. Power as an addiction, work as an addiction, violence as an addiction and hatred as an addiction all play out repeatedly. Several major characters have a history of substance abuse: Garibaldi is a recovering alcoholic; Londo Mollari is a heavy drinker; Dr. Franklin is addicted to "stims"; and Lochley went though a period of hard drug abuse in her younger years. Abuse of "dust", a telepathic drug, also plays a recurring role in the story.

Obsession as a related theme occurs numerous times too. Sheridan is willing to break all rules to learn the fate of his wife after discovering the connection between her and Morden. The Narn and Centauri hate each other to the point of obsession and addiction.

Music and scoring

The original pilot movie had music composed by Stewart Copeland. When the show was picked up as a weekly series Copeland was not available, and so Straczynski hired Christopher Franke, of Tangerine Dream fame. Franke stayed on as the composer for all five seasons of B5, and three B5 telefilms. When Straczynski obtained funds to create a new writer's edition of the pilot movie, the original Stewart Copeland score was replaced with a new score by Christopher Franke.

The episodes

Main article: List of Babylon 5 episodes

Each season shared its name with an episode which was central to that season's plot.

  • Season One: "Signs and Portents"
  • Season Two: "The Coming of Shadows"
  • Season Three: "Point of No Return"
  • Season Four: "No Surrender, No Retreat"
  • Season Five: "Wheel of Fire"

Other made-for-TV movies

Spin-offs

Crusade

The spin-off series Crusade (Lurkers' Guide entry) (http://www.midwinter.com/lurk/countries/us/guide/113.html) ran on TNT for thirteen episodes, having been set up by the TV-movie A Call to Arms. The production team received help from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to make sure that the series depicted science and technology accurately (JPL press release) (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/releases/98/crusade2.html). But creative differences between Straczynski and TNT caused problems; the network wanted more sex and violence (AICN) (http://www.aint-it-cool-news.com/display.cgi?id=2060) and forced Straczynski to begin the first episode with a fistfight. The sex-and-violence request was later withdrawn and TNT in fact allocated more money to Crusade, giving the actors better uniforms and new sets mid-season, but due to the creative differences TNT eventually decided to cancel the series after thirteen episodes had been produced, but before any of them were aired. No major story arcs had yet come into play.

Legend of the Rangers

A made-for-TV movie titled To Live and Die in Starlight was produced by the Sci Fi Channel. It was the proposed pilot episode of a new series titled Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers Rescheduled after the September 11, 2001 attacks, the movie aired on January 19, 2002. However, it was scheduled against an NFL AFC Divisional Championship playoff game featuring the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders. The pilot's poor ratings killed the network's interest in a series. Straczynski posted the following to Usenet on January 27, 2002:

The east coast ratings got hammered by the football game, which was the highest rated such game in something like 5 years. The B5 male demos are pretty much the same as for sports, and we lost heavily to football. So there we did not do well. By contrast, on the west coast, where the show aired *after* the game had finished, we not only met but *exceeded* SFC's expectations, getting a 3.2 or 3.6 in many markets, which is actually pretty unheard of for a basic cable network. The problem is that the average, 1.7, is still what's used for advertising.

The Memory of Shadows

In 2004 and early 2005, rumors widely circulated about a planned 'Babylon 5' movie for theatrical release. However, on February 25th, a post from Straczynski (http://www.jmsnews.com/msg.aspx?id=1-17289) announced that the project had fallen through and was for all practical purposes dead. The proposed movie, titled The Memory of Shadows (TMOS), was written by Straczynski. Filming was to have begun in April 2005 in the UK with Steven Beck as the director.

Several sources have claimed that factions within Warner Brothers wanted to recast established Babylon 5 roles with younger and more well-known actors, causing a major controversy among fans of Babylon 5. Straczynski acknowledged the subject, has stated that the negotiations were problematic, but has said that he is unable to directly comment on the issue.

According to statements and clues made by Straczynski in a convention appearance in New Jersey, and statements on a Usenet newsgroup, it is known that the planned storyline connected to that of the short-lived Crusade television series. In this movie the technology of the ancient Shadow race is being unleashed on the galaxy by an unknown force. EarthForce intelligence officer Diane Baker, whose brother was recently killed in a mysterious explosion, intends to find out who is behind the conspiracy. Joining her is Galen, a technomage who has been charged with keeping the technology out of the hands of those who would abuse it.

Novels and novelizations

The Babylon 5 novels and novelizations are based on outlines written by Straczynski. The three trilogies are considered by fans to be the best of the lot.

Mongoose Publishing, the publisher of recent Babylon 5 role-playing game (RPG) material, has announced that it will be releasing a line of Babylon 5 novels and graphic novels beginning in late 2005. More information is available at their website (http://www.mongoosepublishing.com).

Novels

Only Books 7 & 9 are considered canon.

  1. Babylon 5: Voices (1995, ISBN 0440220572)
  2. Babylon 5: Accusations (1995, ISBN 0440220580)
  3. Babylon 5: Blood Oath (1995, ISBN 0440220599)
  4. Babylon 5: Clark's Law (1996, ISBN 044022229X)
  5. Babylon 5: The Touch of Your Shadow, the Whisper of Your Name (1996, ISBN 0440222303)
  6. Babylon 5: Betrayals (1996, ISBN 0440222346)
  7. Babylon 5: The Shadow Within (1997, ISBN 0440223482; 2002 edition: ISBN 0345452186)
  8. Babylon 5: Personal Agendas (1997, ISBN 0440223512)
  9. Babylon 5: To Dream in the City of Sorrows (1997, ISBN 0440223547; 2003 edition: ISBN 0345452194)

The Psi Corps Trilogy

All are considered canon: written by J. Gregory Keyes

  1. Babylon 5: Dark Genesis - The Birth of the Psi Corps (1998, ISBN 0345427157)
  2. Babylon 5: Deadly Relations - Bester Ascendant (1999, ISBN 0345427165)
  3. Babylon 5: Final Reckoning - The Fate of Bester (1999, ISBN 0345427173)

The Centauri Trilogy

All are considered canon: written by Peter David.

  1. Babylon 5: Legions of Fire - The Long Night of Centauri Prime (1999, ISBN 0345427181)
  2. Babylon 5: Legions of Fire - Armies of Light and Dark (2000, ISBN 034542719X)
  3. Babylon 5: Legions of Fire - Out of the Darkness (2000, ISBN 0345427203)

The Technomage Trilogy

All are considered canon: written by Jeanne Cavelos.

  1. Babylon 5: The Passing of the Techno-Mages - Casting Shadows (2001, ISBN 0345427211)
  2. Babylon 5: The Passing of the Techno-Mages - Summoning Light (2001, ISBN 034542722X)
  3. Babylon 5: The Passing of the Techno-Mages - Invoking Darkness (2001, ISBN 0345438337)

Novelizations

DVDs

The Babylon 5 series has been released in DVD form. Included are all episodes, selected director and cast commentary, previews of episodes, and a multimedia database of Babylon 5 related information. As of 2005, all five seasons of the original series, as well as five of the six movies and the spinoff series Crusade, are available for purchase. Only Legend of the Rangers remains unavailable though it is slated for an October release in the UK.

Video games

In 1998 a video game based on Babylon 5, named "Into the Fire," was being developed by Sierra, the makers of Homeworld. This game was to have cast the player as the pilot of a Starfury fighter craft through many missions of a dynamic storyline, while also giving the player an opportunity to "move up through the ranks" and eventually take command of capital ships and even fleets. It was to feature large battles and realistic physics. Multiplayer competitive and cooperative modes would have allowed players to pilot ships of alien races. Christopher Franke composed and recorded new music for the game, and live action footage was filmed with the primary actors from the series.

Work on this game ended on September 21, 1999, when, as part of a corporate reorganization, Sierra canceled it and laid off its development staff.

The web site FirstOnes.com (http://www.firstones.com/) followed the game's development and demise, and continues to track Babylon 5 mods for other games. FirstOnes.com also hosts the site of the Space Dream Factory (http://ifh.firstones.com/), an independent project to develop several standalone games. The first of these, titled "Babylon 5: I've Found Her", is set five years before the series, and can be downloaded free of charge at the project's website. (http://ifh.firstones.com/)

Another independently developed, freely available mod is The Babylon Project (http://www.3dactionplanet.com/hlp/hosted/babylon/), a total conversion of the computer game Freespace 2. The mod features several campaigns set during the Earth-Minbari War and the Raider Wars. Additional campaigns, including the Earth Alliance Civil War, are planned. Active development continues on the project's forums at Hard Light Productions (http://www.hardlightproductions.com/).

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