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Babylon 5
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Babylon 5

Babylon 5 is an epic science fiction television series created by, produced, and largely written by J. Michael Straczynski. Its music 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. Because of the unusual rapidity with which the series was aired in the United Kingdom on Channel 4, the last four or five episodes of the early seasons aired in the UK before the US.

The series won several awards [1], 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 which won a Hugo.

Warning: Plot details follow.

The Babylon 5 Universe:
Topic index - Episode list - People

Table of contents
1 Concept
2 Cast and Primary Characters
3 Babylon stations
4 Civilizations
5 Real Life Themes
6 The episodes
7 Spin-off series
8 Novels and Novelizations
9 Video game
10 Current projects
11 Similarities to Deep Space Nine
12 Related articles
13 External links

Concept

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 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. To this end he hired Harlan Ellison as a consultant to the series. Ellison is not known for suffering fools quietly, and had seen a projected series of his own (The Starlost) ruined by the studio's interference and budget-cutting.

Unlike most television shows, this series was conceived as a novel, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. 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 but two of the episodes after the second season, a feat rarely accomplished in 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, reportedly either at the insistence of studio executives or due to different developing plot requirements, and covering the unexpected departure of actress Claudia Christian proved to be major challenges. Star Trek veterans Walter Koenig (Chekov), and Majel Barrett (Christine Chapel, Lwaxana Troi, and the Computer Voice) have both had guest roles during the course of the series.

Renewal of the show after each season was never assured, and cancellation after the fourth season was almost certain. This resulted in a hasty consolidation of the end of the Shadow War and subsequent events, as the latter half of the fourth season was modified to incorporate remaining elements of the planned story arc so as not to end the series unresolved. A series finale episode ("Sleeping in Light") was set twenty years in the future so that it could run either at the end of the fourth season or, if the series was renewed, at the end of the fifth season. At the very last moment the series was picked up for a fifth season on a different US television network (TNT); a new fourth-season finale episode was filmed, and "Sleeping in Light" was held until the end of the fifth season. However, since the fourth season had already wrapped up most of the major story arcs, fans generally regard the fifth season as not having as much to cover and being fairly weak.

Cast and Primary Characters

See also: List of people involved with Babylon 5

Regular Cast

Recurring Guest Characters

Babylon stations

Babylon 5 is the fifth of the Babylon stations. Its predecessors Babylon, Babylon 2, and Babylon 3 were all sabotaged and destroyed before their completion. Babylon 4 was completed and went operational, but twenty-four hours later it disappeared without a trace.

Babylon 4

In the series, it is first revealed that the station mysteriously disappeared just after construction was completed. Late in the first season of the show, six years after it disappeared, Babylon 4 reappears again, and the crew of Babylon 5 mount a rescue mission to save the crew. Babylon 4 is surrounded by a mysterious distortion field which can have terrible effects on those encountering it. The first pilot sent out to investigate the disturbance is killed by being aged by the field. There is also an alien, known as Zathras, of a unknown race, who is found on the station. His origin is unclear, and when it is attempted to remove him from the station, a beam falls on him and traps him. He is abandoned as the evacuation is completed. Associated with Zathras is a being known as The One, who Zathras gives a repaired time stabiliser to, indicating that The One is at least in part responsible for the disapperance of the station.

Two years later, in a two part episode, the full story behind Babylon 4 is at last revealed. It turns out that those responsible for the theft of the station are the Babylon 5 crew themselves. With help of the Great Machine on Epsilon 3, which is used to create the time field, the crew travel from 2260 to 2254, to first stop Babylon 4 being destroyed by allies of the Shadows. Zathras turns out to be one of the race that maintains the Great Machine. He provides the crew with time stabilizers, to stop them becoming 'unstuck in time'. Following stopping Babylon 4's destruction, the station is boarded and an attempt is made to induce the crew to evacuate. The attempt succeeds, but backfires, slinging the station four years forward in time to 2258. The rescue from that year is then seen.

After the conclusion of the 2258 rescue the station re-enters the time distortion. It is found that because Sinclair had come to Babylon 4 in 2258, without the benefit of a time stabilizer, has aged many years. If he returns to 2260 he will die. Sheridan, Ivanova and Delenn return to 2260, and Sinclair and Zathras take the station back in time to its destination. The destination of the station is 1260, during the previous Shadow War. Sinclair uses a triluminary, which is also technology from Epsilon 3, to transform his form into that of a Minbari. He thus becomes 'a Minbari not born of Minbari', in other words Valen.

Civilizations

(left) of the Narn Regime and Londo Mollari of the Centauri Republic]]

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.

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

Note: the interactions between civilizations causes profound alterations through the course of the show. The descriptions given below are applicable during the first two seasons of the show (depicting the years 2257 through 2259).

Earth Alliance

Although humanity has expanded to Mars and Io and occupies several dozen colony worlds outside the solar system, the Earth Alliance is still dominated by Earth. Since the end of the Earth-Minbari war, when Earth stood on the brink of annihilation, it has prospered in interstellar trade; some factions, however, have grown xenophobic and isolationist. Following the suspicious death of President Santiago and the rise to power of vice-president Clarke, the new President forms Nightwatch. This ominously named paramilitary secret police organisation is dedicated to internal security against external threats.

Increasingly powerful in the Earth milieu is the Psi Corps, a quasimilitary organization which both regulates and is controlled by human telepaths. Psi Cop Alfred Bester (Walter Koenig) is the face of the Corps commonly presented to viewers. Straczynski named him after science fiction author Alfred Bester, the Psi Corps being loosely based on elements of Bester's novel The Demolished Man. The station is staffed by the Earth Alliance military, Earthforce; the station's commander (first Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, then Captain John Sheridan, and finally Captain Elizabeth Lochley) also serves as Earth's ambassador. Commander Susan Ivanova is second in command, Michael Garibaldi is security chief, and Dr. Steven Franklin is chief medical officer.

Minbari Federation

Already ancient when humanity was young, the Minbari Federation is a caste society, its people divided into workers, warriors, and priests. The Minbari are led by the Grey Council, which contains nine representatives, three from each of the three castes. This arrangement was founded by Valen, the legendary prophet from ancient Minbari history, whom the Minbari revere above all.

Due to an unfortunate misunderstanding during first contact with humans, the Minbari declared war on the Earth Alliance and quickly overwhelmed the Earth Alliance fleet, beating them back to within sight of Earth and within moments of total victory, when abruptly the Minbari ceased their offensive and surrendered. The reasons for this play an important role in the plot of the series.

Minbari are humanoid, usually thin and pale; they are bald, with gray bony crests across the back of their heads. The Minbari ambassador to Babylon 5 is Delenn, a female Minbari of the religious caste and member of the Grey Council.

Centauri Republic

The Centauri Republic is an empire which has grown decadent and is in a slow decline. The Centauri, a humanoid race, are a proud and aristocratic people who have seen better days; the Emperor and his scheming nobles leap at any chance to regain the glories of yesteryear. Centauri males run toward obesity; females are traditionally bald, while males wear their hair in fanlike crests, the height of which is determined by the male's rank in society. The Centauri ambassador is Londo Mollari, a minor noble considered past his prime, and his assistant is the bumbling Vir Cotto.

Narn Regime

Another "young race" like humanity, the Narn Regime were previously occupied and enslaved by the Centauri, and bear them deep ill-will because of the brutal methods of control employed. Narns are widely perceived to be primitive and barbaric, a stereotype the Centauri engendered during their occupation. This perception continues due to Narn fears about Centauri aggression, and increasing calls for retribution against their former masters.

The Narn are led by the Kha'Ri council. Their religion venerates philosopher prophets, and most Narn draw strength from various different holy writings. Narns are tall and have a stocky build; they are bald, with a yellowish complexion, mottled with brown and/or green spots. Although they look lizard-like, they are in fact marsupials. The Narn ambassador to Babylon 5 is G'Kar.

Vorlon Empire

Little is known about the Vorlons, except that they are very advanced and secretive to the point of paranoia; only a handful of non-Vorlons who have entered their space have returned to tell about it. Vorlons seem to cultivate an air of mystery, concealing themselves in bulky "encounter suits" during their rare communication with other races, and speaking via voice synthesisers in short enigmatic comments that suggest they know far more than they let on. The encounter suit and the poisonous atmosphere maintained in the Vorlon ambassador's quarters suggest that the Vorlons cannot live in the type of environment the other major races consider normal, but these could simply be more ways in which the Vorlons protect their secrets. Kosh Naranek is B5's resident Vorlon ambassador.

League of Non-Aligned Worlds

In addition to the five major powers, The League of Non-Aligned Worlds consists of other minor powers including the Gaim, Abbai, Brakiri, Pak'ma'ra, Markab, Drazi, and Vree.

Rangers

The Rangers are a class of warrior, organized by the Minbari for the specific purpose of providing a dedicated fighting force for the second Shadow War prophesied by the Minbari leader Valen. Qualified members of any race may become Rangers, and the Rangers count Humans and Drazi among their numbers.

Shadows

The Shadows are an ancient alien species, after whom the great Shadow Wars are named. Their homeworld is Z'ha'dum.

First Ones

The First Ones are a loose collection of ancient beings of which little is seen and less is known.

Real Life Themes

In addition to having an ongoing story arc, Babylon 5 found ways to science-fictionalize very real life themess and address social issues relevant to modern times.

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?

Other groups, encouraged by the invisible Shadows, choose to serve their own glory or profit. Serial murderers and terrorists wreak havoc. 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?

Bigotry and forgiveness

Babylon 5 can be divided into several major armed conflicts:

The naive viewer might see Babylon 5 as a television show about space ships blowing each other up. In fact, 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 squished 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 fulfilling 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: most everyone in love or walking a true path is insane.

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

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. Two of the major characters are substance abusers: Garibaldi is an alcoholic, and Dr. Franklin is addicted to "stims." Abuse of "dust," a telepathic drug, also plays a recurring role in the story.

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.

Other made-for-TV movies

Spin-off series

Crusade

The spin-off series
Crusade (Lurkers' Guide entry) 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). But creative differences between Straczynski and TNT caused problems; the network wanted more sex and violence (AICN) 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. 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" aired on the
Sci Fi Channel in January 2001. It was the proposed pilot episode of a new series titled Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers, but the pilot's poor ratings killed the network's interest in a series. Due to the events of September 11th, 2001, the air date of the move had been pushed back, and it eventually was aired opposite a vital NFL football game. JMS 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.

Novels and Novelizations

The Babylon 5 novels and novelizations are based on summaries written by the producer of the series J. Michael Straczynski. The three trilogies are considered by fans to be the greatest of the lot.

Novels

The Psi Corps Trilogy

The Centauri Trilogy

The Technomage Trilogy

Novelizations

Video game

In 1998 a video game based on Babylon 5, named "Into the Fire," was being created by Sierra. 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 have 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, however, when on September 21, 1999, as part of a corporate reorganization, Sierra canceled it and laid off its development staff.

The web site FirstOnes.com followed the game's development and demise, and continues to track Babylon 5 modss for other games. They also have created the first of several planned standalone games, titled "Babylon 5: I've Found Her". This one, a completely free download, is set five years before the series, and can be downloaded at their website.

Current projects

A recent post by Straczynski to Usenet indicated the continuing evolution of a project called The Memory of Shadows. In typically cryptic fashion, Straczynski has not yet provided any details about the project, but included a reference to ratio of 2.35:1. This is the format typically used for recent feature films. The sudden death of Richard Biggs in May 2004 delayed the project because of the emotional impact on everybody involved, and because the script had to be re-written.

Straczynski has also announced that more Babylon 5 books are on the way.

Similarities to Deep Space Nine

The Babylon 5 television series bore a number of close resemblances to the series . See: .

Related articles

External links