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Babylon 5

Babylon 5 is an American science fiction television series created, produced and largely written by J. Michael Straczynski. The show centers on the Babylon 5 space station: a focal point for politics, diplomacy, and conflict in the late 2250s and early 2260s. With its prominent use of pre-planned story arcs, the series was often described as a "novel for television."

The pilot movie premiered on February 22, 1993. The regular series aired from January 26, 1994 and ran for five full seasons, winning two Hugos for Best Dramatic Presentation and two Emmy awards - for makeup and visual effects. The show spawned six television movies and a spin-off series, Crusade, which aired in 1999 and ran for thirteen episodes. A straight-to-DVD release containing two short films about selected characters from the series was released on July 31, 2007.

Concept

Having worked on a number of television science fiction shows which had regularly gone over-budget, creator J. Michael Straczynski concluded that a lack of long-term planning was to blame, and set about looking at ways in which a series could be done responsibly. Taking note of the lessons of mainstream television, which brought stories to a centralised location such as a hospital, police station, or law office, he decided that instead of "[going] in search of new worlds, building them anew each week," a fixed space station setting would keep costs at a reasonable level. A fan of sagas such as the Foundation series, Childhood's End, The Lord of the Rings, and Dune, Straczynski wondered why no one had done a television series with the same epic sweep, and concurrently with the first idea started developing the concept for a vastly-ambitious epic covering massive battles and other universe-changing events. Realizing that both could be done in a single series, he began to sketch the initial outline of what would become Babylon 5.
"Once I had the locale, I began to populate it with characters, and sketch out directions that might be interesting. I dragged out my notes on religion, philosophy, history, sociology, psychology, science (the ones that didn't make my head explode), and started stitching together a crazy quilt pattern that eventually formed a picture. Once I had that picture in my head, once I knew what the major theme was, the rest fell into place. All at once, I saw the full five year story in a flash, and I frantically began scribbling down notes."
J. Michael Straczynski, 1995
Straczynski set five goals for Babylon 5. He said that the show "would have to be good science fiction" as well as good television ("rarely are [sci-fi] shows both good [sci-fi] and good TV; [they're] generally one or the other"); it would have to do for science fiction television what Hill Street Blues had done for police dramas, by taking an adult approach to the subject; it would have to be reasonably budgeted, and "it would have to look unlike anything ever seen before on TV, presenting individual stories against a much broader canvas." He further stressed that his approach was "to take [sci-fi] seriously, to build characters for grown-ups (not a Wesley in the bunch), to incorporate real science but keep the characters at the center of the story." Some of the staples of television science fiction were also out of the question (the show would have "no kids or cute robots). The idea was not to present a perfect utopian future, but one with greed and homelessness; one where characters grow, develop, live, and die; one where not everything was the same at the end of the day's events. Citing Mark Twain as an influence, Straczynski said he wanted the show to be a mirror to the real world and to covertly teach.

Production

Format

Described as a "window on the future" by producer John Iacovelli, the story is set in the 23rd century on a large space station named "Babylon 5" – a five-mile-long, 2.5 million-ton rotating colony designed as a gathering place for the sentient species of the galaxy, in order to foster peace through diplomacy, trade, and cooperation. Instead, acting as a center of political intrigue and conflict, the station becomes the linchpin of a massive interstellar war. This is reflected in the opening monologue of each episode, which includes the words "last, best hope for peace" in season one, changing to "last, best hope for victory" by season three.

The series consists of a coherent five-year story arc taking place over five seasons of 22 episodes each. Unlike most television shows at the time, Babylon 5 was conceived as a "novel for television, with a defined beginning, middle, and end; in essence, each episode would be a single "chapter" of this "novel". Many of the tie-in novels, comic books, and short stories were also developed to play a significant canonical part in the overall story.

The cost of the series totalled around $90 million for 110 episodes.

Writing

Creator and showrunner J. Michael Straczynski wrote 92 of the 110 episodes of Babylon 5. He also scripted all 44 episodes in the third and fourth seasons; according to Straczynski, a feat never before accomplished in American television. Other writers to have contributed scripts to the show include Peter David, Neil Gaiman, Kathryn M. Drennan, Lawrence G. DiTillio, D.C. Fontana, and David Gerrold. Harlan Ellison, a creative consultant on the show, received story credits for two episodes. Each writer was informed of the over-arching storyline, enabling the show to be produced consistently under-budget. The rules of production were strict; scripts were written six episodes in advance, and changes could not be made once production had started.

Though conceived as a whole, it was necessary to adjust the plotline to accommodate external influences. Each of the characters in the series was written with a "trap door" into their background so that, in the event of an actor's unexpected departure from the series, the character could be written out with minimal impact on the storyline. In the words of Straczynski, "As a writer, doing a long-term story, it'd be dangerous and short-sighted for me to construct the story without trap doors for every single character. [...] That was one of the big risks going into a long-term storyline which I considered long in advance. The character of Talia Winters was to have undergone a transformation into a Psi-Corps secret agent, having been revealed as a "sleeper," whose true personality was buried subconsciously, and who acted as a spy, observing the events on the station and the actions of her command staff. When Winters' portrayer Andrea Thompson left the series, this revelation was used to drop the character from the series.

"First thing I did was to flip out the stand-alones, which traditionally have taken up the first 6 or so episodes of each season; between two years, that's 12 episodes, over half a season right there. Then you would usually get a fair number of additional stand-alones scattered across the course of the season. So figure another 3-4 per season, say 8, that's 20 out of 44. So now you're left with basically 24 episodes to fill out the main arc of the story."
J. Michael Straczynski, 1996
Ratings for Babylon 5 continued to rise during the show's third season, but going into the fourth season, the impending demise of network PTEN left a fifth year in doubt. Unable to get word one way or the other from parent company Warner Bros., and unwilling to short-change the story and the fans, Straczynski began preparing modifications to the fourth season in order to allow for both eventualities. Straczynski identified three primary plot-threads which would require resolution: the Shadow war, Earth's slide into a dictatorship, and a series of sub-threads which branched off from those. Estimating they would still take around 27 episodes to resolve without having the season feel rushed, the solution came when the TNT network commissioned two Babylon 5 made-for-television films. Several hours of material was thus able to be moved into the films, including a three-episode arc which would deal with the background to the Earth/Minbari war, and a sub-thread which would have set up the sequel series, Crusade. Further standalone episodes and plot-threads were dropped from season four, which could be inserted into Crusade, or the fifth season, were it to be given the greenlight. The intended series finale, "Sleeping in Light," was filmed during season four as a precaution against cancellation. When word came that TNT had picked up Babylon 5, this was moved to the end of season five and replaced with a newly-filmed season four finale.

Visuals

In anticipation of future HDTV broadcasts and Laserdisc releases, rather than the usual 3 standard format, the series was shot in 9 standard, with the image cropped to 4:3 for initial television transmissions. At a time when using models and miniatures was still the norm, Babylon 5 was also one of the first television shows to use computer technology in creating visual effects, using Amiga-based Video Toasters at first, and later Pentium and DEC Alpha-based systems. It also attempted to respect Newtonian physics in its effects sequences, with particular emphasis on the effects of inertia.

Foundation Imaging provided the special effects for the pilot movie (for which it won an Emmy) and the first three seasons of the show. When a further deal was unable to be reached with Foundation, the effects for seasons four and five were provided in-house by Netter Digital, using similar technology and a number of former Foundation employees. The Emmy-winning alien make-up was provided by Optic Nerve Studios.

Music and scoring

The original pilot movie had music composed by Stewart Copeland of The Police. When the show was picked up as a weekly series, Copeland was unavailable, so Christopher Franke of Tangerine Dream was hired. Franke was the composer for all five seasons of Babylon 5, three of the television movies, and the Lost Tales DVD. When Straczynski obtained funds to create a new producer's cut of the pilot movie, the original Copeland score was replaced with a new score by Franke. Over thirty soundtrack CDs have been issued featuring Franke's Babylon 5 compositions, including The Best of Babylon 5, released in 2002.

The Babylon 5 station

The Babylon 5 space station is a modified version of an O'Neill Cylinder, rotating to provide artificial gravity. The center of the cylinder is a hollowed-out circular section, between a half and one-mile across, and includes fields, hydroponic gardens, and a transport tube which runs from one end of the station to the other. The station features a number of independent, interconnected sectors, each designed with a different look in order to give the show a non-claustrophobic feel. Living areas are designed to accommodate the various alien species featured in the show, with different atmospheres and alternate levels of gravity. Human visitors to the alien sectors are often shown using breathing equipment and taking other measures in order to tolerate these conditions. As the series begins, the station is still under construction, with only certain parts fully-completed. Depending upon the level and sector, sectors can be either in daylight or night. On the outermost levels, the viewports are in panels on the floor, providing a view into space beneath the characters' feet.

The station is situated in the Epsilon Eridani binary star system, located at the fifth Lagrangian point between the fictional planet Epsilon III and its moon. Within the show, the station's three predecessors (the original Babylon station, Babylon 2 and Babylon 3) were all sabotaged or accidentally destroyed before their completion. The fourth station, Babylon 4, vanished twenty-four hours after it became fully operational.

Civilizations

At the beginning of the series, five dominant civilizations are represented. The dominant species are the Humans, Minbari, Narn, Centauri, and the Vorlons. "The Shadows" and their various allies are malevolent species who appear later in the series. Several dozen less powerful races form the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, including the Drazi, Brakiri, Vree, Markab, and pak'ma'ra.

While the original pilot movie featured some aliens which were puppets and animatronics, the decision was made early on in the show's production to portray most alien species as humanoid in appearance. Barring isolated appearances, fully computer-generated aliens were discounted as an idea due to the "massive rendering power" required. Long-term use of puppets and animatronics was also discounted due to the technological limitations in providing convincing interaction with the human actors ("if you want any real emotion from the character, you're going to have to have an actor inside.")

Languages

There are three primary languages used on the Babylon 5 station: English, as well as the fictional Centauri and Interlac. English is mentioned explicitly as the "human language of commerce, and is the baseline language of the station (written signs appearing in all three languages). Other human and alien languages do exist in the Babylon 5 universe, though hearing them spoken is uncommon; when aliens of the same species are speaking to one another, the words heard are English, though it is presumed they are speaking their native tongue. Only when in the presence of humans can the alien language be heard, to stress that the humans cannot understand what is being said. With the exception of the Minbari tongue, few other alien languages are actually heard aloud on a regular basis.

The Gaim, pak'ma'ra, and Vorlons do not speak directly in English; in the case of the pak'ma'ra, either because they refuse to learn any language other than their own, or because they are incapable of making human sounds. Members of these races instead make use of real-time translation devices.

The principal human characters speak with an American English accent, with the exception of Marcus Cole, who speaks with a distinct British accent. Susan Ivanova, born in Russia, speaks with an American accent, as her character was raised and schooled outside Russia. Her father speaks with a distinct Russian accent, as does her brother. Various other minor human characters speak English with recognizable regional accents. Ambassador Delenn and Londo Mollari, both alien characters, speak with distinct accents similar to Slavic. Delenn speaks with actress Mira Furlan's normal Croatian accent; most other Minbari have native-speaker accents for English (e.g. American English for Lennier, British English for Neroon). Londo's accent was developed independently by actor Peter Jurasik and was imitated by William Forward, who played Lord Refa. Straczynski has described Londo's accent as being that of the "old school" of the Centauri Imperial Court. Narns tend to speak in native-speaker (generally British) accents as well; Andreas Katsulas adopted a dramatic British accent to portray G'Kar.

Use of the Internet

The show employed internet marketing to create a buzz among online readers far in advance of the airing of the pilot episode, with Straczynski participating in online communities on USENET (in the rec.arts.sf.tv.babylon5.moderated newsgroup), and the GEnie and Compuserve systems before the Web came together as it exists today. The station's location, in "grid epsilon" at coordinates of 470/18/22, was a reference to GEnie ("grid epsilon" = "GE") and the original forum's address on the system's bulletin boards. Also during this time, Warner Bros. executive Jim Moloshok created and distributed electronic trading cards to help advertise the series. In 1995, Warner Bros. started the Official Babylon 5 Website on the now defunct Pathfinder portal. In September 1995, they hired a fan to take over the site and move it to its own domain name, and to oversee the Keyword B5 area on America Online.

Broadcast history

The pilot movie, The Gathering, premiered on February 22, 1993, and the regular series initially aired from January 26, 1994 through November 25, 1998, first on the short-lived Prime Time Entertainment Network, then on cable network TNT. The show aired every week in the United Kingdom on Channel 4 without a break; as a result the last four or five episodes of the early seasons were shown in the UK before the U.S.

The pilot movie debuted in the United States with strong viewing figures, achieving a 9.7 in the Nielsen national syndication rankings. The series proper debuted with a 6.8 rating/10 share. Figures dipped in its second week, and while it posted a solid 5.0 rating/8 share, with an increase in several major markets, ratings for the first season continued to fall, to a low of 3.4 during reruns. Ratings continued to remain low-to-middling throughout the first four seasons, but Babylon 5 scored well with the demographics required to attract the leading national sponsors and saved up to $300,000 per episode by shooting off the studio lot, therefore remaining profitable for the network. However, the fifth season, shown on cable network TNT, garnered "disappointing" ratings. In the United Kingdom, Babylon 5 was one of the better-rated U.S. television shows on Channel 4, and achieved high audience Appreciation Indexes, with season four's "Endgame" achieving the rare feat of beating the prime-time soap operas for first position.

Cast

Regular cast

Recurring guests

In addition, several other actors have filled more than one minor role on the series. Kim Strauss played the Drazi Ambassador in four episodes, as well as nine other characters in ten more episodes. Some actors had difficulty dealing with the application of prosthetics required to play some of the alien characters. The producers therefore used the same group of people (as many as twelve) in various mid-level speaking roles, taking full head and body casts from each. The group came to be unofficially known by the production as the "Babylon 5 Alien Rep Group.

Plot summary

The five seasons of the series each correspond to one fictional sequential year in the period 2258-2262. As the series starts, the Babylon 5 station is welcoming ambassadors from various races in the galaxy. Earth has just barely survived an accidental war with the powerful Minbari, who, despite their superior technology, mysteriously surrendered at the brink of the destruction of the human race (the Battle of the Line).

Season one - 2258

During 2258, Commander Jeffrey Sinclair is in charge of the station. Much of the story revolves around his gradual discovery that it was his capture by the Minbari at the Battle of the Line which ended the war against Earth. Upon capturing Sinclair, the Minbari came to believe that Valen, a great Minbari leader and hero of the last Minbari-Shadow war, had been reincarnated as the Commander. Concluding that others of their species had been, and were being, reborn as humans, and in obedience to the edict that Minbari do not kill one another, they stopped the war just as Earth's final defenses were on the verge of collapse.

It is gradually revealed that Ambassador Delenn is a member of the mysterious and powerful Grey Council, the ruling body of the Minbari. Towards the end of 2258, she begins the transformation into a Minbari-human hybrid, ostensibly to build a bridge between the humans and Minbari. The year ends with the assassination of Earth Alliance President Luis Santiago, and rising tension between the Narn and Centauri, after a Narn outpost is completely destroyed by an unknown third party.

Season two - 2259

At the beginning of 2259, Captain John Sheridan replaces Sinclair as the military governor of the station. He and the command staff learn that the death of President Santiago was actually an assassination masterminded by Vice President Clark (who assumed the Presidency upon Santiago's death). A conflict develops between the Babylon 5 command staff and the Psi Corps, an increasingly autocratic organization which oversees and controls the lives of human telepaths. Commander Ivanova, the second-in-command of the station, is secretly a latent telepath who has illicitly avoided registering with the Psi Corps.

The Shadows, an ancient and extremely powerful race who have recently emerged from hibernation, are revealed to be the cause of a variety of mysterious and disturbing events, including the attack on the Narn outpost at the end of 2258. Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari unknowingly enlists their aid through his association with the mysterious Mr. Morden in the ongoing conflict with the Narn. The elderly and ailing Centauri emperor, long an advocate of reconciliation with the Narn, dies suddenly while visiting Babylon 5. A number of conspirators, including Londo Mollari and Refa, take control of Centauri government by assassinating their opponents and placing the late emperor's unstable nephew on the throne. Their first act is to start open aggression against the Narn. After full-scale war breaks out, the Centauri eventually conquer Narn in a brutal attack involving mass drivers, outlawed weapons of mass destruction. Towards the end of the year, the Clark administration begins to show increasingly totalitarian characteristics, clamping down on dissent and restricting freedom of speech. The Vorlons are revealed to be the basis of legends about angels on various worlds, including Earth, and are the ancient enemies of the Shadows. They enlist the aid of Sheridan and the Babylon 5 command staff in the struggle against the Shadows.

Season three - 2260

The Psi Corps and President Clark, whose government has discovered Shadow vessels buried in Earth's solar system, begin to harness the vessels' advanced technology. The Clark administration continues to become increasingly xenophobic and totalitarian, and uses a military incident as an excuse to declare martial law. This triggers a war of independence on Mars, which had long had a strained political relationship with Earth. Babylon 5 also declares independence from Earth, along with several other outlying Earth Alliance colonies. In response, the Earth Alliance attempts to retake Babylon 5 by force, but with the aid of the Minbari, who have allied with the station against the growing Shadow threat, the attack is repelled.

Becoming concerned over the Shadows' growing influence amongst his people, Centauri ambassador Londo Mollari attempts to sever ties with them. Mr. Morden, the Shadows' human representative, tricks him into restoring the partnership by engineering the murder of Mollari's mistress. Open warfare breaks out between the Shadows and the alliance led by Babylon 5 and the Minbari. It is learned that genetic manipulation by the Vorlons is the source of human telepathy, as it is later discovered that Shadow ships are vulnerable to telepathic attacks. Displeased at the Vorlons' lack of direct action against the Shadows, Captain John Sheridan browbeats Vorlon ambassador Kosh Naranek into launching an attack against their mutual enemy. Kosh's deeds lead to his subsequent assassination by the Shadows.

Upon returning to the station, former commander Jeffrey Sinclair enlists the aid of Captain Sheridan, Delenn, Ivanova and Marcus and convinces them to travel back in time 1,000 years with the stolen Babylon 4 space station, intending to use it as a base of operations against the Shadows in the first Minbari-Shadow war. Undergoing the same transformation as Delenn at the end of Season 1, Sinclair transforms into a Minbari and is subsequently revealed to be the actual Valen of Minbari legend, rather than a reincarnation. Spurred by the reappearance of his assumed-dead wife (who now works for the Shadows), Sheridan travels to Z'ha'dum, the Shadow homeworld, in an attempt by them to recruit him. However he instead destroys their largest city in a kamikaze nuclear attack, and is last seen jumping into a miles-deep pit to escape the explosion. Garibaldi, during a fight with Shadow vessels, goes missing.

Season four - 2261

In 2261, the Vorlons join the Shadow War, but their tactics become a concern for the alliance when the Vorlons begin destroying entire planets which they deem to have been "influenced" by the Shadows. Disturbed by this turn of events, Babylon 5 recruits several other powerful and ancient races (the First Ones) to their cause, against both the Shadows and the Vorlons. Captain John Sheridan returns to the station after escaping the destruction of Z'ha'dum, but at a price: barring illness or injury, he has only 20 years left to live. He is accompanied by a mysterious alien named Lorien who claims to be the oldest sentient being in the galaxy.

After Sherdian's return, Garibaldi returns in rather dubious circumstances and starts acting more paranoid and suspicious of other alien races than normal. He leaves his post as security chief and works on his own as a "provider of information". Garibaldi was actually abducted by the Psi-Corps at the end of Season 3 and re-programmed by Bester to provide information to him at the right time.

Centauri Emperor Cartagia forges a relationship with the Shadows. Londo Mollari engineers the assassination of Cartagia and repudiates his agreement with the Shadows. He kills Mr. Morden and destroys the Shadow vessels based on the Centauri homeworld, thus saving his planet from destruction by the Vorlons. Aided by the other ancient races, and several younger ones, Sheridan lures both the Vorlons and the Shadows into an immense battle, during which the Vorlons and Shadows reveal that they have been left as guardians of the younger races, but due to philosophical differences, ended up using them as pawns in their endless wars throughout the ages. The younger races reject their continued interference, and the Vorlons and Shadows, along with the remaining First Ones, agree to depart the galaxy forever.

Minbar is gripped by a brief civil war. Garibaldi betrays Sheridan and arranges his capture. Garibaldi later reveals to Bester about a virus that is dangerous to only telepaths, which the Psi-Corps then destroys. Bester releases Garibaldi of his programming, and allows him to remember everything he has done since being kidnapped. Garibaldi helps to free Sheridan and return him to the campaign to free Earth. An alliance led by Babylon 5 frees Earth from totalitarian rule by President Clark in a short but bloody war. This culminates in Clark's suicide and the restoration of peaceful government. Mars is granted full independence, and Sheridan agrees to step down as commander of Babylon 5. The League of Non-Aligned Worlds is dissolved and reformed into the Interstellar Alliance, with Sheridan elected as its first President and continuing his command of the Rangers, who are to act as a galactic equivalent of United Nations peacekeepers.

In the season finale, the events of 100, 500, 1000, and one million years into the future are shown, depicting Babylon 5's lasting influence throughout history. Amongst the events shown are the political aftermath of the 2261 civil war, a subsequent nuclear war on Earth involving a new totalitarian government in the year AD 2762, the resulting fall of Earth into a pre-industrial society, the loss and restoration of humanity's knowledge of space travel, and the final evolution of mankind into energy beings similar to the Vorlons, after which Earth's sun goes nova.

Season five - 2262

In 2262, Earthforce Captain Elizabeth Lochley is appointed to command Babylon 5. The station grows in its role as a sanctuary for rogue telepaths running from the Psi Corps, resulting in a violent conflict. G'Kar, former Narn ambassador to Babylon 5, becomes a spiritual leader after a book was published that he wrote while incarcerated during the Narn-Centauri War. The Drakh, former allies of the Shadows who remained in the galaxy, take control of Regent Virini on Centauri Prime through a parasitic creature called a Keeper, then incite a war between the Centauri and the Interstellar Alliance, in order to isolate the Centauri from the Alliance, and gain a malleable homeworld for themselves.

Centauri Prime is consequently decimated by Narn and Drazi warships, and Londo Mollari becomes emperor, accepting a Drakh Keeper under threat of the complete nuclear destruction of the planet. Portions of the end of his reign are seen in various time-travel sequences throughout the series; one such sequence shows Mollari and former nemesis (and later friend) G'Kar dying at each other's throats in an act of mutual suicide. Vir Cotto, Mollari's loyal and more moral aide, succeeds him as emperor, free of Drakh influence. Sheridan and Delenn marry and move to Minbar, along with the headquarters of the Interstellar Alliance.

Twenty years later, on the verge of death, Sheridan takes one final trip to the now-obsolete Babylon 5 station before its decommissioning. Sheridan apparently dies, but is claimed by the First Ones, who invite him to join them on a journey beyond the rim of the galaxy. The Babylon 5 station is completely destroyed in a planned demolition shortly after Sheridan's departure, its existence no longer necessary as the Alliance has taken over its diplomatic purposes.

Themes

Throughout its run, Babylon 5 found ways to portray themes relevant to modern and historical social issues. It marked several firsts in television science fiction, such as the exploration of the political and social landscapes of the first human colonies, their interactions with Earth, and the underlying tensions. Babylon 5 was also one of the first television science fiction shows to denotative refer to a same-sex relationship; in the show, homosexuality is as much of an issue as "being left-handed or right-handed." Unrequited love is explored as a source of pain for the characters, though not all the relationships end unhappily.

Order vs chaos; authoritarianism vs free will

"Neither the Vorlons nor the Shadows saw themselves as conquerors or adversaries...both believed they were doing what was right for us. And like any possessive parent, they'll keep on believing that until the kid is strong enough to stand up and say, 'No, this is what I want.'"
J. Michael Straczynski, 1997
The clash between order and chaos, and the people caught in between, plays an important role in Babylon 5. The conflict between two unimaginably-powerful older races, the Vorlons and the Shadows, is represented as a battle between two competing ideologies, each seeking to turn the humans and the other younger races to their beliefs. The Vorlons represent an authoritarian philosophy: you will do what we tell you to, because we tell you to do it. The Vorlon question, "Who are you?" focuses on identity as a catalyst for shaping personal goals; the intention is not to solicit a "correct" answer, but to "tear down the artifices we construct around ourselves until we're left facing ourselves, not our roles. The Shadows represent a philosophy of evolution through fire, of sowing the seeds of conflict in order to engender progress. The question the Shadows ask is "What do you want?" In contrast to the Vorlons, they place personal desire and ambition first, using it to shape identity, encouraging conflict between groups who choose to serve their own glory or profit. The representation of order and chaos was informed by the Babylonian myth that the universe was born in the conflict between both. The climax of this conflict comes with the younger races' exposing of the Vorlons' and the Shadows' "true faces" and the rejection of both philosophies, heralding the dawn of a new age without their interference.

The notion that the war was about "killing your parents" is echoed in the portrayal of the civil war between the human colonies and Earth. Deliberately dealing in historical and political metaphor, with particular emphasis upon McCarthyism and HUAC, the Earth Alliance becomes increasingly-authoritarian, eventually sliding into a dictatorship. The show examines the impositions on civil liberties which aid its rise, and the self-delusion of a populace which believes its moral superiority will never allow a dictatorship to come to power, until it is too late. The successful rebellion led by the Babylon 5 station results in the restoration of a democratic government, and true autonomy for Mars and the colonies.

War and peace

"What interests me, what I wanted to do with making this show, was in large measure to examine the issues and emotions and events that precede a war, precipitate a war, the effects of the war itself, the end of the war and the aftermath of the war. The war is hardware; the people are at the center of the story."
J. Michael Straczynski, 1997
The Babylon 5 universe deals with numerous armed conflicts which rage on an interstellar scale. The story begins in the aftermath of a war which brought the human race to the brink of extinction, caused by a misunderstanding during a first contact situation. The Babylon 5 station is subsequently built in order to foster peace through diplomacy, during its first two seasons described as the "last, best hope for peace" in the opening credits monologue. Wars between separate alien civilizations are featured; the conflict between the Narn and the Centauri is followed from its beginnings as a minor territorial dispute amplified by historical animosity, through to its end, in which weapons of mass destruction are employed to subjugate and enslave an entire planet. The war is an attempt to portray a more sobering kind of conflict than usually seen on science fiction television; informed by the events of the first Gulf War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Soviet invasion of Prague, the intent was to recreate these moments when "the world held its breath" and the emotional core of the conflict was the disbelief that the situation could have occurred at all, and the desperation to find a way to bring it to an end. By the start of the third season, the opening monologue has changed to say that the Babylon 5 station is the "last, best hope for victory," indicating that while peace is a laudable accomplishment, it can also mean a capitulation to an enemy intent on committing horrendous acts, and that "peace is a byproduct of victory against those who do not want peace.

The Shadow War also features prominently in the show, during which an advanced alien species attempts to sow the seeds of conflict in order to promote technological and cultural advancement. The gradual discovery of the scheme and the rebellion against it serve as the backdrop to the first three seasons, but also as a metaphor for the war within ourselves; the concurrent limiting of civil liberties and Earth's descent into a dictatorship are "shadow wars" of their own. In ending the Shadow War before the conclusion of the series, the show was able to more fully explore its aftermath, and it is this "war at home" which forms the bulk of the remaining two seasons. The struggle for independence between Mars and Earth culminates with a civil war between the human colonies (led by the Babylon 5 station) and the home planet. Choosing Mars as both the spark for the civil war, and the staging ground for its dramatic conclusion, enabled the viewer to understand the conflict more fully than had it involved an anonymous colony orbiting a distant star. The conflict, and the reasons behind it, were informed by Nazism, McCarthyism and the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the unraveling of the former Balkan country also served as partial inspiration for another civil war, which involved the alien Minbari.

"One of the things about the way events come to a head and finish…is that it's very unnerving...okay, now what? The ongoing conflict has become something you could count on, you knew the rough shape of what might be coming along. Now all that's kicked over, and you have to get on with the next aspect: making a new life."
J. Michael Straczynski, 1997
The post-war landscape has its roots in the Reconstruction; the attempt to resolve the issues of the American Civil War after the conflict had ended, and this struggle for survival in a changed world was also informed by works such as Alas, Babylon, a novel dealing with the after-effects of a nuclear war on a small American town. The show expresses that the end of these wars is not an end to war itself. Events shown hundreds of years into the show's future tell of wars which will once again bring the human race to the edge of annihilation, demonstrating that mankind will not change, and the best that can be hoped for after it falls is that it climbs a little higher each time, until it can one day "take [its] place among the stars, teaching those who follow.

Religion

"If you look at the long history of human society, religion - whether you describe that as organized, disorganized, or the various degrees of accepted superstition - has always been present. And it will be present 200 years from now... To totally ignore that part of the human equation would be as false and wrong-headed as ignoring the fact that people get mad, or passionate, or strive for better lives."
J. Michael Straczynski, 1993
Acknowledging the continued existence of faith, even in a science fiction setting, many of Babylon 5's characters have profound spiritual or religious beliefs, reflecting that throughout history, religion has been present in one form or another and will remain so even in a far-future rich with technological advancement. Many of Earth's contemporary religions are shown to still be in existence, and the main human characters often have religious convictions, including Roman Catholicism, Jesuit beliefs, Judaism and the fictional Foundationism, which was created specifically for the show. Earth's religions have also had to deal with the existence of extraterrestrial belief systems, resulting in a cross-pollination of ideas, and the factionization or destruction of some, while in the show's third season, a community of Cistercian Trappist monks takes up residence on the Babylon 5 station, in order to learn what the other races throughout the universe call God, and to come to a better understanding of the different religions through study at close quarters. Alien beliefs in the show range from the Centauri's Bacchanalian-influenced religions, of which there are up to seventy different denominations, to the more pantheistic, as with the Narn and Minbari religions.

Depictions of religion on the show, human and alien, sometimes come subtly, or are the main theme of an episode; the first season episode "The Parliament of Dreams" is a conventional "showcase" for religion, in which each species on the Babylon 5 station has an opportunity to demonstrate its beliefs, and "Passing Through Gethsemane" focuses on a specific position of Roman Catholic dogma, as well as concepts of justice, vengeance and biblical forgiveness. Other treatments have been more contentious, such as the David Gerrold-scripted "Believers", in which alien parents would rather see their son die than undergo a life-saving operation. By presenting the viewer with characters' spiritual beliefs, motivations are supplied for what might otherwise be construed as arbitrary behavior; these motivations are not necessarily based on truth, leading to misconceptions which in due course become important plot points. A typical question for Babylon 5 to present is a series of events which can initially be interpreted as having either a scientific or a spiritual explanation; while ultimately suggesting the former in most cases, occasionally the issue is left open. In others, where religious belief is an integral part of the storyline, the show attempts to balance all sides of the argument, as in "Soul Hunter", where the spiritual concept explored is that of the immortal soul, and whether after death it is destroyed, reincarnated or simply does not exist. The character arguing the latter, Doctor Stephen Franklin, is often put into the more spiritual storylines, as his scientific rationality presents a contrast with the unexplainable which creates dramatic conflict, and while the show's creator and main writer identifies as an atheist, undercurrents of religions as diverse as Buddhism have been noted as running through many of the characters' words. Passages, often the same ones, take on distinct meanings to viewers of differing faiths; the show ultimately expresses ideas which cross religious boundaries.

Dreams and visions

The subliminal and subconscious play a very significant role in the Babylon 5 franchise. Every single major character experiences, on at least one occasion, some altered state of consciousness in which he or she receives some sort of important mental message. This could either be one that further fleshes out the character for the benefit of the viewer, or one of transcendental and transpersonal nature that anticipates important further developments in the storyline. Some of these signs and portents resemble lucid dreams, but many are quite bizarre and "dreamlike," frequently in a spiritual context.

Addiction

Substance abuse and its impact on human personalities also plays a significant role in the Babylon 5 storyline. The station's security chief, Michael Garibaldi, is a textbook relapsing-remitting alcoholic of the binge drinking type; he practices complete abstinence from alcohol throughout most of the series (with one notable exception) until the middle of season five. He only recovers physically and socially and breaks the cycle at the end of the season. Dr. Stephen Franklin develops an (initially unrecognized) addiction to injectable stimulant drugs while trying to cope with the chronic stress and work overload in Medlab, and wanders off to the homeless and deprived in Brown Sector, where he suffers through a severe withdrawal syndrome. Executive Officer Susan Ivanova mentions that her father became an alcoholic after her mother had committed suicide after having been drugged by the authorities over a number of years. Among the aliens, Londo Mollari is at least a heavy abuser of alcohol, mostly in the form of the Centauri national drink, Brevari (though in Centauri culture, sobriety, as opposed to drunkenness, is considered a vice).

Numerous other references to substance abuse and drug dealing are scattered throughout the storyline, including Dust, a white powder with a black-market presence comparable to cocaine. "Dust" turns out to be a "designer drug" developed by Psi Corps and placed into the black market as an experiment to see if psychic abilities could be brought out in "mundanes" (non-psychics).

Original series

Episodes

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

Made-for-TV films

The Gathering was the pilot, depicting the arrival of the major characters to the Babylon 5 station in 2257. The made-for-TV movie In the Beginning depicts the events of the Earth-Minbari War, as revealed in the first few seasons, in chronological order and in greater detail than the main series. The made-for-TV movies Thirdspace and The River of Souls are largely stand-alone episodes.

Babylon 5: A Call to Arms set-up the premise of the Crusade series, depicting the Drakh releasing a nanovirus plague on Earth, which will destroy all life on the planet within five years if it is not stopped. To that end, the destroyer Excalibur is sent out to look for a cure.

Spin-offs

Crusade

The spin-off series Crusade 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. However, creative differences between Straczynski and TNT caused problems; the network wanted more sex and violence, and forced Straczynski to begin the first episode with a fistfight. The sex-and-violence request was later withdrawn, and TNT allocated more money to Crusade, giving the actors better uniforms and new sets mid-season. However, 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. At the time of the cancellation, only hints of major story arcs had yet come into play, though unproduced scripts published online by Straczynski—in addition to comments made by him online, at conventions, and on the Crusade DVD commentaries—reveal that they would have become prominent features of the series, had it continued.

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 contributed to the lessening of the network's interest in a series pick-up, as did the poor reception it received from fans and critics alike, particularly for its depiction of a virtual-reality weapon, but the final nail in its coffin was the dispute between Warner Bros. and Vivendi Universal (owners of the Sci-Fi Channel) over revenue-sharing for the potential weekly series.

The Memory of Shadows

In 2004 and early 2005, rumors widely circulated about a planned Babylon 5 movie for theatrical release. However, on February 25, 2005, a post from Straczynski 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 Bros. wanted to recast established Babylon 5 roles with younger and more well-known actors, causing a major controversy among fans. Straczynski has acknowledged the subject and has stated that the negotiations were problematic, but has said that he is unable to directly comment on the issue. It has been said, however, that Warner's stated principle at the time was only to do "blockbuster" movies featuring "star" names, and that the issue of re-casting the characters only arose as a result of those attempting to finance TMoS approaching WB, having been unable to raise the finance elsewhere.

The Lost Tales

A new project set in Babylon 5 universe was announced by Straczynski at San Diego Comic Con 2006. Babylon 5: The Lost Tales is a set of mini-stories featuring established characters from the series, released direct-to-DVD. Production of the first anthology of two stories, named collectively Voices in the Dark, commenced in November 2006 with Straczynski writing, producing, and directing. It was released July 31, 2007. In a Usenet post on September 5, 2007, Straczynski stated that Warner Bros. "are most pleased as sales have been several orders of magnitude beyond what they anticipated.

On July 13 2008, Straczynski revealed that he had no plans to continue The Lost Tales. He said that although the studio was interested in another disc, they wanted to budget the next installment similarly to the first. Citing his disappointment with the first release due to the low budget, Straczynski said he did not want to dilute Babylon 5's legacy with further sub-par stories. He stated that he would only return to the Babylon 5 universe if Warner Bros. wanted to do a large-budgeted cinema release.

Novels, short stories and comic books

Unique to the Babylon 5 universe among virtually all other shared media universes is the sanctioned canonicity of many of its offshoot novels and comic book stories; nearly all of the Babylon 5 novels and novelizations to date having been based on outlines written directly by J. Michael Straczynski. The later Del Rey books are considered to be more canonical than some of the earlier Dell ones, and at least two major plotline revelations were made in the DC Comics series that were directly referenced in the TV series. In all, per Straczynski's own remarks, canonical elements exist in every single book or comic published to date, and his deeper involvement in the novel-publishing program from 1996 onward has ensured a greater level of canonicity within such works.

Additionally, Straczynski himself penned a number of short stories, published in Amazing Stories magazine, expanding on several key story-points from the television series, along with a number of other established authors, with all such tales considered as "real" as the TV show itself.

Mongoose Publishing, the publisher of recent Babylon 5 role-playing game (RPG) material, announced plans to release a line of Babylon 5 novels and graphic novels, beginning in summer 2006. J. Michael Straczynski made it clear that he was not involved with this project, and considered the works to be "fan-fiction. In spring of 2007, Mongoose announced that the project was cancelled.

As of 2007, J. Michael Straczynski is still writing the manuscript for a Babylon 5 graphic novel, to be published on an as-yet-unknown date by Wildstorm Productions. The premise, characters, and plot have not been officially confirmed, but it has been reported that Straczynski originally planned to write a story that takes place before the season three two-parter "War Without End," featuring Sinclair and Sheridan, and involving Mars, Minbar, Babylon 5, and a conspiracy. It has also been reported that he has subsequently decided to tie in elements from the spinoffs Crusade and Legend of the Rangers into the book. The graphic novel will be 100 pages long. The artist has not yet been announced.

DVD releases

Season releases

All five seasons have been released individually in the US and the UK. A complete 5-season set is also available in each of the two DVD regions, titled Babylon 5: The Complete Television Series for the U.S. and Canada, and Babylon 5: The Complete Universe for the UK. The UK version also includes all the films and the short-lived spin-off Crusade. As of 2007, all 5 television seasons and their individual episodes are also for sale at the iTunes Store.

According to director J. Michael Straczynski as of mid-2006 "The DVD sales have raised over 500 million in revenue." The financial success of the DVD box sets has led to a renewed interest in further Babylon 5 work .

DVD Name Region 1 Region 2
Babylon 5: The Complete First Season November 5 2002 October 28 2002
Babylon 5: The Complete Second Season April 29 2003 May 26 2003
Babylon 5: The Complete Third Season August 12 2003 November 10 2003
Babylon 5: The Complete Fourth Season January 6 2004 April 19 2004
Babylon 5: The Complete Fifth Season April 13 2004 January 17 2005
Babylon 5: The Complete Television Series August 17 2004 N/A
Babylon 5: The Complete Universe N/A October 24 2005
Babylon 5: The Complete Collection (Amazon.co.uk Exclusive) N/A November 5 2007

Babylon 5 movie releases

The Babylon 5 TV movies were distributed differently in the U.S. and UK. Initially a DVD containing the two movies The Gathering and In the Beginning were released on both region 1 (North America) and region 2 (UK) DVD. Then, in the U.S., the first five movies which aired while Babylon 5 was still on the air were released in one boxset, with the TV movie Legend of the Rangers getting its own separate release on both region 1 and region 2 DVD. In the UK, a film boxset was released, but instead of containing the five movies like the U.S. version, it contained the three movies which hadn't been released yet (Thirdspace, River of Souls, and A Call to Arms). The Gathering was released as a low-priced promotional R1 DVD in 2004, intended as a 'trial' of the series proper; Warner Bros. issued several such DVDs but discontinued the line shortly thereafter due to lack of interest.

DVD name Region 1 Region 2
Babylon 5: The Gathering/In the Beginning December 4 2001 N/A
Babylon 5: The Gathering N/A April 8 2002
Babylon 5: In the Beginning N/A April 8 2002
Babylon 5: The Movie Collection August 17 2004 N/A
Babylon 5: Movie Box Set N/A February 21 2005
Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers March 14 2006 October 24 2005
Babylon 5: The Lost Tales July 31 2007 September 3 2007

Mastering problems

The transfer of Babylon 5 from fullscreen to widescreen (originally for the Sci-Fi Channel; later released on DVD) created significant problems with regard to special-effects/CGI footage. Several factors complicated the process.

  • Although originally broadcast in the standard television aspect ratio of 4:3, all live-action footage was filmed on Super 35 mm film (with a ratio of 1.65:1). The idea was that, once widescreen televisions (with an aspect ratio of 16:9 or 1.78:1) became more popular, the episodes could be easily converted into a widescreen format.
  • CGI shots were rendered in the 4:3 ratio, but designed so that the top and bottom of each shot could be removed to create a widescreen image without ruining the image composition.
  • All of the purely live-action shots were stored as high-definition digital images.
  • However, CGI shots, and shots combining live-action with CGI, were stored in the much lower-definition NTSC digital format. (Again, the expectation was that it would be relatively cheap in the future to recreate the CGI in widescreen.)
  • Over the years, the original computer-generated models, etc., have been lost, making it necessary to use the old 4:3 CGI shots.

This has resulted in several consistent flaws throughout the Babylon 5 widescreen release. In particular, quality drops significantly whenever a scene cuts from purely live-action to a shot combining live-action and CGI. This is particularly noticeable on the PAL DVDs, since CGI shots had to be converted from NTSC, as well as being blown up to fit a widescreen television. In addition, while the live-action film was originally widescreen, shots were composed for 4:3, resulting in a conspicuous tendency for actors to clump up in the middle of the screen.

Soundtrack releases

A total of 30 soundtrack albums have been released for Babylon 5. They are all composed by the series composer Christopher Franke and released under his own record label Sonic Images. These albums include 24 episode soundtracks, 3 movie soundtracks, and 3 compilation albums: Babylon 5: Vol 1, Babylon 5: Vol 2, and Best of Babylon 5.

Compilation soundtracks

These include music that appeared throughout the series, but have been extensively reorchestrated, rewritten, and remixed by Franke into lengthy movements. The second full-length CD also features the main titles from seasons 1 to 4 (the main title for season 5 can be heard on the CD Best of Babylon 5, released in 2001).

Episodic and feature film soundtracks

The 27 episodic and feature film soundtracks include the exact unedited music from each corresponding episode or feature film, with no alterations, omissions, or additions.

Other releases

Seasons 1-2 and parts of season 3 of Babylon 5 have been released as advertisement-supported downloads through the In2TV download service. Additionally, every episode from seasons 1-5, as well as the pilot movie Babylon 5: The Gathering, are available for purchase on the Xbox Live Marketplace in the United States. All 92 television scripts (plus two television movie scripts) written by J. Michael Straczynski for the series are being published as a fifteen-volume series.

Games

In November 1997, Chameleon Eclectic Entertainment published the original The Babylon Project: The Roleplaying Game Based on Babylon 5. In 2003, Mongoose Publishing printed the Babylon 5 Roleplaying Game & Factbook.

The Babylon 5 Component Game system was also released in 1997 by 'Component Game Systems'. It was a complex political and military based game, using a number of individually purchased expansions or components, which could take up to 5 hours to play. Component Game Systems came out with a number of component game systems that used the same semi-collectible approach, and was derived from the unpublished Galactic Empires board game, based on the CCG of the same name --Companion Games (Galactic Empires' publisher) became Component Game Systems in the process. The basic idea is that each player need only buy his part of the game, representing in this case a specific political entity from the Babylon 5 universe. Players sit down at the same table and combine their components to have a game. 'Component Game Systems' folded in 1999 after having released only the first two 'years' (2258 and 2259) worth of Babylon related components for the game, and even their domain name (www.c-g-s.com) has been recycled by some unrelated group.

The Babylon 5 Wars wargame was first published by Agents of Gaming in 1998. The game was developed in close contact with the creators of the show, and most of the published material is considered canon. Agents of Gaming later published Babylon 5 Fleet Action, which focused on battles of a larger scale. In 2004, Babylon 5: A Call to Arms was released by Mongoose Publishing. The game is similar in many ways to Babylon 5 Wars but has a more streamlined rules set and games take a lot less time to complete.

Precedence Entertainment produced the Babylon 5 Collectible Card Game between 1997 and 2000. In its original form, the game allowed for 2-4 players with each one playing one of the ambassadors to the B5 council: Sinclair, Delenn, G'Kar or Londo. Later expansions increased the maximum number of players that could play at once and expanded the players' options. Players could represent the League of Non-Aligned Worlds or could play alternative ambassadors such as Bester for the Psi Corps or Lord Refa for the Centauri. The game was discontinued after Precedence lost the license from Warner Brothers in 2000.

There are no officially licensed Babylon 5 video games on the market, though in 1998 a video game based on Babylon 5, named Into the Fire, was being developed by Yosemite Entertainment, an internal division of Sierra Entertainment. Work on this game ended on September 21, 1999, when, as part of a corporate reorganization, Sierra cancelled it and laid off its development staff when the game was only a few months away from release. This game was to have cast the player as the pilot of a Starfury fighter craft, giving the player an opportunity to "move up through the ranks," and eventually take command of capital ships and even fleets. Christopher Franke composed and recorded new music for the game, and live action footage was filmed with the primary actors from the series.

A number of unauthorized Babylon 5 modifications have been created for other computer games, as well as at least one (unlicensed) independent project to develop standalone games.

See also

References

External links

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