Babylon 5

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This article is about the TV and movie series. For the eponymous fictional space station, see Babylon 5 (space station).
Babylon 5
Season 4 poster
Season 4 poster
Genre
Created by J. Michael Straczynski
Developed by J. Michael Straczynski
Starring
Composer(s)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 5
No. of episodes 110 (+ 6 TV Films) (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
Cinematography
  • John C. Flinn III
    (102 episodes, 1994–1998)
  • Fred V. Murphy
    (8 episodes, 1995–1998)
Running time 43 minutes
Production company(s) Babylonian Productions
Synthetic Worlds, Ltd.
Distributor Warner Bros. Television
Broadcast
Original channel
Picture format
Audio format Dolby Surround 2.0
Dolby Digital 5.1 (DVD)
Original run February 22, 1993 (1993-02-22) – November 25, 1998 (1998-11-25)
Chronology
Preceded by Babylon 5: The Gathering
Followed by Crusade (TV series)
Related shows The Legend of the Rangers
The Lost Tales
External links
Website

Babylon 5 is an American space opera television series created by writer and producer J. Michael Straczynski, under the Babylonian Productions label, in association with Straczynski's Synthetic Worlds Ltd. and Warner Bros. Domestic Television. After the successful airing of a backdoor pilot movie, Warner Bros. commissioned the series as part of the second-year schedule of programs provided by its Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN).[1] The pilot episode was broadcast on February 22, 1993 in the US. The first season premiered in the US on January 26, 1994, and the series ultimately ran for the intended five seasons. Describing it as having "always been conceived as, fundamentally, a five-year story, a novel for television," Straczynski wrote 92 of the 110 episodes, and served as executive producer, along with Douglas Netter.[2]

Set between the years 2257 and 2262, it depicts a future where Earth has sovereign states, and a unifying Earth government. Colonies within the solar system, and beyond, make up the Earth Alliance, and contact has been made with other spacefaring races. The ensemble cast portray alien ambassadorial staff and humans assigned to the five-mile-long Babylon 5 space station, a center for trade and diplomacy. Described as "one of the most complex programs on television," the various story arcs drew upon the prophesies, religious zealotry, racial tensions, social pressures, and political rivalries which existed within each of their cultures, to create a contextual framework for the motivations and consequences of the protagonists' actions.[3] With a strong emphasis on character development set against a backdrop of conflicting ideologies on multiple levels, Straczynski wanted "to take an adult approach to SF, and attempt to do for television SF what Hill Street Blues did for cop shows."[4]

Generally viewed as having "launched the new era of television CGI visual effects,"[5] it received multiple awards during its initial run, including two consecutive Hugo Awards for best dramatic presentation,[6][7] and continues to regularly feature prominently in various polls and listings highlighting top-rated science fiction series.[8][9][10] Not appearing on American television since 2003, it continues to be shown in international markets such as Fox in the UK, the TV4-ScifFi Channel in Sweden, and the FBC TV channel in Fiji.[11] Initially written by Straczynski, DC began publishing Babylon 5 comics in 1994, with stories that closely tied in with events depicted in the show, with events in the comics eventually being referenced onscreen in the actual television series.[12] The franchise continued to expand into short stories, RPG games, and novels, with the Technomage trilogy of books being the last to be published in 2001, shortly after the spin-off television series, Crusade, was cancelled.

All rights except for a possible movie are controlled by Warner (movie rights are retained by Straczynski).

Plot summary[edit]

Backstory[edit]

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 species from the League of Non-Aligned Worlds appear, including the Drazi, Brakiri, Vree, Markab, and pak'ma'ra. The station's first three predecessors (the original Babylon station, Babylon 2 and Babylon 3) were sabotaged or accidentally destroyed before their completion. The fourth station, Babylon 4, vanished without a trace twenty-four hours after it became fully operational.[13]

Synopsis[edit]

Babylon 5 TV seasons and films
1993–2007

In order of series chronology:
2245–48 • In the Beginning (1st film)*
2256 • Babylon 5 station commissioned
2257 • The Gathering (Pilot)
2258 • Signs and Portents (Season 1)
2259 • The Coming of Shadows (Season 2)
2260 • Point of No Return (Season 3)
2261 • No Surrender, No Retreat (Season 4)**
2261 • Thirdspace (2nd film)***
2262 • The Wheel of Fire (Season 5)
2263 • The River of Souls (3rd film)
2265 • The Legend of the Rangers (5th film)
2266 • A Call to Arms (4th film)
2267 • Crusade (spin-off series)
2271 • The Lost Tales: Voices in the Dark
2278 • In the Beginning (1st film)*
2281 • Babylon 5 station decommissioned

* The framing story is set in 2278.
** The final episode of the season includes scenes of future events up to 3262 and beyond.
*** The story is set between the two wars in season 4.
The final episode of series is set in 2281.

The television series takes its name from the Babylon 5 space station, located in the Epsilon Eridani star system, at the fifth Lagrangian point between the fictional planet Epsilon III and its moon.[14] Babylon 5 is an O'Neill cylinder five miles long and a half-mile to a mile in diameter. Living areas accommodate the various alien species, providing differing atmospheres and gravities. Human visitors to the alien sectors are shown using breathing equipment and other measures to tolerate the conditions.[15]

The five seasons of the series each correspond to one fictional sequential year in the period 2258–2262. Each season shares its name with an episode that is central to that season's plot. 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 much more powerful Minbari, who, despite their superior technology, mysteriously surrendered at the brink of the destruction of the human race during the Battle of the Line.

Season 1 – Year 2258[edit]

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 continuing to be reborn as humans, and in obedience to the edict that Minbari do not kill one another, lest they harm the soul, they stopped the war just as Earth's final defenses were on the verge of collapse.

Meanwhile, tensions between the Centauri Republic, which is an empire in decline, and the Narn Regime, a former dominion which rebelled and gained freedom, are increasing. Ambassador G'Kar of the Narn wishes for his people to strike back at the Centauri for what they did, and Ambassador Londo Mollari of the Centauri wishes for his people to become again the great empire they once were. As part of these struggles, Mollari makes a deal with a mysterious ally to strike back at the Narn, further heightening tensions.

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 death of Earth Alliance president Luis Santiago. The death is officially ruled an accident, but some members of the military, including the staff of Babylon 5, believe it to be an assassination.

Season 2 – Year 2259[edit]

At the beginning of 2259, Captain John Sheridan replaces Sinclair as the military governor of the station after Sinclair is reassigned as ambassador to Minbar. He and the command staff gradually learn that the assassination of President Santiago was arranged by his then-Vice President, Morgan Clark, who has now become president. 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.

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 their mysterious human representative Mr. Morden in the ongoing conflict with the Narn. The elderly and ailing Centauri emperor, long an advocate of reconciliation with the Narn, unfortunately has insufficient control to prevent others from instigating war against the Narn Regime. When the emperor dies suddenly during a peace mission to Babylon 5, a number of conspirators, including Ambassador Londo Mollari and Lord Refa, take control of the 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 a full-scale war breaks out, the Centauri with the help of the Shadows through Londo 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 3 – Year 2260[edit]

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 gradually develops an Orwellian government style, including an organization called Night Watch which targets citizens who hold views contrary to those of Clark's regime.

Sheridan and Delenn's "conspiracy of light" works to uncover clues about how to defeat the Shadows. During a mission near Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter, their ship is seen by an Earth Alliance vessel, but not recognized. Though they escape and no shots were fired in the encounter, President Clark uses it 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 attempts to avoid conflict with Earth, but in response to civilian bombings on Mars, concerns with Night Watch, and illegal orders meant to oppress their populations, they choose to declare 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 among 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 while putting the blame on a rival Centauri House. 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.

Former station commander Jeffrey Sinclair returns to Babylon 5 to enlist the aid of Captain Sheridan, Delenn, Ivanova and Marcus in stealing the Babylon 4 space station and sending it 1,000 years back in time to use it as a base of operations against the Shadows in the previous 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 simply a reincarnation. Meanwhile, as a result of the unstable time travel, Sheridan sees a vision of the downfall of Centauri Prime when it is attacked by Shadow allies after the Shadow war, and he becomes determined to prevent that future.

Sheridan and Delenn begin a romantic relationship, but their lives and the war are interrupted by the sudden reappearance of Sheridan's wife, who was presumed dead after taking part in an archaeological expedition to Z'ha'dum years prior. She tells Sheridan that the Shadows are not evil, hoping to bring him back with her and recruit him to their cause. He soon realizes that her mind has been tampered with and corrupted by the Shadows, but accepts her offer to visit Z'ha'dum because he hopes it will save the galaxy sooner and prevent the downfall of Centauri Prime. He takes with him a pair of nuclear warheads, which he uses to destroy their largest city, and is last seen jumping into a miles-deep pit to escape the explosion.

Shadow vessels appear at the station, but disappear after Sheridan's attack. However, after they leave, station personnel realize that Garibaldi, who left in a fighter to defend against the vessels, never returned.

Season 4 – Year 2261[edit]

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 from Z'ha'dum and reunites the galaxy against the Shadows, 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 first sentient being in the galaxy, and who breathed life into Sheridan at Z'ha'dum. Once Sheridan returns, he and Delenn formalize their relationship and begin planning to marry, though most of their plans are put on hold due to the ongoing war.

Hours before Sheridan's return, Garibaldi is rescued and returned to the station, in rather dubious circumstances. Over the course of the next several months, he becomes markedly more paranoid and suspicious of other alien races and of Sheridan than he was before, causing worry among his friends and colleagues. After the Shadows are defeated Garibaldi leaves his post as security chief and works on his own as a "provider of information". He begins working for one William Edgars, a Mars tycoon, who is married to Garibaldi's former love. While he works ever closer with Edgars, he becomes increasingly aggressive toward Sheridan and eventually leaves Babylon 5.

Centauri Emperor Cartagia forges a relationship with the Shadows. With the reluctant help of his enemy G'Kar, Londo Mollari engineers the assassination of Cartagia and repudiates his agreement with the Shadows. In exchange for G'Kar's help, Londo frees the Narn from Centauri occupation. Londo afterwards kills Mr. Morden and destroys the Shadow vessels based on the Centauri homeworld, in an attempt to save 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 proxy 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 in order to allow the younger races to find their own way.

Minbar is gripped by a brief civil war between the Warrior and Religious castes. Delenn secretly meets with Neroon of the Warrior caste and convinces him that neither side can be allowed to win. She tells him that she will undergo a ritual wherein she will be willing to sacrifice herself, but will stop the ritual before she actually dies. When Neroon sees that she actually intends to go through the entire ritual, he rescues her and sacrifices himself instead, declaring that, although he was born Warrior caste, in his heart he is Religious caste.

As part of the ongoing conflict between Earth and Babylon 5, Garibaldi eventually betrays Sheridan and arranges his capture in order to gain Edgars' trust and learn his plans. Garibaldi later learns that Edgars created a virus that is dangerous only to telepaths. It is then revealed that after Garibaldi was captured the previous year, he was taken to the Psi Corps and re-programmed by Bester to provide information to him at the right time. Bester releases Garibaldi of his programming, and allows him to remember everything he has done since being kidnapped. Edgars is killed and his wife disappears, but is reunited with Garibaldi after the end of the war.

Sheridan is tortured and interrogated by those who hope to break him and turn him into a propaganda tool for Earth's totalitarian government. Fortunately, Garibaldi is able to help 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 democratic government due to Susanna Luchenko (played by Beata Poźniak) becoming president of Earth's Alliance. Mars is granted full independence, and Sheridan agrees to resign his commission. 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. Londo and G'Kar enter an uneasy alliance to help both their races as well as Sheridan in forming the Interstellar Alliance. During the Battle Ivanova is critically injured, promised only a few days to live. Marcus, who had fallen in love with Ivanova, finds the same alien healing device used to revive Garibaldi at the beginning of the second season, and uses it to transfer almost all of his life energy into Ivanova, causing her to live. This causes her immense emotional anguish, and she chooses to leave Babylon 5. Marcus is placed into indefinite cryonic suspension at her request, pending resuscitation technology.

Sheridan and Delenn complete their marriage ceremony while en route to Babylon 5, where they will head the Interstellar Alliance for the next year.

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. Among 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 5 – Year 2262 and beyond[edit]

In 2262, Earthforce Captain Elizabeth Lochley is appointed to command Babylon 5, which is now also the headquarters of the Interstellar Alliance. The station grows in its role as a sanctuary for rogue telepaths running from the Psi Corps, resulting in conflict. G'Kar, former Narn ambassador to Babylon 5, becomes unwillingly a spiritual icon after a book that he wrote while incarcerated during the Narn-Centauri War is published without his knowledge. 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 devastated by Narn and Drazi warships and Londo Mollari becomes emperor, then ends the war. However, the Drakh blackmail him into accepting a Drakh Keeper, under threat of the complete nuclear destruction of the planet. Vir Cotto, Mollari's loyal and more moral aide, becomes ambassador to Babylon 5 in his stead. G'Kar also leaves Babylon 5 to escape his unwanted fame and explore the rim. Sheridan and Delenn move to a city on Minbar, where the new headquarters of the Interstellar Alliance are located, while celebrating their first year of marriage and the upcoming birth of their son, and mourning the loss of dear friendships. Garibaldi marries and settles down on Mars, where he and his wife share ownership of a prominent pharmaceutical company. Most other main characters, including Stephen Franklin and Lyta Alexander, leave Babylon 5 as well.

As shown in flash-forwards earlier in the series, the next several years include the reign of Londo Mollari as Centauri Emperor. Sixteen years later, Londo sacrifices his life to rescue Sheridan and Delenn from the Drakh, in the hope that they in turn can save Centauri Prime. To prevent the Drakh from discovering his ruse, he asks G'Kar, now an old friend, to kill him, but Londo's Keeper wakes up and forces him to kill G'Kar in return. They die at each other's throats, in accordance with Londo's vision many decades earlier, and Vir Cotto succeeds him as emperor, free of Drakh influence.

Three years after Londo's death, Sheridan himself is on the verge of death and takes one last opportunity to gather his old friends together. Shortly after his farewell party, Sheridan says goodbye to Delenn, though in Minbari fashion they use the word "goodnight" to signify their hope of an eventual reunion. Sheridan then takes a final trip to the obsolete Babylon 5 station before its decommissioning. He returns to the site of the final battle between the Vorlons and the Shadows and apparently dies, but is instead claimed by The First One, who invites him to join the other First Ones on a journey beyond the rim of the galaxy. Babylon 5 station is destroyed in a demolition shortly after Sheridan's departure, its existence no longer necessary as the Alliance has taken over its diplomatic purposes and other trading routes have been established. This final episode features a cameo by Straczynski as the technician who switches off the lights before Babylon 5 is demolished.

Themes[edit]

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.[16] Babylon 5 was also one of the first television science fiction shows to denotatively refer to a same-sex relationship.[17][18] In the show, sexual orientation is as much of an issue as "being left-handed or right-handed".[19] Unrequited love is explored as a source of pain for the characters, though not all the relationships end unhappily.[20]

Order vs. chaos; authoritarianism vs. free will[edit]

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[21]

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;[22][23] 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."[24] The Shadows represent another authoritarian philosophy cloaked in a disguise of evolution through fire ( as shown in the episode in which Sheridan goes to Z'ha'dum and when he refuses to cooperate, Justin tells him: "But we do what we're told... and so will you!" ), of sowing the seeds of conflict in order to engender progress.[25] 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,[23] encouraging conflict between groups who choose to serve their own glory or profit.[26] 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"[21] and the rejection of both philosophies,[23] heralding the dawn of a new age without their interference.

The notion that the war was about "killing your parents"[21] 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 the HUAC,[27] the Earth Alliance becomes increasingly authoritarian, eventually sliding into a dictatorship. The show examines the impositions on civil liberties under the pretext of greater defense against outside threats 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.[28] 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.[29]

War and peace[edit]

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[30]

The Babylon 5 universe deals with numerous armed conflicts which range 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.[13] The Babylon 5 station is subsequently built in order to foster peace through diplomacy, described as the "last, best hope for peace" in the opening credits monologue during its first three seasons. 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.[31] By the start of the third season, the opening monologue had changed to say that the hope for peace had "failed" and the Babylon 5 station had become 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."[32]

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,[33] 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.[34] 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.[16] The conflict, and the reasons behind it, were informed by Nazism, McCarthyism and the breakup of Yugoslavia,[27] and the unraveling of the former Balkan country also served as partial inspiration for another civil war, which involved the alien Minbari.[35][36]

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.[37] 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."[38]

Religion[edit]

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[39]

Many of Earth's contemporary religions are shown to still exist, with the main human characters often having religious convictions, including Roman Catholicism, including the Jesuits, Judaism and the fictional Foundationism, which was created after first contact with alien races.[40] Alien beliefs in the show range from the Centauri's Bacchanalian-influenced religions,[39] of which there are up to seventy different denominations,[41] to the more pantheistic, as with the Narn and Minbari religions.[42] In the show's third season, a community of Cistercian monks takes up residence on the Babylon 5 station, in order to learn what other races call God,[43] and to come to a better understanding of the different religions through study at close quarters.[44]

References to both human and alien religion is often subtle and brief, but can also form the main theme of an episode.[45] 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,[39] while "Passing Through Gethsemane" focuses on a specific position of Roman Catholic beliefs,[46] as well as concepts of justice, vengeance and biblical forgiveness.[47] 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 because their religious beliefs forbid it.[39] When religion is an integral part of an episode, various characters can be used to express differing view points. Such as in "Soul Hunter", where the concept of an immortal soul is touched upon, and whether after death it is destroyed, reincarnated or simply does not exist. The character arguing the latter, Doctor Stephen Franklin, often appears in the more spiritual storylines as his scientific rationality is used to create dramatic conflict. Undercurrents of religions such as Buddhism have been viewed by some in various episode scripts,[48] and while identifying himself as an atheist,[39] Straczynski believes that passages of dialog can take on distinct meanings to viewers of differing faiths, and that the show ultimately expresses ideas which cross religious boundaries.[49]

Sacrifice[edit]

A major theme in Babylon 5 is the concept of sacrifice for a greater cause. Kosh sacrifices his life for a first victory against the Shadows. John Sheridan is ready to die at Z'ha'dum. Delenn is ready to die in the starfire wheel to restore Minbari society. Marcus Cole gives his life to save Susan Ivanova. Londo Mollari willingly accepts complete enslavement by a Drakh keeper to save the Centauri from annihilation. Many minor characters also willingly give their lives such as the crew of Drazi or Minbari ships in the final confrontation with the Shadows to save the Army of Light's leaders, some Centauri staying back at the island of Selini to allow the destruction of the Shadow warships, and so on. Captain Ericsson of White Star 14 is knowingly given a false report detailing the opening of an Army of Light base on Coriana VI at approximately the same time as the Vorlons' arrival. It is a suicide mission; he is to intrude into Shadow space and engage the Shadows as if on a real raid, so that when the Shadows destroyed his ship and discovered the file, they would be convinced the report is true and rush to Coriana. By forcing a direct confrontation, Sheridan believes he can finally get the Vorlons and Shadows into a position where he can resolve the war. Ericsson grimly accepts the mission and gives a final Anla'Shok salute to Delenn before signing off. "Some of us must be sacrificed if all are to be saved." is the spiritual epiphany experienced by G'Kar. This reflects the Vorlon philosophy in contrast to the self-interest philosophy of the Shadows.

Dreams and visions[edit]

The subliminal and subconscious play a very significant role in the Babylon 5 universe. 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[edit]

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. His eventual replacement as Chief of Security, Zack Allan, was given a second chance by Garibaldi after overcoming his own addiction to an unspecified drug. 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 (stemming from the Markab extinction), 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. Captain Elizabeth Lochley tells Garibaldi that her father was an alcoholic and that she is a recovering alcoholic herself.[50] Among the aliens, Londo Mollari is at least a heavy abuser of alcohol, mostly in the form of the Centauri national drink, Brivari (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-telepaths).

Perhaps ironically, Jeff Conaway, who played Zack Allen, had his own very real addiction issues for most of his adult life. Co-star Bruce Boxleitner stated unequivically that during Conaway's tenure on the show, he was the consummate professional, always coming to work on time and sober, and that his death due to pneumonia and encephalopathy due to his drug use was tragic, and Zack Allen was, in a sense, a mirror for Conaway.

Cast[edit]

Regular cast[edit]

Name Portrayed by Rank/Designation Occupation Seasons
1 2 3 4 5
Jeffrey Sinclair Michael O'Hare Commander Station Commander/Earth Ambassador/Entil'Zha Main Guest
John Sheridan Bruce Boxleitner Captain Station Commander & Earth Ambassador/President of Interstellar Alliance/Entil'Zha Main
Susan Ivanova Claudia Christian Lieutenant Commander/Commander/Captain/General Executive Officer/Earth General/Entil'Zha Main
Michael Garibaldi Jerry Doyle Chief Warrant Officer/Civilian Chief of Station Security/Head of Alliance Intellegence/CEO of Edgars Industries Main
Delenn Mira Furlan Civilian Minbari Ambassador/Entil'Zha/President of Interstellar Alliance Main
Stephen Franklin Richard Biggs Doctor Chief Medical Officer/Chief Xenobioligist of Earth Main
Talia Winters Andrea Thompson Civilian Commercial Telepath, Psi-Corps Main
Vir Cotto Stephen Furst Civilian Diplomatic Attache to Centauri Ambassador/Centauri Ambassedor Main
Lennier Bill Mumy Civilian Diplomatic Attache to Minbari Ambassador Main
Elizabeth Lochley Tracy Scoggins Captain/Colonel Station Commander Main
Marcus Cole Jason Carter Civilian Ranger Main
Na'Toth Caitlin Brown; Mary Kay Adams Civilian Diplomatic Attache to Narn Ambassador Main Guest
Warren Keffer Robert Rusler Lieutenant Commander, Zeta Wing Main
Zack Allan Jeff Conaway Sergeant/Chief Warrant Officer Assistant Chief of Security/Chief of Security Guest Main
Lyta Alexander Patricia Tallman Civilian Rogue Telepath/Attache to Vorlon Ambassador Guest Main
G'Kar Andreas Katsulas Civilian Narn Ambassador/Refugee Main
Londo Mollari Peter Jurasik Civilian Centauri Ambassador Main

Recurring guests[edit]

|}

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.[52] 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 12) 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."[53]

Production[edit]

Origin[edit]

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 centralized 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, Dune and the Lensman series, 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 the fixed-locale series and the epic could be done in a single series, he began to sketch the initial outline of what would become Babylon 5.[54][55]

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[55]

Straczynski set five goals for Babylon 5.[56] He said that the show "would have to be good science fiction" as well as good television – "rarely are shows both good [science fiction] and good TV; there're [sic] generally one or the other [emphasis in original]." 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 [science fiction] seriously, to build characters for grown-ups, to incorporate real science but keep the characters at the center of the story."[57] Some of the staples of television science fiction were also out of the question (the show would have "no kids or cute robots").[58] 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.[54]

Format[edit]

Described as a "window on the future" by series production designer John Iacovelli,[59] the story is set in the 23rd century on a large O'Neill Colony 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".[60] Many of the tie-in novels, comic books, and short stories were also developed to play a significant canonical part in the overall story.[61]

The cost of the series totalled an estimated $90 million for 110 episodes.[62]

Writing[edit]

Creator and showrunner J. Michael Straczynski wrote 92 of the 110 episodes of Babylon 5, including all 44 episodes in the third and fourth seasons;[63] according to Straczynski, a feat never before accomplished in American television.[64] 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.[65] Each writer was informed of the overarching 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.[66]

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.[67] 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;..."[68] 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.[69] When Winters's 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.

—Straczynski, J. Michael, 1996[70]

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 narrative 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 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.[70] 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, "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars".[71]

Costume[edit]

Ann Bruice Aling was costume designer for the show, after production designer John Iacovelli suggested her for the position having previously worked with Bruice on a number of film and theatrical productions.[72]

With the variety of costumes required she compared Babylon 5 to "eclectic theatre", with fewer rules about period, line, shape and textures having to be adhered to.[73] Preferring natural materials whenever possible, such as ostrich leather in the Narn body armor, Bruice combined and layered fabrics as diverse as rayon and silk with brocades from the 1930s and '40s to give the clothing the appearance of having evolved within different cultures.[74][75]

Often we try to coordinate the sensibilities of the aliens. I try to work with Optic Nerve to ensure that the head meets the body in some sensible way. We talk about similar qualities, textures and colors and the flow of the total being. Truthfully, often the look of the prosthetic comes somewhat earlier and from that I have an understanding of what direction to go.

— Ann Bruice Aling, 1995[73]

With an interest in costume history, she initially worked closely with J. Michael Straczinski to get a sense of the historical perspective of the major alien races, "so I knew if they were a peaceful people or a warring people, cold climate etc. and then I would interpret what kind of sensibility that called for."[74] Collaborating with other departments to establish co-ordinated visual themes for each race, a broad palette of colors was developed with Iacovelli, which he referred to as "spicy brights".[59] These warm shades of grey and secondary colors, such as certain blues for the Minbari, would often be included when designing both the costumes and relevant sets. As the main characters evolved, Bruice referred back to Straczynski and producer John Copeland who she viewed as "surprisingly more accessible to me as advisors than other producers and directors", so the costumes could reflect these changes. Ambassador Londo Mollari's purple coat became dark blue and more tailored while his waistcoats became less patterned and brightly colored as Bruice felt "Londo has evolved in my mind from a buffoonish character to one who has become more serious and darker."[73]

Normally there were three changes of costume for the primary actors; one for on set, one for the stunt double and one on standby in case of "coffee spills". For human civilians, garments were generally purchased off-the-rack and altered in various ways, such as removing lapels from jackets and shirts while rearranging closures, to suggest future fashions. For some of the main female characters a more couture approach was taken, as in the suits worn by Talia Winters which Bruice described as being designed and fitted to within "an inch of their life". Costumes for the destitute residents of downbelow would be distressed through a combination of bleaching, sanding, dipping in dye baths and having stage blood added.[74]

Like many of the crew on the show, members of the costume department made onscreen cameos. During the season 4 episode "Atonement", the tailors and costume supervisor appeared as the Minbari women fitting Zack Allan for his new uniform as the recently promoted head of security. His complaints, and the subsequent stabbing of him with a needle by costume supervisor Kim Holly, was a light hearted reference to the previous security uniforms. A design carried over from the pilot movie, which were difficult to work with and wear due to the combination of leather and wool.[75]

Prosthetic makeup and animatronics[edit]

While the original pilot film 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"[76] 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" [emphasis in original]).[76]

Visuals[edit]

In anticipation of future HDTV broadcasts and Laserdisc releases, rather than the usual 4:3 format, the series was shot in 16:9, with the image cropped to 4:3 for initial television transmissions.[77] Babylon 5 also distinguished itself at a time when models and miniature were still standard by becoming one of the first television shows to use computer technology in creating visual effects. This was achieved using Amiga-based Video Toasters at first, and later Pentium, Macs, and Alpha-based systems.[78] It also attempted to respect Newtonian physics in its effects sequences, with particular emphasis on the effects of inertia.[79]

Foundation Imaging provided the special effects for the pilot film (for which it won an Emmy) and the first three seasons of the show. After the show's co-executive producer (Douglas Netter) and producer (John Copeland) approached Straczynski with the idea of producing the effects in-house, Straczynski agreed to replace Foundation, for season 4 and 5, once a new team had been established by Netter Digital, and an equal level of quality was assured,[80] by using similar technology and a number of former Foundation employees.[81] The Emmy-winning alien make-up was provided by Optic Nerve Studios.

Music and scoring[edit]

Sleeping in Light
Soundtrack album by Christopher Franke
Released March 23, 1999 (1999-03-23)
Genre Classical, Electroacoustic
Length 25:01
Label Sonic Images
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 4/5 stars[82]

Christopher Franke composed and scored the musical soundtrack for all 5 years of the show when Stewart Copeland, who worked on the original telefilm, was unable to return for the first season due to recording and touring commitments.[83] Given creative freedom by the producers, Franke also orchestrated and mixed all the music which one reviewer described as having "added another dimension of mystery, suspense, and excitement to the show, with an easily distinguishable character that separates "Babylon 5" from other sci-fi television entries of the era."[84][85]

With his recording studio in the same building as his home located in the Hollywood Hills, Franke would attend creative meetings before scoring the on average 25 minutes of music for each episode.[84] Utilising Cubase software through an electronic keyboard, or for more complex pieces a light pen and graphics tablet, he would begin by developing the melodic content round which the ambient components and transitions were added. Using playbacks with digital samples of the appropriate instruments, such as a group of violins, he would decide which tracks to produce electronically or record acoustically.[84][86]

Utilizing the "acoustic dirt produced by live instruments and the ability to play so well between two semitones" and the "frequency range, dynamics and control" provided by synthesizers, he described his approach "as experimental friendly as possible without leaving the happy marriage between the orchestral and electronic sounds".[86] While highlighting Babylon 5 was produced on a "veritable shoestring", and as such would have been unable to afford a full orchestral score every week, at least one reviewer felt that the soundtrack would have benefitted from a greater use of the Berlin Symphonic Film Orchestra, which Franke established in 1991.

And while Franke's handling of the electronic textures is adept, I think he could have made a little better use of the German orchestra that's credited in every episode. In particularly, the driving, fanfare-like title themes would gain a lot of distinction from the kind of guts that an acoustic sound would bring to them.[87]

Scores for the acoustic tracks were emailed to his Berlin scoring stage, and would require from four musicians to the full orchestra, with a maximum of 24 present at any one time. One of three conductors would also be required for any score that involved more than 6 musicians. Franke would direct recording sessions via six fibre optic digital telephone lines to transmit and receive video, music and the SMPTE timecode. The final edit and mixing of the tracks would take place in his Los Angeles studio. Initially concerned composing for an episodic television show could become "annoying because of the repetition", Franke found the evolving characters and story of Babylon 5 afforded him the opportunity to continually "push the envelope".[84][86]

Assembling music written for the series' final episode, Sleeping in Light succinctly encapsulates just how far Franke's sensibilities evolved over the course of Babylon 5's five-year production run – the synthesizer textures and martial percussion so long a fixture of the series' musical palette are now enhanced by strings and guitars that emphasize the deeply human emotional dimensions of the interstellar drama. Indeed, for all the series' obvious emphasis on fantasy and otherworldly sounds, Franke never lost track of its earthbound soul. Epic in scope and scale, Sleeping in Light boasts a power few TV soundtracks achieve.[82]

A total of 24 episode and three television film soundtracks were released under Franke's record label, Sonic Images Records, between 1995 and 2001. These contain the musical scores in the same chronological order as they played in the corresponding episodes, or television films. Three compilation albums were also produced, containing extensively re-orchestrated and remixed musical passages taken from throughout the series to create more elaborate suites. In 2007 his soundtrack for The Lost Tales was released under the Varèse Sarabande record label.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine controversy[edit]

The pilot episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) aired just weeks before Babylon 5 debuted. Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski indicated that Paramount Television was aware of his concept as early as 1989,[88] when he attempted to sell the show to the studio, and provided them with the series bible, pilot script, artwork, lengthy character background histories, and plot synopses for 22 "or so planned episodes taken from the overall course of the planned series".[89][90]

Paramount passed on Babylon 5, but later announced Deep Space Nine was in development, two months after Warner Bros. announced its plans for Babylon 5. Straczynski has stated on numerous occasions that, even though he is confident that Deep Space Nine producer/creators Rick Berman and Michael Piller did not see this material, he thinks Paramount may have used his bible and scripts to steer development of Deep Space Nine.[91][92] In 1993 he said, "Okay, YOU (Paramount) know what happened, and *I* know what happened, but let's try to be grown-up about it for now,' though I must say that the shape-changing thing nearly tipped me back over the edge again. If there are no more major similarities that crop up in the next few weeks or months, with luck we can continue that way."

Babylon 5's first-run syndicated ratings averaged between 3 and 4% of US households from 1995 to 1997, whereas DS9 ranged from 4 to 5% during the same time span. The PTEN vs. UPN network rivalry may have been a factor in the development of such similar shows, since both networks were competing for control of the same independent stations and for status as the fifth major network (after ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX). Each nascent network wanted the other to fail.[93] Ultimately PTEN dissolved in 1997, while The WB and UPN merged to form The CW in 2006.

Use of the Internet[edit]

Original Babylon 5 promo logo

The show employed Internet marketing to create a buzz among online readers far in advance of the airing of the pilot episode,[94] 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 (page 470, category 18, topic 22). Also during this time, Warner Bros. executive Jim Moloshok created and distributed electronic trading cards to help advertise the series.[95] 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[edit]

The pilot film, The Gathering, premiered on February 22, 1993, and the regular series initially aired from January 26, 1994 through November 25, 1998,[96] 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 US.[97] The pilot film debuted in the United States with strong viewing figures, achieving a 9.7 in the Nielsen national syndication rankings.[98] 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,[99] ratings for the first season continued to fall, to a low of 3.4 during reruns,[100] and then increasing again when new episodes were broadcast in July.

Ratings continued to remain low-to-middling throughout the first four seasons,[101] 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,[98] therefore remaining profitable for the network.[102] The fifth season, shown on cable network TNT, had ratings about 1.0% lower than seasons two through four.

In the United Kingdom, Babylon 5 was one of the better-rated US television shows on Channel 4,[103] and achieved high audience Appreciation Indexes, with season 4's "Endgame" achieving the rare feat of beating the prime-time soap operas for first position.[104]

On November 25, 1998, after five seasons and 109 aired episodes, Babylon 5 successfully completed its five-year story arc when TNT aired the 110th (epilogue) episode "Sleeping in Light".

Awards[edit]

Awards presented to Babylon 5 include:

Nominated Awards include:

  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup for a Series, 1995 (episode, "Acts of Sacrifice")[105]
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Hairstyling for a Series, 1995 (episode, "The Geometry of Shadows")
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cinematography for a Series, 1995 (episode, "The Geometry Of Shadows")
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Cinematography for a Series, 1996
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Makeup for a Series, 1997 (episode, "The Summoning")
  • Emmy Award: Outstanding Makeup for a Series, 1998 (television movie, In The Beginning)

Babylon 5 media franchise[edit]

In November 1994, DC began publishing monthly Babylon 5 comics. A number of short stories and novels were also produced between 1995 and 2001. Additional books were published by the gaming companies Chameleon Eclectic and Mongoose Publishing, to support their desk-top strategy and role-playing games.

Three telefilms were released by Turner Network Television (TNT) in 1998, after funding a fifth season of Babylon 5, following the demise of the Prime Time Entertainment Network the previous year. In addition to In the Beginning, Thirdspace, and The River of Souls, they released a re-edited special edition of the original 1993 telefilm, The Gathering. In 1999, a fifth telefilm was also produced, A Call to Arms, which acted as a pilot movie for the spin-off series Crusade, which TNT cancelled after 13 episodes had been filmed.

Dell Publishing started publication of a series of Babylon 5 novels in 1995, which were ostensibly considered canon within the TV series' continuity, nominally supervised by creator J. Michael Straczynski, with later novels in the line being more directly based upon Straczynski's own notes and story outlines. In 1997, Del Rey obtained the publication license from Warner Bros., and proceeded to release a number of original trilogies directly scenarized by Straczynski, as well as novelizations of three of the TNT telefilms (In the Beginning, Thirdspace, and A Call to Arms). All of the Del Rey novels are considered completely canonical within the filmic Babylon 5 universe.

In 2000, the Sci-Fi Channel purchased the rights to rerun the Babylon 5 series, and premiered a new telefilm, The Legend of the Rangers in 2002, which failed to be picked up as a series. In 2007, the first in a planned anthology of straight-to-DVD short stories entitled, The Lost Tales, was released by Warner Home Video, but no others were produced, due to funding issues.[108]

At the 2014 San Diego Comic Con, Straczynski announced that a Babylon 5 movie is planned to go into production in 2016. It is to be a reboot of the story, but potentially one using old cast members in different roles. Studio JMS would produce it on a budget of $80–100 million if Warner Bros. do not take up the offer.[109]

Home video releases[edit]

In July 1995, Warner Home Video began distributing Babylon 5 VHS video tapes under its Beyond Vision label in the UK. Beginning with the original telefilm, The Gathering, these were PAL tapes, showing video in the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the initial television broadcasts. By the release of Season 2, tapes included closed captioning of dialogue and Dolby Surround sound. Columbia House began distributing NTSC tapes, via mail order in 1997, followed by repackaged collector's editions and three-tape boxed sets in 1999, by which time the original pilot telefilm had been replaced by the re-edited TNT special edition. Additional movie and complete season boxed-sets were also released by Warner Bros. until 2000.

Image Entertainment released Babylon 5 laserdiscs between December 1998 and September 1999. Produced on double-sided 12-inch Pioneer discs, each contained two episodes displayed in the 4:3 broadcast aspect-ratio, with Dolby Surround audio and closed captioning for the dialogue. Starting with two TNT telefilms, In the Beginning and the re-edited special edition of The Gathering, Seasons 1 and 5 were released simultaneously over a six-month period. Seasons 2 and 4 followed, but with the decision to halt production due to a drop in sales, precipitated by rumors of a pending DVD release, only the first twelve episodes of Season 2 and the first six episodes of Season 4 were ultimately released.[110]

In November 2001, Warner Home Video began distributing Babylon 5 DVDs with a two-movie set containing the re-edited TNT special edition of The Gathering and In The Beginning. The telefilms were later individually released in region 2 in April 2002, though some markets received the original version of The Gathering in identical packaging.

DVD boxed sets of the individual seasons, each containing six discs, began being released in October 2002. Each included a printed booklet containing episode summaries, with each disc containing audio options for German, French, and English, plus subtitles in a wider range of languages, including Arabic and Dutch. Video was displayed in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Disc 1 of each set contained an introduction to the season by J. Michael Straczynski, while disc 6 included featurettes containing interviews with various production staff, as well as information on the fictional universe, and a gag reel. Three episodes in each season also contained commentary from either Straczynski, members of the main cast, and/or the episode director.

Since its initial release, a number of repackaged DVD boxed sets have been produced for various regional markets. With slightly altered cover art, they included no additional content, but the discs were more securely stored in slimline cases, rather than the early "book" format, with hard plastic pages used during the original release of the first three seasons.

Other releases[edit]

Seasons 1 and 2, and parts of Season 3, of Babylon 5 have been released as advertisement-supported downloads through the In2TV and Hulu download services. Additionally, every episode from Seasons 1 to 5, as well as the pilot film Babylon 5: The Gathering, are available for purchase on the Xbox Live Marketplace in the United States. All five seasons, and five of the movies (In The Beginning, Thirdspace, River of Souls, A Call To Arms, Legend of the Rangers) are currently available through iTunes.

Mastering problems[edit]

While the series was in pre-production, studios were looking at ways for their existing shows to make the transition from the then-standard 4:3 aspect ratio to the widescreen formats that would accompany the next generation of televisions. After visiting Warner Bros., who were stretching the horizontal interval for an episode of Lois & Clark, producer John Copeland convinced them to allow Babylon 5 to be shot on Super 35mm film stock. "The idea being that we would telecine to 4:3 for the original broadcast of the series. But what it also gave us was a negative that had been shot for the new 16×9 widescreen-format televisions that we knew were on the horizon."[111]

The widescreen conversion thing was executive short sightedness at it's finest!!! We offered to do ALL of Babylon 5 in widescreen mode if Warner Bros would buy us a reference monitor so we could check our output. (only $5000 at the time) Ken Parkes (the "Business affairs" guy) and Netter (penny wise, but pound foolish) said no! So we did everything so it could be CROPPED to be widescreen! Each blamed the other by the way. Doug Netter said, "Ken Parkes said no". Ken Parkes said, "Doug Netter said no". SHEESH!!! So for $75 an episode they could have had AWESOME near Hi-Def.

— Ron Thornton, 2008[112]

Though the CGI scenes, and those containing live action combined with digital elements, could have been created in a suitable widescreen format, a cost-saving decision was taken to produce them in the 4:3 aspect ratio. The intention was to then crop the top and bottom of the images, and upscale the resolution for any future widescreen release or broadcast. In 2000, when the show was transferred to widescreen for airing on the Sci-Fi Channel prior to its eventual DVD release, the plan was not followed, as John Copeland recalls: "They did another video hack, and simply used a digital post production device like a DVE (Digital Video Enhancer) to blow the material up. They essentially stretched it approximately 1/3 to fill the larger aspect ratio."[111]

The scenes containing live action ready to be composited with matte paintings, CGI animation, etc., were delivered on tape already telecined to the 4:3 aspect-ratio, and contained a high level of grain, which resulted in further image noise being present when enlarged and stretched for widescreen.[113] For the purely live-action scenes, rather than using the film negatives, "Warners had even forgotten that they had those. They used PAL versions and converted them to NTSC for the US market. They actually didn't go back and retransfer the shows."[114]

With the resulting aliasing, and the progressive scan transfer of the video to DVD, this has created a number of visual flaws throughout the widescreen release. In particular, quality has been noted to drop significantly in composite shots.[115][116]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]