About 25 years ago, a show came on that changed television as we know it. The name of the show? Babylon 5. It won a Hugo and a couple Emmy’s and the legendary sci-fi author Harlan Ellison consulted for the show. It’s available on Amazon Prime now, and though the footage hasn’t aged well, it’s message remains timeless.
What’s the Big Deal
Joe Strazinski (aka JMS) plotted out five seasons of an epic story arc. If it didn’t get canceled, it had a definite end and he knew the major secrets before they started writing the first season. At this point in the nineties, television was largely episodic. The Enterprise was in danger, Wesley would save the day, and if anybody got their arm chopped off, it would be glued back on by the end of the episode with no PTSD carrying over. Babylon 5 changed that. Each episode from day one followed on from the next. Deep Space Nine and B5 have had a hint of rivalry since they aired around the same time (JMS pitched the idea to Paramount before getting his show). You’ll note around season two or three, DS9 switched to a serial format. A lot of shows adopted the serial form. From Buffy to Lost and Battlestar Galactica to most shows now.
B5 used Commodore Amiga computers (with Video Toasters) to render the seasons of CGI. Far cheaper than Star Trek, and for the time, just as good. They also shot in wide-screen high def, the first show to do so. Sadly, the CGI was only done in standard ratio, so things get muddy on our HD televisions of the day. Warner Brothers is reluctant to do anything about that, there’s a bit of politics over their acquisition of the studio that filmed B5 and it’s a darn shame. Still, this show is worth watching.
There’s a mix of humans and aliens on this station. Many of the aliens are full make-up, not just classic Trek Forehead Aliens. My favorite characters are Ambassadors G’Kar and Londo Mollari. They shift from despicable to sympathetic to heroic and villainous across the series. G’Kar gets many of the best lines, that really hold meaning. Here’s a clip of my favorite scene, as Centauri Republic just conquered Narn and Londo exerts his power to have G’Kar removed.
In the final episode, Ivanova sums it up pretty well in this quote, "Babylon 5 was the last of the Babylon stations. There would never be another. It changed the future .. and it changed us. It taught us that we have to create the future .. or others will do it for us. It showed us that we have care for one another, because if we don't, who will? And that true strength sometimes comes from the most unlikely places. Mostly, though, I think it gave us hope .. that there can always be new beginnings .. even for people like us."
Lastly, hidden in the credits is a final note from JMS. He wrote of how nobody thought the show would survive to completion. But he ignored the naysayers, and persevered. As he wrote at the end, “Faith Manages.”