Babylon 5 is my favorite television series. Period. Pretty much everything else about me can be derived from that statement. That which can't is just window-dressing.
For myself, I am a musician, writer, and professional engineer. With those credentials, how could I NOT love B5? Here's a show that is one of the most hard-science pieces of sci-fi mixed with blue-sky "what-if"-isms, written in an overarching storyline structured like that of a novel (or series thereof), featuring 25 minutes of original orchestral music PER EPISODE. Now, THAT is the right mix for me.
In my day-to-day life, I am a systems engineer. Usually, I work in simulations and programming. That means I have to have a mixture of computer science, physics, logic, statistics, and technical writing in my day job.
Inside, however, I am a dreamer. Not a dreamer in the sense of "wouldn't it be nice if...", but rather a dreamer in the sense of how do you bring that "wouldn't-it-be-nice" to fruition. Don't just dream it; build it, become it, be it.
Recommended Watch Order
I have a yearly tradition - or twice-yearly, maybe, if I manage not to piss off my wife - of watching the entire Babylon 5 television series. As such, I have a specific watch order for all of the B5 episodes, movies, and specials. I don't worry about the specific chronological order of seasons 1 and 2, but pretty much everything else is in the best order to get the most out of it.
- Babylon 5: Movie 1 - The Gathering
- Babylon 5: Season One - Signs and Portents
- Babylon 5: Season Two - The Coming of Shadows
- Babylon 5: Season Three - Point of No Return
- Babylon 5: Movie 2 - In the Beginning - Yeah, I know this isn't chronologically-sound, but the entire film is a frame story anyway, as told from 2278. By the end of season 3, you know everything you need to fully-appreciate the story as told by Emperor Londo Mollari.
- Babylon 5: Season Four - No Surrender, No Retreat - Episode 1 through Episode 7: "Epiphanies"
- Babylon 5: Movie 3 - Thirdspace - There are several problems with the timeline-placement of this movie, but if you can ignore Zack's new uniform, it works after "Epiphanies". Including either "The Illusion of Truth" or "Atonement" just messes with the flow of the story.
- Babylon 5: Season Four - Episodes 8 through 22
- Babylon 5: Season Five - The Wheel of Fire - Episode 1 through Episode 21: "Objects at Rest"
- Babylon 5: Movie 4 - River of Souls
- Optional - Babylon 5: Movie 6 - The Legend of the Rangers
- Babylon 5: Movie 5 - A Call to Arms
- Optional - Crusade - Full series
- Babylon 5: The Lost Tales
- Babylon 5: Season Five - Episode 22: "Sleeping in Light"
Alternately, you could watch "In the Beginning" after TLT and before "Sleeping in Light". I recently re-discovered some information that makes it tenuous to serve as a kind of coda between Seasons 3 and 4, specifically, that Londo Mollari tells the children that Sheridan becomes president of a great alliance. This can hurt the storyline if someone is watching the series for the first time and had just seen Sheridan "die" at Z'ha'dum in the episode of the same name.
What is Missing from my Collection
Even with what a B5 aficionado I am, there are several pieces of B5 canon that are missing from my collection. I have all five seasons, the first five movies, and Crusade. In terms of books, I have the Psi Corps trilogy, and that's about it. What I lack is:
- The Legend of the Rangers
- Canon Novels
- Any of the (canon) comics or short stories
In terms of the canon novels, I am very disappointed that they are not yet available in e-book form. I've always been of the mind that any book, once it goes out of print, should either be put in e-book form or else released into the public domain. If the copyright holder isn't selling new copies, then what's the point of having copyright? It's somewhat like the MST3K fandom: the MSTies take it upon themselves to circulate the VHS and DVD-R copies of the episodes that were never released on home video.
Alright, something seriously needs to happen for the 25th Anniversary of B5. I know there was a major get-together for the cast and crew, organized by JMS himself, that was the highlight of the 20th anniversary. However, we have a serious problem people:
- WE. STILL. DO. NOT. HAVE. OUR. REMASTERED. RELEASE.
A lot of time and editing went into re-releasing B5 on DVD a few years ago, and the editors have my appreciation and admiration for how far they went with what they had. Looking back at the DVDs, though, I am stunned by the poor quality of the materials they had to work with (which makes their work all the more impressive).
First of all, WB offered a pittance of a budget for re-releasing the series on DVD. Let's back up and say this: JMS is a visionary. He KNEW going into this series that technology was on the up-tick and, in a few short years, the medium would change drastically. He did not want his show to be tossed aside like 90% of 90's television eventually was. That was why he had the show filmed in 16:9 widescreen, even though television stations still only used the 4:3 standard. It was also why he embraced the usage of CG models and backdrops over matte paintings and miniatures, which were the practice of the day. He knew that they could go back and re-master the show to 16:9 and include up-to-date CG models and animations to make the show look even better.
We all know the history: JMS got to film the series in 16:9, but the show was compositted in 4:3 by executive producer decision. (Thanks, Doug.) What does that mean? The finished frames that would include any kinds of effects - and I do mean ANY, including fade-ins and fade-outs - would be 4:3. Well, that's alright, right? I mean, JMS said that they would go back and re-do things to keep up with the tech.
Wrong again! Nope, the studio decided, "Hey! Series over! Sell what you can and scrap the rest!" This included the hard drives and other memory devices that contained the original CG models, effects, and animations. With it tossed away, any future releases would have to rely on the original compositted frames. The problem being that, by the advent of DVD, most home video had already gone to widescreen! So, here the editors sat: a mountain of original footage in 16:9 beauty, but lacked any form of transitions, color balancing, or anything else. The company also provided a ridiculously-small budget for the re-release, most of it earmarked to getting the cast and crew in-studio to provide interviews and commentaries. The show itself got the... what's the opposite of the "lion's share"?
So, the editors, in an effort to use the 80-90% of the show they could in widescreen, had to use every scene with a transition, a PPG burst, or a full-on CG animation and scale the 4:3 back to 16:9. They did this by shrinking the image vertically and then expanding it out to the new aspect ratio. On older televisions (480p and the like), this worked perfectly fine. However, as soon as the world went HD, the results were barely what you could call passable. What makes it more infuriating is the fact that there existed / exists better quality footage, just lacking minute effects such as scene transitions and little effects that could be done in an afternoon of Adobe hacking!
It has been over 20 years, and the fanbase for Babylon 5 is as strong as it ever was. For my part, the fanbase has grown, as I have introduced several friends to the series who had merely heard of it. (One is a major Big Bang Theory fan, and she still can't believe how negative Sheldon is about this awesome show!) I witnessed this firsthand at Dragon*Con. The con-ners - the people who organize the deal - put the B5 panel with Bruce Boxleitner and Mira Furlan in one of the ballrooms - all well and good - but neglected to set up a substantial line for admission because they thought, "Hey, it's just some dinky little show from the 90's. There won't be a crowd." BOOM! Next thing you know, the lobby was mobbed by people trying to form some sort of an orderly queue to get in and see the pair, having to deal with the con volunteers who were being less-than-helpful, and finally getting into a room that was standing-room only (which is an anachronism, as the Atlanta fire marshal said there couldn't be standing room, so there were people turned away at the door). THAT shows how popular the show still is, able to pack out a room like that while other "more-contemporary" offerings sat half-empty.
- On a side-note: Bruce and Mira were an absolute treasure. They had so much fun, we couldn't help but have fun along with them. Mira was absolutely adorable. Her first move coming up on stage was not to greet the moderator or wave or anything like that. NOPE! Out comes the iPhone and she's taking a panoramic of the crowd with a smirk on her face. I wish I had been there for day two; apparently, Bruce's handler forgot him in the green room, and he sat there for the first HALF HOUR of the panel, wondering if he was missing something. He found out from one of the volunteers, got up, walked to the Hyatt on his own, and found the ballroom. In mid-question to Mira, a long, jean-cladden leg kicked open the side door, and in walks Bruce the Long-Shanks himself, sits down on stage in a huff, and calls out loud and proud, "THIS IS NO WAY TO RUN A SPACE STATION!" Meeting Bruce Boxleitner later in the autograph room, he stood up to greet my wife and I, and I couldn't help but remark, "Geez, you're a tall bastard." He stared at me for a second, then shrugged and said, "Yes, I am a tall bastard. We were ALL tall bastards on that show!"
My point is, B5 is still ingrained in the consciousness of people who watched it and enjoyed it in the mid-90s. It deserves more than it has gotten over the years. Moreover, a better offering for home video release wouldn't require all that much. I know that I wouldn't mind it if they had to add side-bars to the image on compositted shots they couldn't re-do, but it would let them remaster the originals and provide a better if not HD picture.
That is my requirement. My hope - my wish - is that we see JMS's vision come to fruition. They went back and re-did several of the CG models for The Lost Tales, and they look absolutely beautiful. They should go back and re-work all of the CG and compositted effects in the show, and re-cut a NEW and IMPROVED Babylon 5 just the way JMS intended in the first place.
Think of it this way: we can see the Duke in HD color, almost four decades after his passing. We have all the materials needed to do the same - and more - for Babylon 5. Why not?
That is the right question.
In Memory of the One
- The worker who became a priest and transcended time...
- The priest who became a warrior and fought legends...
- The warrior who became a worker and built the future...
So much in Babylon 5 is centered around three. Such is the case with the three nexuses in the story - Jeffrey Sinclair, Delenn of Mir, and John Sheridan. They created the future together and individually, and their personal transformations form the core of the story.
Sinclair actually goes through a two-fold transition, but let us take him as he is at the start of the series: a worker. There is no point in focusing on his time as a warrior, as he blatantly displays that he is unhappy with that portion of his life, as it affects his personal relationships, his self-worth, and his ability to sleep at night. Here is a man haunted by his military history, so much so that he has been passed over for command on a number of occasions until the Minbari ask for him personally, and thus he takes command of the station. However, now working as a diplomat - a worker - he has found something he can believe in. His excitement throughout Season 1 revolves around getting the aliens to work together, from signing the Euphrates Treaty to handling disputes between the Narn and Centauri.
His transformation is not over, yet. Upon being called to Minbar, he takes up his secret post as head of the Anla'Shok. It is here that his tormented soul finds peace. He even sets aside his own past, keeping little of it to remind him save a few small trinkets, such as his medal from the Battle of the Line. He becomes introspective, a philosopher-poet freed from his painful history. In short, he becomes a priest, moreso when he travels through time and eventually becomes the legendary Minbari leader, Valen, whose legacy survives through a thousand years of Minbari culture by becoming part of their religious belief system (a la Asimov's Foundation series).
Delenn of Mir was born into the Minbari Religious caste. Though young Minbari are permitted to choose the caste to which they are called and will belong for the rest of their lives, even change castes as the calling of their heart demands, she grew up in that lifestyle. She went to temple, trained by the priests as befitting her prestigious family, and became an acolyte of the Grey Council when she was still quite young. After only a brief time serving the Council, she became the aid of Dukhat, one of the greatest leaders of the Council since Valen himself. He trained her to think, to believe in order to free herself from what she saw around her. Delenn, meanwhile, grew fond of Dukhat, even perhaps to the point of falling in love with him (just as her own aid would less than twenty years later). It was through Dukhat's death that Delenn found a fire within herself, as she passionately cast the deciding vote to attack the humans who had brutally slaughtered her teacher and thus embark on the holy war to destroy their race.
"Kill all of them! All of them! No mercy!"
- – Delenn, Atonement
Not long after the war began, Delenn had second thoughts. The decision made in the heat of the moment weighed heavily on her heart, and she sought to end the war that had taken on a life of its own. Even after she discovered the truth that the humans were crucial in the war to come, there was little she could do to stop it. Even though the war eventually came to a close before humanity was destroyed, Delenn would seek to repress that part of herself for more than ten years. Everything she did, she did to avoid conflict, either by cooperation or by thinly-veiled threat of what could - nay,would - happen if conflicted erupted.
It was not until 2260 that Delenn realized how far her people had fallen from grace. Having been removed from her post in the Council for her actions, she retreated to the consulate aboard Babylon 5 in de facto exile. Now, face-to-face with the coming darkness which Valen foresaw, the Council - now essentially under the control of the Warrior Caste - all but refused to act. She, by sheer force of personality, broke the Grey Council and rallied support for the Army of Light. She relighted and focused the heat, the fiery passion which had started the war with the humans, now focused on driving away the darkness. Strange, that by transforming from priest to warrior, Delenn found her calling and helped save the galaxy.
Lastly, you have John Sheridan. He is something of a paradox. All his adult life, his first love has been Earth and the uniform he wears to defend her. For one so interested in secrets and rumors, his naivete would soon be his undoing. After achieving accolades for his service in the Earth-Minbari War and the Mars Food Riots, his life-long career as a soldier seemed all-but-certain. He served as first officer and finally commanding officer on a number of Earthforce ships, finally acting as CO of the EAS Agamemnon before being transferred to Babylon 5.
In his first few months as the station's CO, Sheridan's identity began to unravel. Going from the captain's chair of an Omega class destroyer to behind the desk of the military governor of a floating city in space proved too much for him. While he had the experience and temperament for cooperating with alien governments, just as he had in numerous missions aboard the Agamemnon, he did not have the patience for all the minutiae that came with running the station. For a time, it seemed that his tenure as the station's commander would be shorter than that of his predecessor.
When he saw what was becoming of his beloved homeworld, all that changed. Earth was slowly devolving into a fascist nightmare, plagued by political and social constructs of Orwellian proportions. He saw his world falling into darkness, and from that found out the true darkness that threatened to engulf the galaxy. Taking up his post as leader of the Army of Light alongside Delenn, Sheridan set aside his love of duty - his uniform - and fought against legends to save the future. The only way he could do that was to get the other worlds to join together into a cohesive body.
It had never been done before. Like the UN that eventually unified Earth under a single government, there stood every force on a hundred worlds ready to tear everything apart for their own selfish gains. This was not an enemy Sheridan could fight as a soldier; he had to build the solution from the ground up. Setting aside his identity as a soldier, he focused on becoming a leader, a man who showed others a better way and embodied all the attributes he espoused.
Eventually, he set aside his life as a soldier altogether, becoming the first president of the Interstellar Alliance. Though there would be occasions that saw him in the captain's chair once more, he was a man of words as much as action from then on. He went from being Sheridan "Starkiller" to Sheridan the peace-maker, and he would be remembered as such for more than a thousand years afterward.
The transitions of these three characters whose identities change over the course of the story form the triumvirate of the One.