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Babylon 5

Babylon 5 is an epic science fiction television series created by, produced, and written by J. Michael Straczynski.

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

The series consists of stories centered around a space station, Babylon 5, meant as a gathering place for fostering peace and trade, but which ultimately became the epicenter of a massive interstellar conflict. Unlike most television shows, this series was conceived as a novel, with a beginning, middle and end. The entire arc — the overall story — of the show was plotted out in some detail before the first episode was ever shot.

As a long-term science fiction fan himself, Straczynski was determined to produce a science fiction series where, for once, things would be done properly: consistent technology, "No cute kids or robots", no new "particle of the week" to tie up a plot.

As a demonstration of his seriousness about this, he took on board Harlan Ellison as an advisor to the series - Ellison is not known for suffering fools quietly, and had seen a projected series of his own (The Starlost) ruined by the studio's interference and budget-cutting. Having a (loosely) predetermined plot was advantageous in many respects, as longer-term planning greatly reduced the working budget required on sets and costumes, compared with other series with unconnected stories which might require a whole new set of props for an episode.

Table of contents

Cast

Civilizations One of the show's many themes is the interaction between civilizations: the station is after all a diplomatic meeting-place. There are five dominant civilizations represented on Babylon 5, and a dozen or more less powerful ones.

The Centauri Republic is a decadent, slowly declining empire. The Centauri are a proud and aristocratic people who have seen better days; the Emperor and his scheming nobles leap at the chance to regain the glories of empire. Centauri appear largely humanoid, though running toward obesity; females are bald, while males wear their hair in fanlike crests. The Centauri ambassador is Londo Mollari, a minor noble.

Humanity has expanded to Mars and several outsystem colony worlds, governed by the Earth Alliance. Since the end of the Earth-Minbari war, when Earth stood on the brink of annihilation, it prospered in interstellar trade, but factions have grown xenophobic and formed Night Watch, a paramilitary secret police. Increasingly powerful in the Earth milieu is the Psi Corps, a quasimilitary organization which both regulates and is controlled by human telepaths; Psi-Cop Alfred Bester (named by Straczynski in honor of science fiction author Alfred Bester) is a recurring character. The station is staffed by the Earth Alliance military, Earthforce; the station's commander (Jeffrey Sinclair; later, John Sheridan) also serves as ambassador.

Ancient when humanity was young, the Minbari Federation is a caste society, its people divided into workers, warriors, and religious scholars. The Minbari are led by the Gray Council of nine, three representatives drawn from each of the three castes equally — an arrangement created by Valen, the ancient Minbari prophet. Minbari are humanoid, usually thin and pale; they are bald, with gray bony crests across the back of their heads. The Minbari ambassador to Babylon 5 is Delenn, a Minbari woman of the religious caste and member of the Gray Council.

Another "young race" like humanity, the Narn Regime were formerly colonized and enslaved by the Centauri, and bear them deep ill will because of the brutal methods of control employed. Narns are perceived as a primitive and brutal people, a stereotype the Centauri engendered during their occupation and continued to foster. The Narn are led by the Kha'Ri and their religion venerates philosopher prophets. Narns are tall and have a stocky build; they are bald, with a yellowish complexion, mottled with brown and/or green spots. Although they look lizardlike, they are in fact marsupials. The Narn ambassador to Babylon 5 is G'Kar.

Little is known about the Vorlon Empire, except that they are very advanced and very secretive; no non-Vorlon who has entered their space has returned to tell about it. Vorlons cultivate an air of mystery, concealing themselves in chitinous, mechanical "encounter suits" whenever they are seen by others. (The encounter suit, and the poisonous atmosphere maintained in the Vorlon ambassador's quarters on the station, suggest that the Vorlons cannot live in the type of environment the other major races consider normal - but both could be ruses to protect the Vorlons' secrets.) They speak in odd hisses and tones which are translated by their suits into brief, enigmatic sayings. Kosh Naranek, and later Ulkesh Naranek, represent the Vorlons.

In addition to the 5 major powers, the The League of Non-Aligned Worlds consists of other minor powers including the Gaim, Abbai, pak'ma'ra, Markab, Drazi, and Vree.

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

The episodes

  • Pilot Movie "The Gathering"
  • Season One "Signs and Portents"
  • Season Two "The Coming Of Shadows"
  • Season Three "Point of No Return"
  • Season Four "No Surrender, No Retreat"
  • Season Five "Wheel of Fire"

Other made-for-TV movies

  • Thirdspace
  • Babylon 5: In the Beginning
  • The River of Souls
  • A Call to Arms {Designed to introduce the spin-off series}

Spin-off series The spin-off series Crusade[?] ran on TNT for 13 episodes. Creative differences between Straczynski and the network caused the series to come to an end prematurely.

A made-for-TV movie aired on the Sci-Fi Channel[?] in January 2001, entitled "To Live and Die in Starlight". It was the proposed pilot episode of a new series entitled Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers, but due to limited ratings the series did not go forward.

B5 and The Lord of the Rings Several elements in Babylon 5 were influenced by themes that also appear in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. For instance, in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Dark Riders first appear singly, then in progressively larger groups; Babylon 5 repeated this tension-building pattern early in its first season, when enemy forces known as the Shadow Vessels appeared first singly, and then in larger numbers. The wizard Gandalf is warned in a prophecy that he will die if he goes to an underground city called "Khazad-dm" (see Moria); in B5, commander John Sheridan is warned that he will die if he goes to a planet called "Z'Ha'Dum". Both men sacrifice themselves, fall into an abyss, and return in an altered form to unite the forces of good against the forces of evil.

On a related note, the name Narns seems to be derived either from C. S. Lewis's Narnia[?], or from Tolkien's Narn i Hin Hurin in The Silmarillion which was itself almost certainly the inspiration for the name Narnia.

Straczynski seems to acknowledge inspiration from Tolkien in one episode of B5 where a travelling "techno mage" presents a saying that is almost a direct quote from The Fellowship of the Ring, where the character Gildor Inglorion says, "Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger."

However, after being asked the same question hundreds of times, Straczynski has been known to get upset when asked if Babylon 5 "is based on the The Lord of the Rings." His response is that, as an author, he is very well capable of writing his own story, and that it is insulting to suggest that B5 is a LotR rip-off. Straczynski states that people misunderstand the similarities between the two different stories. In Babylon 5, Straczynski openly paid homage to LotR by naming several characters after LotR characters — but this doesn't mean that they are ultimately the same story. Straczynski also confirms that within these different stories there are indeed some shared events, such as the hero's descent into a pit and resurrection. The small number of shared events exist because both Straczynski and Tolkien consciously drew on classical mythological sources and storytelling methods. Few people accuse J. R. R. Tolkien's LotR of being a "rip-off" of classical mythology, yet it also has many scenes that draw on classical mythological stories. Straczynski hopes to communicate to viewers that the archetypes explored in both works are far older and far more universal than most people realize, and that it is common for authors to explore some of these themes in new contexts, in new stories, with new consequences.

Babylon 5 does have many other influences, including World War II, The Prisoner, Forbidden Planet, E. E. Smith's Lensman novels and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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