Back in the early 90’s, I was a full-time university student, father of two, part-time pizza delivery boy, and US Navy Reservist. Needless to say, I had very little time for TV.
My wife, however, was a little more fortunate. She was a night nurse for a home health service and was able to have a TV on as she caught up on the office’s paperwork. One morning, she came home to tell me all about this new show I’d never heard of called Babylon 5.
Now, I’ve ALWAYS been a science fiction fan (I was born during the premiere of Star Trek’s Friday’s Child in 1967), and I immediately started pumping her for information. She described the show as almost British in style, very unlike Star Trek, with great characters, and a well-defined universe. Since we didn’t actually have a TV of our own back then, I had to wait until a night I could bring her lunch to work for her in order to watch the show.
Frankly, I was intrigued right off the bat.
Bab 5 grabbed hold of my imagination and refused to let go. Sure, I still liked Star Trek and in some other post I’ll wax philosophic about how good Voyager and Deep Space 9 were in the 1990s. But Babylon 5 struck me as unique. Here was a franchise unbeholden to any previous book or film, presenting a fresh canvas. The show was creating its own rules, it’s own life, as it came fresh off the screen without a debt to some fourty-year-old fan base dragging it down.
How rare is that?
Let me ask this, do you like the new Star Wars movies or hate them? Is it because they’re too like the original trilogy, or because they’re too different? How about the spin-off films like Solo and Rouge One? Are they true to the vision of the original Star Wars or despicable abominations to be sent to Dante’s basement?
Having something fresh and original to offer means that a writer can take the story wherever it needs to go without fear of fan backlash. Frankly, I’m amazed that authors like Timothy Zahan seem to do their best work when writing in other people’s fictional universes. And although every author borrows inspiration, I must say a great deal of the fun in my writing in the Star Run Universe comes from the fact that I created it.
But Babylon 5 wasn’t just very original…it was also very, very good!
Good acting, good special effects (for the time), good music, and great writing by J. Michael Straczynski, resulted in a show that was sometimes frightening, sometimes hilarious, sometimes insightful, and never dull. The themes that Bab 5 played with were also quite relatable; loyalty, trust, morality, and the easy wrong vs hard right.
I was at Dragon Con in 1994 when Mr. Straczynski was asked by an audience member if he’d based his writing on the Balkan War that was raging at the time. He answered, “No, it’s based on human behavior, and that never changes.” And now almost thirty years later, I have to agree because, sadly, today’s news could just as easily inspire the international strife portrayed in that old show.
Now, the history of the Babylon 5 show is a bit of a jumble. Basically, Hollywood execs never quite got a handle on how to market something this good. Forced to jump from network to network and time-slot to time-slot, Bab 5 bravely soldiered on until all five seasons envisioned by Straczynski were completed. Afterward, two spin-off shows and a made for TV movie were produced, none of which, however, matched the quality of the original show.
If you’ve never seen Babylon 5, I highly recommend you do. Not as a piece of science fiction archeology, but as one of the greatest space shows ever put on the small screen. Its brash, its brave, it’s funny and it’s still very relevant.
Clayton J. Callahan