Babylon 5 is one of those television shows that comes along once a generation. Its influence was so great that, twenty years later, it still has its share of loyal fans (and misguided detractors).
Of course, every Babylon 5 fan and his Uncle Walter has an opinion on what should go into a reboot… and here’s mine!
Who Are You?
A series reboot needs to capture the essence of what made the original unique. Look at the Star Trek (2009) reboot. It took significant liberties with the universe, but kept the essentials: Kirk, Spock, McCoy. The iconic form of USS Enterprise, NCC-1701. Aliens with bumpy foreheads. (Even Kirk’s dalliances with green alien women.)
So, Babylon 5, I ask: who are you?
My first thought is the final scene from the Season 1 episode “The Parliament of Dreams”. You might be able to find the scene on Youtube somewhere. To summarize: at a festival celebrating the belief systems of the various alien races on Babylon 5, Commander Sinclair must come up with a demonstration of Earth’s dominant belief.
His solution is not just my favorite scene from the series — it’s one of my favorite television moments of all time.
Many sci-fi shows happily ignore religion entirely, play around with fake religions, and avoid the issue of the conflicts it can cause. In Babylon 5, not only do we see modern religion carried into the future; we see that people will continue (in an imperfect, human manner) to build bridges and form communities, despite our differences.
Throughout the series, we cover themes of authority vs liberty, the threat of totalitarianism and the need for vigilance, war and peace, and mistrust. Babylon 5‘s greatest strength was its season-spanning story arcs along these themes. This will be hard to capture in a 2-hour theatrical movie, but I would expect to see them addressed in some way.
The newspaper headlines are good for a laugh, but they’re also a microcosm of the issues we saw covered (and typically foreshadowing of future events).
And, of course, it wouldn’t be Babylon 5 without Babylon 5: the titular space station and our last, best hope for peace.
…and if those fins are supposed to be radiators instead of solar panels, the configuration is sub-optimal. Then again, some architect was brainless enough to design a circular classroom building at my old school…
What Do You Want?
As I was writing this, a man knocked on my door. He introduced himself as Mr. Morden, and asked me, “what do you want?”
I shrugged and told him, “I’unno. Whaddaya mean?”
“What do you want?”
“I… guess I’d like a chili dog?”
“What do you want?”
Figuring that he was the most annoying door-to-door encyclopedia salesman ever, I finally told him.
“You really want to know what I want?! I want Babylon 5 to reclaim its rightful place in the galaxy of sci-fi. I want to see JMS stretch forth his hand again, and command the stars! I want to stop running through my Hulu queue like a man wallowing in nostalgia, afraid to look back, or to look forward. I want… a really awesome Babylon 5 reboot! Does that answer your question, Mr. Morden?!”
Oddly enough, he just smiled creepily at me as I slammed the door.
Why Are You Here? Where Are You Going?
How might a Babylon 5 reboot deliver something interesting to the fans? I don’t know. Twenty years is a long time, and JMS might have decided to take a reboot in a vastly different direction from the original series.
I do have some ideas for things that I’d personally like to see.
Filling in the gaps
We’ve seen significant parts of the Earth-Minbari war. We saw when Babylon 5 went online. What happened in the interim?
The human race faced its own extinction in the Battle of the Line. What followed? How did relations with other races fare, given that only the Narns were willing to provide material aid to Earth? Come to think of it, forget strained relations with the League Worlds — how were relations opened with the Minbari?
The reconstruction period must have been filled with paranoia and anti-alien sentiment. How did EarthGov manage to finance the Babylon Project? How did they keep it going when the Babylon Station was sabotaged three times, and its fourth iteration mysteriously disappeared?
Conflict and Backstory
Babylon 5 often follows the Shakespeare model — always open with a fight or the supernatural. The setting is perfect for conflict on many levels.
First, Babylon 5 is a self-contained city. All cities have crime, and that could be anything from petty theft on the Zocalo, to a bar fight in the casino, to hate crimes against the alien population. This is conflict at its most basic, physical level.
Next, Babylon 5 is akin to the modern United Nations — a place to work out differences. Ambassadors don’t always get along, but this (usually) doesn’t take the form of physical violence. Instead, it’s political conflict. A lot of the inhabitants of Babylon 5 hate each other’s guts (well… the ones who have guts, anyway).
And, of course, there’s the interstellar level, where we have the Narns skirmishing with the Centauri, the Drazi skirmishing with the Centauri… even interstellar conflicts that have nothing to do with the Centauri.
Now I’m not saying that a reboot should be a two-hour beat-em-up interspersed with big explosions in space — just that there’s plenty of variety of conflict in the Babylon 5 universe. A reboot should have plenty of backstory to work with — and should be able to provide a mix of conflicts that will appease action fans along with those who want a slightly more sophisticated thriller.
I saved this for last, but I confess. I really, really, really, really want to see Babylon 5 in big screen IMAX high-definition fully rendered glory. To count the bolts on the engine strut of a Starfury as it flies past the camera. I want to see a continuous shot of a shuttle blasting off from Earth’s surface, panning out to an Omega destroyer in Earth orbit, which then jumps to hyperspace.
Yes, I want jaw-dropping eye candy.
The original ’90s CGI was good for its time. The improved CGI for The Lost Tales a decade later was a vast improvement over the original — but still low-budget for the time, like watching a cutscene from a video game.
Call it a guilty pleasure — as an engineer, I love seeing sci-fi spaceships and stations that make sense, and that look like something NASA could build if only it had the budget. And not just the exteriors: one thing I’d really like to see is a more realistic looking view of the large interior areas of Babylon 5. There’s not enough photorealistic artwork of the interior of a GK O’Neill cylinder. It would be a real thrill to see someone walking around at ground level inside one.
Things I don’t expect
Yes, there are also things I don’t really expect to see.
Cute kids and robots, for one. (I also don’t expect to see a Zarg.)
With the “no cute kids or robots” rule, there are no original actors young enough to play any of the original roles. I wouldn’t be surprised to see “Earth President” Claudia Christian, or “General” Bruce Boxleitner, but the main characters will need to be recast. As much as I love the original actors, I don’t think this will be a huge problem, much as the rebooted Star Trek franchise managed to recast its main characters.
I also don’t expect the Vorlon-Shadow conflict (or the ensuing Earth civil war) to play a huge role. It might be hinted at — a hook for a potential sequel — but there’s plenty of universe to explore, and a lot of potential for action, without bringing the giants to the playground just yet.
Do You Have Anything Worth Living For?
Sure. A rebooted Babylon 5 movie. The last, best hope for a revived B5. A reboot with enough action to appease the summer sci-fi moviegoers. A reboot that perhaps compactifies a strong story arc into a 2-hour story. A reboot that hits on the basic themes of community, of hope, and of fighting totalitarian authority (timeless themes that are especially relevant in today’s world). And, of course, some beautiful high-definition views of 2,500,000 tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night.
Are you a B5 fan? What would you like to see in a B5 reboot?