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Babylon 5: A Different View of the 23rd Century

Updated on August 10, 2020
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Babylon 5 is a science fiction series that ran from 1993-1998.[i] The series was initially set in the year 2258. The setting is a space station, Babylon 5. Babylon 5’s purpose is to be a United Nations in space. Babylon 5 weighs 2 ½ million tons (22.7 million metric tons) and is 5 miles (8km) long.[ii] There are ¼ million people on the Babylon 5. A logline could be “Casablanca in space”.

The cast included Bill Mumy who played Wil Robinson on Lost in Space and Walter Koenig who played Ensign Chekov on Star Trek.[iii] The series used CGI for their space shots. This CGI looks cartoonish. The space ships maneuvered like space craft, not aircraft.

This series is set in the same century as the original Star Trek series. It shows an alternate view of the future. One Star Trek fan faulted Babylon 5 because they had the communicator on the back of the hand. The fan reasoned in the future communicators would be worn on the chest, as they do in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Babylon 5 shows a darker view of the future and human development. The dark view of the latter is probably due to a lack of human development.

Episodes usually had at least one subplot. Subplots were often comical. The epilogue usually dealt with one of the subplots.

[i] There were a couple of post series Babylon 5 specials.

[ii] The metric system is used throughout the series. The English measurements in the introduction was probably for the benefit of the American audience.

[iii] June Lockhart, Dr. Maureen Robinson of “Lost in Space” and Majel Barrett, Nurse Christine Chapel of “Star Trek” each had a guest appearance in the series.

The Back Story

Babylon 5 is named because the 4 previous Babylon stations were destroyed. Earth had a war with the Minbari that ended 10 years earlier. Technically Earth won but they lost every battle except one. The Minbari had defeated the last of the Earth’s defenses then inexplicably gave up.

The Centauri were the first known alien visitors to Earth. They provided Earth with the technology to travel faster that light. The Centauri once had a large empire. The empire was just a memory and Centauri often lamented their lost greatness.

One of the races the Centauri subjugated was the Narn. The Centauri brutally oppressed the Narn. The Narn would like to give the Centauri some payback. The Narn sold weapons to Earth during the Minbari war. The Narn would sell weapons to anyone who had enough money.

The Vorlon are an enigma. No one who ever ventured into Vorlon space ever returned. The Vorlons wear “encounter suits” when they are among other races. The “encounter suit” is such that, except for their approximate size, there is no telling anything about their appearance or biology.

There are also numerous races from non-aligned worlds. Earth’s knowledge of other beings ranges from nothing to almost complete.

23rd Century Humor

Q. How many Minbari does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A. None, they never complete the task and never tell anyone why.

Q. How many Centauri does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A. Only one, but in the days of the Great Republic there were hundreds of servants to screw in thousands of lightbulbs on a whim.

Creatures and Characters

Humans have a unified government but are divided politically. There are those who want to embrace other beings and those who believe in a “Home Policy”. There are different branches of military service in the Earth Defense Force. Psi Corps is made up of humans with telepathic abilities. A human with telepathic abilities can join the Psi Corps or agree to be administered drugs that will suppress their ability. A human who does neither goes to prison. Initially the Psi Corps was made to protect normal humans from telepaths intruding on their thoughts. Psi Corps evolved into a powerful government agency.

Earth built and runs Babylon 5. Babylon 5’s first commander was Commander Jeffrey Sinclair. He comes from a family of combat pilots going back to the Battle of Britain. He went to a school taught by Jesuit priests. He was the leader of the Earth fighter craft in “The Battle of the Line”, the last battle of the Earth-Minbari war. Sinclair was going to make a kamikaze attack on a Minbari cruiser. There was a flash of light and 24 hours later Sinclair was alive and the Minbari had given up. Sinclair’s missing 24 hours is a mystery he unraveled in phases.

Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian)[i], who is Jewish and Russian, was second in command of Babylon 5 until replaced by Captain Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins). Ivanova doesn’t speak with a faux Russian accent. She is not above breaking regulations for personal reasons. Ivanova’s mother was a telepath and elected to take drugs to suppress it. Her mother committed suicide. This gave Ivanova a more than usual dislike of the Psi Corps. Ivanova will break rules for personal reasons.

Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) is the security chief. He is a recovering alcoholic. He has trouble with interpersonal relationships with women. He watches 20th century cartoons such as “Duck Dodgers in the 24th Century”[ii]. He plays pranks and makes meaningless conversations. He is good at talking superiors into seeing things his way. He uses this skill professionally and personally.

Captain John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) replaced Commander Sinclair. Captain Sheridan was the only commander to win a battle against the Minbari. He is a widower. He tends to bring guilt upon himself. He was previously assigned to “The Rim” as is impressed with the amenities in Babylon 5.

Psi Corps members range from nice to nasty. Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson) is a commercial telepath assigned to Babylon 5. Alfred Bester (Walter Koenig) is a high-ranking member of Psi Corps. The way he displays his arrogance gives him a certain charm. Talia’s opinion of Psi Corps changes while she’s at Babylon 5.

The Centauri Republic is a monarchy. They allow slavery and polygamy. There is a guild for torturers, they call themselves “pain technicians”. Babylon 5 tolerates slavery. Assassination of rivals is common among the Centauri. Poison is the preferred method. Centauri gain position by getting dirt on other prominent Centauries. Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) is the Centauri ambassador. He likes to drink, gamble, and other forms of adult entertainment. His subordinate is Vir Cotto (Stephen Furst). Vir is naturally nervous. His inherent honesty makes him uncomfortable with Londo’s scheming and deceptions. The Centauri look like humans but their physiology is a lot different. Telling the Earthers they were also human was one of their many deceptions.

The Centauri left the Narn home world a barren place. The Centauri also killed any Narn they found with telepathic ability. This puts the Narn at a disadvantage when dealing with other species. The Narn are trying to regain what they have lost. The Narn have an assassin’s guild. The rules of the guild make their members efficient and trustworthy killers. The Narn are the physically strongest of the main races in the series.[iii] G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) is the Narn ambassador. He has a lifestyle similar to Londo. His subordinate Na’Toth (Mary Kay Adams) is an all business character.

The Minbari have a religious caste and a military caste. They rarely agree but except for some renegades they follow a code of honor. This doesn’t preclude the Minbari from keeping some dark secrets. The Minbari didn’t tell Earth about what they did to Commander Sinclair. Earth likely wouldn’t have accepted him as the first commander of Babylon 5 had they known. The Minbari didn’t like Captain Sheridan because they felt he defeated them by using dishonorable tactics. He set up an improvised minefield in the Asteroid Belt and destroyed 4 Minbari ships, including the pride of their fleet. The Minbari are humanoid in appearance. They are bald and have a shell like covering over part of their skulls. This gives them the pejorative, “shell heads”. The Minbari ambassador is Delenn (Mira Furlan). She is an honorable person but has a couple of dark secrets. She went through a metamorphosis after Commander Sinclair left Babylon 5. This gave her a more human appearance, that included long dark hair. She soon learned the concept of a bad hair day. The metamorphosis wasn’t universally accepted among humans. There were still hard feelings because of the war. Delenn’s subordinate is Lennier. Lennier had a monastic lifestyle before coming to Babylon 5. He is extremely polite. He is adept at martial arts.

The Vorlon are an advanced race. Their Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain) is a mysterious character. It is surprising they sent an ambassador to Babylon 5. Ambassador Kosh says very little. The Vorlon give the impression of wanting to keep out of the affairs of other races. They do occasionally engage in summary justice.

[i] Susan Ivanova was a Lieutenant Commander but was promoted when Captain Sheridan took command of Babylon 5.

[ii] A cartoon series with Daffy Duck as the title character.

[iii] The Narn are stronger than Earthers, Minbari, and Centauri. Physical strength is usually academic since fighting skill usually trumps physical strength.

Ambassador Delenn to an Earth Armada

Only one Earth captain has ever survived battle with Minbari fleet. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else.

Series Arc and Character Development

Earth Force people at Babylon 5 are often at odds with Earth’s political and military leaders. These conflicts lead to open rebellion against the Earth. In the rebellion the crew of Babylon 5 ally with the Minbari and the Narn. Londo’s character descends into villainy and then embarks on a course of redemption. The Vorlon toke a more active role in aiding the forces of good.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Robert Sacchi


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