Babylon 5 is an American space opera television series created by writer and producer J. Michael Straczynski, under the Babylonian Productions label in association with Straczynski’s Synthetic Worlds Ltd. and Warner Bros. Domestic Television. After the successful airing of a backdoor pilot movie, Warner Bros. commissioned the series as part of the second year schedule of programs provided by its Prime Time Entertainment Network (PTEN). It premiered in the United States on January 26, 1994 and ran for the intended five seasons. Describing it as having “always been conceived as, fundamentally, a five year story, a novel for television”, Straczynski wrote 92 of the 110 episodes and served as executive producer, along with Douglas Netter.
Set between the years 2257 and 2262, it depicts a future where earth has sovereign states and a unifying Earthgov. Colonies within the solar system, and beyond, make up the Earth Alliance and contact has been made with other spacefaring races. The ensemble cast portray alien ambassadorial staff and humans assigned to the five mile long Babylon 5 space station, a centre for trade and diplomacy. Described as “one of the most complex programs on television” the various story arcs drew upon the prophesies, religious zealotry, racial tensions, social pressures and political rivalries which existed within each of their cultures, to create a contextual frame for the motivations and consequences of the protagonists actions. With a strong emphasis on character development set against a backdrop of conflicting ideologies on multiple levels, Straczynski wanted “to take an adult approach to SF, and attempt to do for television SF what Hill Street Blues did for cop shows.”
Generally viewed as having “launched the new era of television CGI visual effects”, it received multiple awards during its initial run including two consecutive Hugos for best dramatic presentation, and continues to regularly feature prominently in various polls and listings highlighting top rated sci-fi shows.Not appearing on American television since 2003, it continues to be shown in international markets such as the FX Channel in the UK, the TV4-ScifFi Channel in Sweden and the FBC TV channel in Fiji. Initially written by Straczynski, DC began publishing Babylon 5 comics in 1994 with stories that closely tied in with events depicted in the show. The franchise continued to expand into short stories, RPG games and novels with the Technomage trilogy of books being the last to be published in 2001, shortly after the spin-off television series, Crusade, was cancelled.
At the beginning of the series, five dominant civilizations are represented. The dominant species are the Humans, Minbari, Narn, Centauri, and the Vorlons. “The Shadows” and their various allies are malevolent species who appear later in the series. Several dozen less powerful species from the League of Non-Aligned Worlds appear, including the Drazi, Brakiri, Vree, Markab, and pak’ma’ra. The station’s first three predecessors (the original Babylon station, Babylon 2 and Babylon 3) were sabotaged or accidentally destroyed before their completion. The fourth station, Babylon 4, vanished 24 hours after it became fully operational.
The television series takes its name from the Babylon 5 space station, located in the Epsilon Eridani star system, at the fifth Lagrangian point between the fictional planet Epsilon III and its moon. An O’Neill Cylinder five miles long and a half mile to a mile across, living areas accommodate the various alien species, including differing atmospheres and gravity. Human visitors to the alien sectors are shown using breathing equipment and other measures to tolerate the conditions.
The five seasons of the series each correspond to one fictional sequential year in the period 2258–2262. Each season shares its name with an episode that is central to that season’s plot. As the series starts, the Babylon 5 station is welcoming ambassadors from various races in the galaxy. Earth has just barely survived an accidental war with the powerful Minbari, who, despite their superior technology, mysteriously surrendered at the brink of the destruction of the human race (the Battle of the Line).
Season 1 – Year 2258
During 2258, Commander Jeffrey Sinclair is in charge of the station. Much of the story revolves around his gradual discovery that it was his capture by the Minbari at the Battle of the Line which ended the war against Earth. Upon capturing Sinclair, the Minbari came to believe that Valen, a great Minbari leader and hero of the last Minbari-Shadow war, had been reincarnated as the Commander. Concluding that others of their species had been, and were continuing to be reborn as humans, and in obedience to the edict that Minbari do not kill one another, lest they harm the soul, they stopped the war just as Earth’s final defenses were on the verge of collapse.
It is gradually revealed that Ambassador Delenn is a member of the mysterious and powerful Grey Council, the ruling body of the Minbari. Towards the end of 2258, she begins the transformation into a Minbari-human hybrid, ostensibly to build a bridge between the humans and Minbari. The year ends with the assassination of Earth Alliance President Luis Santiago, and rising tension between the Narn and Centauri, after the Narn attack and seize a Centauri agricultural colony at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year a Narn outpost is completely destroyed by an unknown third party.
Season 2 – year 2259
At the beginning of 2259, Captain John Sheridan replaces Sinclair as the military governor of the station. He and the command staff learn that the death of President Santiago was actually an assassination masterminded by Vice President Clark (who assumed the Presidency upon Santiago’s death). A conflict develops between the Babylon 5 command staff and the Psi Corps, an increasingly autocratic organization which oversees and controls the lives of human telepaths. Commander Ivanova, the second-in-command of the station, is secretly a latent telepath who has illicitly avoided registering with the Psi Corps.
The Shadows, an ancient and extremely powerful race who have recently emerged from hibernation, are revealed to be the cause of a variety of mysterious and disturbing events, including the attack on the Narn outpost at the end of 2258. Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari unknowingly enlists their aid through his association with the mysterious Mr. Morden in the ongoing conflict with the Narn. The elderly and ailing Centauri emperor, long an advocate of reconciliation with the Narn, dies suddenly while visiting Babylon 5. A number of conspirators, including Londo Mollari and Refa, take control of the Centauri government by assassinating their opponents and placing the late emperor’s unstable nephew on the throne. Their first act is to start open aggression against the Narn. After a full-scale war breaks out, the Centauri eventually conquer Narn in a brutal attack involving mass drivers, outlawed weapons of mass destruction. Towards the end of the year, the Clark administration begins to show increasingly totalitarian characteristics, clamping down on dissent and restricting freedom of speech. The Vorlons are revealed to be the basis of legends about angels on various worlds, including Earth, and are the ancient enemies of the Shadows. They enlist the aid of Sheridan and the Babylon 5 command staff in the struggle against the Shadows.
Season 3 – year 2260
The Psi Corps and President Clark, whose government has discovered Shadow vessels buried in Earth’s solar system, begin to harness the vessels’ advanced technology. The Clark administration continues to become increasingly xenophobic and totalitarian, and uses a military incident as an excuse to declare martial law. This triggers a war of independence on Mars, which had long had a strained political relationship with Earth. Babylon 5 also declares independence from Earth, along with several other outlying Earth Alliance colonies. In response, the Earth Alliance attempts to retake Babylon 5 by force, but with the aid of the Minbari, who have allied with the station against the growing Shadow threat, the attack is repelled.
Becoming concerned over the Shadows’ growing influence amongst his people, Centauri ambassador Londo Mollari attempts to sever ties with them. Mr. Morden, the Shadows’ human representative, tricks him into restoring the partnership by engineering the murder of Mollari’s mistress while putting the blame on a rival Centauri House. Open warfare breaks out between the Shadows and the alliance led by Babylon 5 and the Minbari. It is learned that genetic manipulation by the Vorlons is the source of human telepathy, as it is later discovered that Shadow ships are vulnerable to telepathic attacks. Displeased at the Vorlons’ lack of direct action against the Shadows, Captain John Sheridan browbeats Vorlon ambassador Kosh Naranek into launching an attack against their mutual enemy. Kosh’s deeds lead to his subsequent assassination by the Shadows.
Former station commander Jeffrey Sinclair returns to Babylon 5 to enlist the aid of Captain Sheridan, Delenn, Ivanova and Marcus in stealing the Babylon 4 space station and sending it 1,000 years back in time to use it as a base of operations against the Shadows in the previous Minbari-Shadow war. Undergoing the same transformation as Delenn at the end of Season 1, Sinclair transforms into a Minbari and is subsequently revealed to be the actual Valen of Minbari legend, rather than a reincarnation. Spurred by the reappearance of his assumed-dead wife (who now works for the Shadows), Sheridan travels to Z’ha’dum, the Shadow homeworld, in an attempt by them to recruit him. However he instead destroys their largest city in a kamikaze nuclear attack, and is last seen jumping into a miles-deep pit to escape the explosion. Garibaldi, during a fight with Shadow vessels, goes missing.
Season 4 – year 2261
In 2261, the Vorlons join the Shadow War, but their tactics become a concern for the alliance when the Vorlons begin destroying entire planets which they deem to have been “influenced” by the Shadows. Disturbed by this turn of events, Babylon 5 recruits several other powerful and ancient races (the First Ones) to their cause, against both the Shadows and the Vorlons. Captain John Sheridan returns to the station after escaping from Z’ha’dum, but at a price: barring illness or injury, he has only 20 years left to live. He is accompanied by a mysterious alien named Lorien who claims to be the oldest sentient being in the galaxy.
Hours before Sheridan’s return, Garibaldi is rescued and returned to the station, in rather dubious circumstances. He is markedly more paranoid and suspicious of other alien races and of Sheridan than he was before.
Centauri Emperor Cartagia forges a relationship with the Shadows. Londo Mollari engineers the assassination of Cartagia and repudiates his agreement with the Shadows. Londo kills Mr. Morden and destroys the Shadow vessels based on the Centauri homeworld, in an attempt to save his planet from destruction by the Vorlons. Aided by the other ancient races, and several younger ones, Sheridan lures both the Vorlons and the Shadows into an immense battle, during which the Vorlons and Shadows reveal that they have been left as guardians of the younger races, but due to philosophical differences, ended up using them as pawns in their endless wars throughout the ages. The younger races reject their continued interference, and the Vorlons and Shadows, along with the remaining First Ones, agree to depart the galaxy forever.
After the Shadows are defeated Garibaldi leaves his post as security chief and works on his own as a “provider of information”. He begins working for one William Edgars, a Mars tycoon, who is married to Garibaldi’s former love. While he works ever closer with Edgars, he becomes increasingly aggressive towards Sheridan and eventually leaves Babylon 5.
Minbar is gripped by a brief civil war between the Warrior and Religious castes. Delenn secretly meets with Neroon of the Warrior caste and convinces him that neither side can be allowed to win. She tells him that she will undergo a ritual wherein she will be willing to sacrifice herself, but will stop the ritual before she actually dies. When Neroon sees that she actually intends to go through the entire ritual, he rescues her and sacrifices himself instead, declaring that, although he was born Warrior caste, in his heart he is Religious caste.
As part of the ongoing conflict between Earth and Babylon 5, Garibaldi eventually betrays Sheridan and arranges his capture in order to gain Edgars’ trust and learn his plans. Garibaldi later learns that Edgars created a virus that is dangerous only to telepaths. It is then revealed that Garibaldi was actually abducted by the Psi-Corps at the end of Season 3 and re-programmed by Bester to provide information to him at the right time. Bester releases Garibaldi of his programming, and allows him to remember everything he has done since being kidnapped. Edgars is killed and his wife disappears, but is reunited with Garibaldi after the end of the war. Garibaldi helps free Sheridan and return him to the campaign to free Earth. An alliance led by Babylon 5 frees Earth from totalitarian rule by President Clark in a short but bloody war. This culminates in Clark’s suicide and the restoration of democratic government. Mars is granted full independence, and Sheridan agrees to resign his commission. The League of Non-Aligned Worlds is dissolved and reformed into the Interstellar Alliance, with Sheridan elected as its first President and continuing his command of the Rangers, who are to act as a galactic equivalent of United Nations peacekeepers.
In the season finale, the events of 100, 500, 1000, and one million years into the future are shown, depicting Babylon 5’s lasting influence throughout history. Amongst the events shown are the political aftermath of the 2261 civil war, a subsequent nuclear war on Earth involving a new totalitarian government in the year AD 2762, the resulting fall of Earth into a pre-industrial society, the loss and restoration of humanity’s knowledge of space travel, and the final evolution of mankind into energy beings similar to the Vorlons, after which Earth’s sun goes nova.
Season 5 – year 2262
In 2262, Earthforce Captain Elizabeth Lochley is appointed to command Babylon 5. The station grows in its role as a sanctuary for rogue telepaths running from the Psi Corps, resulting in conflict. G’Kar, former Narn ambassador to Babylon 5, becomes unwillingly a spiritual icon after a book is published that he wrote while incarcerated during the Narn-Centauri War. The Drakh, former allies of the Shadows who remained in the galaxy, take control of Regent Virini on Centauri Prime through a parasitic creature called a Keeper, then incite a war between the Centauri and the Interstellar Alliance, in order to isolate the Centauri from the Alliance and gain a malleable homeworld for themselves.
Centauri Prime is devastated by Narn and Drazi warships and Londo Mollari becomes emperor, accepting a Drakh Keeper under threat of the complete nuclear destruction of the planet. (Portions of the end of his reign are seen in various prescient visions throughout the series; they show Mollari and former nemesis [and later friend] G’Kar sixteen years in the future dying at each other’s throats, seemingly out of their grudge.) It is gradually revealed that there was a much more friendly subtext, with Mollari having become a slave to the drakh rule and being tired of life; his Drakh Keeper awakens and strangles G’Kar in return. Vir Cotto, Mollari’s loyal and more moral aide, succeeds him as emperor, free of Drakh influence. Sheridan and Delenn marry and move to Minbar, along with the headquarters of the Interstellar Alliance. G’Kar leaves Babylon 5 to escape his unwanted fame and explore the rim. Garibaldi also marries and settles down on Mars. Most of the other main characters leave B5.
Nineteen years later on the verge of death, Sheridan takes a final trip to the obsolete Babylon 5 station before its decommissioning. Sheridan apparently dies but is claimed by the First Ones, who invite him to join them on a journey beyond the rim of the galaxy. Babylon 5 station is destroyed in a demolition shortly after Sheridan’s departure, its existence no longer necessary as the Alliance has taken over its diplomatic purposes. This final episode features a cameo by Straczynski as the technician who switches off the lights before Babylon 5 is demolished.
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