Thirty Years of Babylon 5

It’s hard to believe that Babylon 5 made its television debut thirty years ago. This was an era of TV where you had to watch shows when they were actually on, or you had to know how to program a VCR (video cassette recorder) to tape it, which was a lot harder than you might think.

I watched the show in its original run but missed a few episodes along the way. I also never had the chance to watch a few of the movies or the spin-off series. With a reboot and reunion show in the works, it felt like the perfect time to experience it in its totality before that happened.

It was a groundbreaking series that was way ahead of its time both figuratively and literally. It broke the mold of what television could do. This series told a story over the course of its five year arc in a time when television had mostly stand-alone episodes. You could jump into any show at any time and feel like you never missed a thing. Occasionally some shows would have a story take place over the course of two episodes by giving us a cliffhanger that made us want to tune in the following week. But a show had never really tried anything as ambitious as what Babylon actually did.

Nowadays, we are familiar with showrunners, the person who orchestrates a series. Prior to Babylon 5, a showrunner was an anomaly. J. Michael Stracznski showed what was possible with long form television. His writing was sharp and everything was intricately plotted. I remember being blown away when a scene early on in the series received a payoff years later. And in my rewatch, it still impressed me. Babylon 5 laid the groundwork for television as we know it today and it still holds up.

I thoroughly enjoyed my rewatch, especially when things ramped up for Season 2. I remember not liking the fact that the captain of the station was replaced but the new one was instantly likable and took the show to new heights. I was also surprised that after the intense war, the show still managed to ramp up the tension. It was great writing where we could have easily seen a lull and a return to stand-alone episodes like was normal at the time.

The one thing you need to get passed is the space scenes. They never quite looked right compared to what you saw in Star Wars or Star Trek. They didn’t use miniatures for effects because the budget would allow for that. Instead they relied on computer generated effects. They look like a video game when you watch them now. But back in 1993, these scenes looked better than the video games we had even after the series came to an end.

The character design was great. Each race had a unique look and costumes. And many of these characters had great arcs of their own. G’Kar was one of my favourite characters who’s arc was very much tied up with Lando Mollari. One had an incredibly transformative arc; the other a tragic one. But both actors absolutely shined and stole every scene they were in.

I’ve been struggling where this show fits in my list of all-time favourites. Some of my criteria have been rewatchability and then sense of closure we get in the final season. I only ever watched this show once before so the rewatch factor was low. The final season of Babylon 5 didn’t tie up some of the storylines I would have like it to. Perhaps they would have been covered in the spin-off series, Crusade. Unfortunately, that show only lasted one season. If it had continued I am sure it would have revisited Babylon 5 in some way that would have had an immense payoff.

It will be interesting to see what the reboot, if it happens, does to answer some of these questions. The talk of continuing Babylon 5 has been happening for some time now. Last year, they did make an animated movie. The Road Home, although it wasn’t great, it was fun to watch.

Babylon 5 was groundbreaking television that set the pace and tone for much of what we see today. It doesn’t get its due, but it most definitely should. It just missed the cut to be in my Top 10 shows of all-time, but I am sure it will be in the Top 20 when I get to expanding the list.

Give this space opera a chance. Let’s celebrate 30 years of Babylon 5 together!