Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

Finally! Babylon 5: The Complete Series Blu-ray

Babylon 5 The Complete seriesWhenever people ask me about my favorite sci-fi television show of all time, my answer is Babylon 5.

Yes, I grew up with the original series Star Trek, still love it but Babylon 5 still tops my list.

It had a fervent and dedicated fandom at the time of its airing in the late 1990s, complete with online discussions sometimes headed by creator J. Michael Straczynski. Unfortunately, B5 been a bit lost in the wonderful glut of science fiction television that came later. The lack of syndication hurt the show, and then the complete series DVDs went out of print.

When my eldest son was a young teen, he wanted a science fiction series to watch and I steered him to Babylon 5. He loves it to this day, so much so that we bought a birthday greeting from star Claudia Christian on Cameo one year. Then it became our pandemic binge with the younger two kids (now adults) and they were hooked too.

Now the complete series is finally out on Blu-ray, remastered. It’s not everything I wanted from a set, as it’s bare of extras, but its’ existence feels like a victory in itself.

What’s Babylon 5 About?

Babylon 5 is the name of the space station created after an intergalactic war between humans and the Mimbari. Earth was nearly destroyed but, for reasons only known to them, the Mimbari failed to take the final figurative shot. The station is populated by beings from all over the galaxy, as an intergalactic United Nations. It’s partly inspired by classic space opera SF but there’s also an element of epic Tolkien about it. It can be episodic but it’s one long arc throughout five seasons. Each season ends by upping what’s at stake for everyone.

The main human focus is on, but not limited to:

  • Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hara), the station commander (season 1). He was the Mimbari’s choice for commander and no one knows why, least of all Sinclair. The secret gets out at the end of season 1.
  • John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner), the station commander (seasons 2-4), is the only Earth captain to survive an encounter with a Mimbari fleet during the war. Command thinks he’ll be anti-alien but he’s much more complex than that.
  • Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian), the deputy commander, and inspiration for numerous internet memes.
  • Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle), sees his job as one last chance at redemption. He trusts no one, or, well, he tries not to trust anyone.
  • Doctor Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs). His father is an Earthforce military commander but Stephen bucked tradition and studied alien biology. He is as principled and as stubborn as they come.
Ivanova Babylon 5
Ivanova (Claudia Christian)

The most prominent aliens are :

  • Mimbari Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan): her people have yet to explain why they halted their war, and why they’re so interested in humans. She has an agenda, it’s complicated, but she’s the spiritual heart of the show.
  • Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) : Ah, Londo. He’s the villain you love because he’s so cynical, so insightful, and so broken by his shattered dreams. Think of a debauched senator, later Roman Empire, and you have the idea.
  • Narn Ambassador G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas). The Narm were once colonized and brutalized by the Centari, they overthrew them, and now they hate them with the passion of a thousand burning suns. G’Kar begins as a single-minded, single-focus being and his character arc is probably the most satisfying in the whole show.

Note: G’Kar and Londo hate each other. Which is why their scenes together are so perfect.

Babylon 5 G'kar Londo
They hate each other. It’s perfect.

The show is about an intergalactic war but also about the lengths Earth politicians will go to using fear and bigotry to subvert democracy. That plot was based on the rise of the Nazis but it reads today as very much about the current political situation of the United States of America.

It’s also a character-based series. Sinclair is struggling with lost memories and trauma from the war. Ivanova has lost nearly everyone dear to her but she’s a stoic and cynical Russian about it, Garibaldi is a recovering alcoholic, and the doctor is fascinated by aliens, a fact that gets him in trouble with bigoted humans.

It can be intense, delightful, light-hearted, and epic. And, for an admitted atheist, Straczynski’s themes can be surprisingly spiritual.

Babylon 5 The Complete Series Blu-ray Set

I’m glad to have it.

But I wanted more.

It has all the episodes in one place, remastered with up-to-date technology, and the initial movie pilot, “The Gathering.” That’s all for the good. That means not only are copies on sale but the series will go out to libraries and even to places that still rent such things, hopefully creating a new generation of fans

Unfortunately, this is all the Blu-ray set contains. There is no bonus content, save a trailer from this year’s animated movie, Babylon 5: The Road Home. (The Road Home came out too late this year to include it in this set.)

Neither does the set contain the five movies that take place in and around the original five seasons. It also has no trailers for the sequel series, Babylon: Crusade. The last time Crusade was released on video was almost 20 years ago.

It also doesn’t contain any features on the cast and creators. Straczynski has been busy since the last episodes of the series, yet there’s no interview with him, even culled from various convention appearances, interviews, and panels. The show also featured a fascinating cast, of which we’ve lost far too many. A tribute video would have been lovely.

Still, my verdict is: buy this.

If you love the show, it looks great. If you’ve never seen it, it’s a terrific investment in your time and money.

7 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    That *is* good news!
    I have the DVDs, but this might be worth an upgrade, if they didn’t colour-wrong it too much. (They call it ‘correcting’, but they mean washing everything out to orange-and-teal, which is the opposite of correcting.)

    I’m disappointed The Road Home isn’t on there, as it’s the only bit of B5 I haven’t seen (and don’t already own), but c’est la vie.

    1. Corrina Lawson

      I liked the Road Home quite a bit but I will say it seems more like a run-through of greatest hits in terms of themes, rather than an entirely new dense plot. Its about what might have been and what might come to be.

      1. Le Messor

        The friend voted ‘most likely to show me The Road Home’ is really sick of multiverse plots, so I probably won’t get a chance to watch it myself any time soon.
        I’ve run into that ‘greatest hits’ thing before, though, and it is disappointing when it happens.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    I don’t know why an atheist being sensitive to spiritual matters is that surprising; non-belief in a deity doesn’t preclude having empathy and caring for your fellow being. I’m an atheist, raised in a protestant christian household, yet I think my moral compass and empathy for others stacks up with those of a religious inclination. The same ideas and moral lessons can be found in other philosophies and disciplines, which do not profess they are handed down by a deity, such as Taosim, . I think that was one of the strengths of the series that JMS, being an atheist, wasn’t beholding to one point of view and could showcase many beliefs and highlight the similarities and differences. The 1st Season episode, with the showcase of the different alien religious beliefs and ceremonies sums it up quite well, at the end, when CDR Sinclair introduces the ambassadors to various humans on the station, all of different faiths, yet from the same planet. It fit well with the theme of humans creating communities, despite differences (not that modern society seems to back that up).

    I’m not surprised at the lack of extras, all things considered. WB always looked upon it as a minor series, did little to promote it and is currently in a complete mess of a state. We are probably lucky to have it, in any state, especially given that most studios seem to be giving up on physical media.

    1. Corrina Lawson

      The interesting thing, and why it was surprising to me, is that JMS is obviously influenced by Tolkien and there is a great deal of specifically Catholic theology in Tolkien’s work. (Not in a bad way.)
      But, spiritually, I mean not as moral choices, but as the philosophy of some great worldmind that connects us and binds us. That points to an other-life that is not bound by physical forms. My understanding of atheism is that the physical world is all there is, not that atheists have no moral code or philosophy of like. Sorry to have implied that.
      Babylon 5 highly implies that there is another kind of life beyond the physical. Even in the Road Home, there’s a scene that definitely invokes that.

      And, yes, I also feel like we’re at least lucky to have this.

  3. conrad1970

    Babylon 5, one of my favourite sci-fi shows. I remember it being absolute torture waiting between seasons for it to return.
    Sad to think how many of the cast we have lost, many well before their time.

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