Way back when the Geekiary was first founded on March 3rd, 2013 I wrote an article: Why You Should Drop What You’re Doing and Watch Babylon 5. Here we are 8 years later and I’m going to advise the same thing again.
Writing about Babylon 5 makes it feel like I’m bringing this website full circle. Not only was it the subject of our first ever article here, but Mira Furlan was one of the first interviews I ever did for this website at a convention. Five years later and the interview with Mira Furlan remains my favorite conversation with a creative in the entire eight years I’ve been operating this website. Her very recent passing brought up a lot of personal memories for me, and then Babylon 5 being released on HBO Max just a couple of days later provided an opportunity to binge-watch the show with a mix of mourning for Furlan, a celebration for her life and her part on the show, and a deep sense of nostalgia back to a very different time in my life.
I first watched the series almost a decade ago while I was searching for new stories to immerse myself in. I was going through a fairly transitory period of life and desperately wanted something new that I could focus on and distract myself from daily stressors. This show kept coming up in my friend’s recommendations again and again, but I was hesitant due to the dated 1990’s special effects. People kept telling me the story and characters were worth it and that the dated effects were a minor aesthetic inconvenience at worst (and trust me, it is minor, especially with HBO’s visual enhancements). I gave it a shot and they were right! I urge anyone who has rationalized putting off watching it due to this to do the same. Trust me. The dated special effects are more charming than distracting.
The plot is tightly written and well mapped out, planting important seeds of the story in the first season that become relevant many seasons later, basically all the way through to the finale. But while the plot is clear in its intentions, the show still manages to take moments to allow the characters to breathe, show who they are outside of the important story elements, and enjoy themselves at a leisurely pace as the plot races forward around them. It’s a difficult task to balance intense story elements with quieter character moments, but this show does so flawlessly. The plot will pull you in, but the characters will stay with you long after it has finished.
Shout out to the brilliance that is J. Michael Straczynski for making all this work. He wrote 92 of the 110 episodes in the series, so his control over how these elements balanced was fairly thorough. He also prepared for changes, such as actors leaving or the series being cut short, so that the story could be told regardless of outside influences. Many actors did leave, but thankfully he got the full five seasons (after a cancellation scare with season 4), so we get the complete story as intended with all his contingency plans working to deliver this masterpiece to us in totality.
The basic premise revolves around a diplomatic space station, Babylon 5, which acts as a sort of Space United Nations for several alien species. The station is managed by humans from earth, with ambassadors from various alien species including the proud and imperialistic Centauri, the Narn – who have a long history of war with the Centary, the Minbari – who recently had a war with humans, and the mysterious and powerful Vorlons. Other various alien species have a presence on the station as well, all of which are unique and interesting in their own right.
The political elements of this set up are timeless in their moral lessons and insight into human behavior. The show premiered in 1993, but many of the themes were just as relevant back when I first watched it in the early 2010s and still relevant now in 2021. This type of timelessness means that it’ll likely remain relevant for many generations to come. Themes of war and peace, authoritarianism and free will, and the overall meaning of the universe and our lives within it are certainly something humanity has been thinking about for many millennia already, and I don’t see us abandoning these topics any time soon. Even now I look at major arcs and feel like I just lived through a similar event here in the real world.
While the political conflict is important to the day-to-day stories of these characters, it quickly becomes apparent there’s something else going on in the peripherals. The universe is vast and filled with complex species with their own goals, motivations, and mysteries. This deeper-level story is laid out so carefully and intentionally that I don’t even want to hint at what it is. It’s something you should experience on your own, which thankfully you can now that it’s on HBO Max. This aspect of the series is one I could talk about for hours, but if you’re new to it, you deserve to go in spoiler-free and let J. Michael Straczynski’s story unfold as he wrote it. But hey, if you catch massive feels about this aspect, hit me up on Twitter and let’s chat.
The 110 episode story arc is easy to fall into and watch at a breakneck pace. That means if you’ve been worried about the $15 monthly price tag for HBO Max, you likely don’t have to worry too much. Zooming through the series in a month shouldn’t be a problem for most of you, especially those of you who easily hyperfixate. The pilot episode is a bit longer than the rest and has some notable differences from the rest of the series as it was broadcast as a standalone movie nearly a year before the first season premiered. Things were adjusted between the pilot and the rest of the series, so don’t let that shift throw you. The vast majority of the series is consistent, immersive, and incredibly enthralling.
As we head into 2021, begin to recover from a major pandemic, and have a major transfer of power in my home country, I’m going to go back to this series and watch it with new eyes. The lessons, as I said previously, are timeless, and will likely look different in a post-2020 world but carry the same power it had on me a decade ago.
Hopefully, you’ll join me in experiencing Babylon 5 either as a re-watch or as a first-time viewing. I can’t think of a better way to spend my free time for the next few weeks, honestly.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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