Babylon 5: 14 alternatives to a straight reboot

There are plenty of interesting directions a return to the Babylon 5 universe could take on TV. Here are a few suggestions...

I read somewhere that J.M. Straczynski writes every day. That’s not surprising given his extensive body of work for television, motion pictures, novels, and comics. He is best known for Babylon 5, of course. I remember what a lot of people used to say about Babylon 5, “How much can happen on a space station?”

Well, a lot actually! And after five seasons of the original series, a bunch of made-for-TV movies and a couple of spin-offs, there are still plenty of stories left to tell.

That is why I was excited recently to read that Joe (apparently, he thinks you’re cool if you just call him Joe) was going back to work on Babylon 5. My excitement soon turned to dread when I found out that he was actually planning to reboot the series.

Now, some reboots are worth it, but most aren’t. And while I have yet to read something penned by Straczynski that is entirely disappointing (he’s had his ups and downs like every writer − case in point: The Legend Of The Rangers), I really don’t want to see him reboot something that still resonates with fans today.

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Granted, this could turn out to be something like the Battlestar Galactica reboot that even die-hard classic Battlestar fans can (learn to) enjoy. Although, given Straczynski’s creativity and imagination, it’s hard to understand why he cannot simply come up with new material based on the extensive Babylon 5 lore already in existence.

That wouldn’t necessarily involve picking up where the story left off, although the series’ ending did open the door to a number of other story possibilities, but over the course of the series and made-for-TV movies, many opportunities for other spin-offs presented themselves. The Rangers were a good example − or a bad example, if you prefer, since the series failed to be picked up following the release of the pilot, The Legend Of The Rangers. Some other story arcs were also left unexplored over the course of the series’ five seasons, and several of them warrant further consideration.

Here is a partial list of departure points for new B5 adventures based on unfinished story arcs, existing lore and other narrative tidbits dropped over the course of the five seasons of the original series and made-for-TV movies, including a brief look at some of the novels and comic books (some considered canon). This is only a partial list, so we expect all you rabid Babylon 5 fans out there to dutifully remind us of those that have been missed.

1. Babylon 5: the new crew

In “Objects At Rest,” the penultimate episode of the series (season 5, episode 21), President Sheridan leaves Babylon 5 to take residence on Minbar where the new HQ of the Interstellar Alliance will be built. As Sheridan’s White Star leaves B5, he orders the ship to rotate 180 degrees so that he can salute the station’s new crew gathered to see him off from the station’s bridge.

This new crew comprised some old favorites, including Security Chief Zack Allen (Jeff Conaway), Centauri Ambassador Vir Cotto (Stephen Furst), and Lieutenant David Corwin (Joshua Coxx); some characters introduced more recently, including Captain Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins), Narn Ambassador Ta’Lon (Marshall Teague), and Alliance Head of Intelligence known merely as “Number One” (Marjorie Monaghan); and one new face, Chief of Medical Staff Dr. Hobbes (Jennifer Balgobin).

Since we know that Babylon 5 would continue to operate for another ten years following Sheridan’s departure, it is the perfect location for a new spin-off series. Most of the characters remaining on the station were secondary characters in the original series, but some had become fan favourites, most notably Vir Cotto and Zack Allen. It would have been fun to see more of Conaway’s Zack Allen for, as President Sheridan puts it in “Objects At Rest”: “It’s good to know that at least one of the old gang will be sticking around for a little while,” to which Allen replied: “Who me? Absolutely! I’ll probably still be here when they turn off the lights.”

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And Allen did stay till the end, as we saw in the series finale, “Sleeping In Light,” which takes places 10 years later. Unfortunately, since Jeff Conaway left us in 2011, the role would have to be recast.

Stephen Furst’s Vir Cotto was also a fan favorite, and he would go on to play a major role in the Babylon 5 universe, eventually becoming Emperor of the Centauri Empire following the death of Londo Mollari. The brief glimpse we get of Emperor Cotto in the series finale showed us a version of Vir Cotto that was more than the usual buffoon, and it would have been great to see how he went on to continue Mollari’s work to repair the damages done to the Centauri Empire by the Shadows and their allies, the Drakh.

Old favorite main characters like Michael Garibaldi, John Sheridan, Delenn and even Susan Ivanova could also guest-star. It would be a great setting, one that the fans are already familiar with, for new adventures and a chance to explore interesting characters and situations that had only been secondary to the main story arc until then.

The station could also be tied into the further adventures of the Rangers, or to the political intrigues of the newly formed Interstellar Alliance and its dealings with the Earth Government and the other alien races.

2. What’s up with Lennier?

Speaking of old favorites: most fans were baffled by Lennier’s sudden betrayal and inexplicable love-induced madness when he pretty much left President Sheridan to die from exposure to a coolant leak in “Objects At Rest.”

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Lennier’s affection for Delenn was a recurring subtext of the series, but despite his rash decision to join the Rangers in “The Very Long Night Of Londo Mollari” (season 5, episode 2), there was very little, if any, foreshadowing that he would eventually let his resentment over Sheridan’s marriage to Delenn drive him mad. As Delenn herself said: “I had no idea.”

So Lennier ran away, and as puzzling as his actions were, they also opened the door to interesting new adventures. The last time we saw Lennier, he had stolen a one-man flyer and was fleeing for parts unknown, most probably beyond the Rim. Lennier’s character was interesting: A Minbari of the Religious Cast with extensive combat experience and who also underwent Rangers training. We never found out what happened to him, but we can imagine the life of adventure that awaited him out beyond the frontier of known space, beyond the Rim, as a renegade or mercenary. This would have been an interesting opportunity to explore the darker side of the Babylon 5 universe. Lennier could also pop up in other spin-offs or made-for-TV movies.

3. The Life & Times of Sheridan and Delenn’s Son

The first interesting tidbit about Sheridan’s and Delenn’s son, David, was dropped into the narrative during the season 4 finale, “The Deconstruction Of Fallen Stars.” During a talk show broadcast set in the far future, long after Sheridan’s death, one of the debaters arguing over the merits of the Interstellar Alliance says something regarding “that incident concerning their (Sheridan’s and Delenn’s) son.” Unfortunately, no more is said about that incident during the rest of that episode or in the final season that followed.

In “Objects At Rest,” Londo Mollari, now the Emperor of the Centauri Empire and under the influence of his invisible Drakh “Keeper,” brings a gift to Sheridan: a decorative cup to be given to Delenn’s unborn child at his coming of age. As viewers know, the cup’s sealed base holds another “Keeper.”

Since we know that the Drakh (the vengeance-driven alien race that served the departed Shadows) are using a Keeper to control Mollari, we can assume that the Drakh have similar plans for Sheridan and Delenn’s son. Viewers never found out what happened to David, but this provides an interesting premise for a very interesting story. Whether it’s sufficient to warrant a series of its own is up for debate, but it could be an interesting story arc in a number of B5 spin-offs, including a series on the Rangers.

4. Whatever happened to Citizen G’Kar?

In “Objects In Motion,” set in 2258 (season 5, episode 20), G’Kar purchases a spaceship and leaves Babylon 5 with Lyta Alexander in tow. Their destination: The Rim. G’Kar would make one more official appearance, a cameo in the made-for-TV The Legend Of The Rangers (set in 2265). We know he would then die in 2277 while fighting Mollari’s Drakh Keeper to the death (as seen in a clip set in the future in part two of the season 3 episode, War Without End), but there is a seven-year gap between “Objects In Motion” and “The Legends Of The Rangers” during which G’Kar was probably out there, exploring the Rim.

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We can only imagine everything that happened to G’Kar and Lyta during that time, and that is a great premise for a deep-space exploration and adventure series. Unfortunately, Andreas Katsulas passed away in 2006, and any actor would have a really hard time stepping into the great genre actor’s shoes.

5. Legends Of The Rangers

So the made-for-TV movie was a flop and the series was not picked up, but that’s no reason not to try again, especially with the current popularity of genre shows.

The Rangers are pure space opera gold: kick-ass spaceships (even if they do look like plucked chickens), an elite warrior society with strong mystical ties, cool aliens from dozens of intriguing worlds… all material with the makings of a great series.

Where did the pilot go wrong? Take your pick: a weak script, wooden performances, (even Katsulas appears out of sort during his cameo), etc. This was a great idea that was given a bad treatment, but since everything is getting rebooted nowadays, why not reboot The Legend Of The Rangers instead of the original Babylon 5 series?

6. Crusade: Take 2!

The made-for-TV movie A Call To Arms was (kind of) the pilot for the Crusade series: the building and commissioning of a super starship to search for a cure to the plague unleashed on the Earth by the Drakh. A Call To Arms wasn’t bad, actually. It certainly had its moments, but Crusade didn’t follow suit, even though it had plenty going for it: characters with a lot of potential, including the alien thief Dureena Nafeel, and the techno-mage, Galen; an interesting premise; a time-sensitive mission; a great Richard Biggs cameo as Doctor Stephen Franklin (which would be the last appearance of Biggs in the B5 universe before his death in 2004); and the vast unexplored regions of space of the Babylon 5 universe.

The techno-mages were introduced in “The Geometry Of Shadows” (season 1, episode 3) with the arrival of Elric (brilliantly portrayed by Michael Ansara) and other techno-mages. Despite their immediate fan-appeal, the techno-mages were probably one of the most underused elements of the series. Crusade provided an opportunity to see more of the techno-mages with the introduction of Galen, portrayed by Peter Woodward (even though Woodward’s performance as Galen paled in comparison with Ansara’s portrayal of Elric).

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Crusade lasted only one season, but like The Legends Of The Rangers, it had potential. We never found out how the Earth was saved from the plague, so this would be a great arc to reboot.

7.The first Shadow War

In a shocking event that explains how both the human and Minbari races came to be related, Commander Sinclair transformed into a Minbari − and not just any Minbari, but Valen, possibly the most legendary figure in Minbari culture and history. Sinclair/Valen travelled back in time (hitching a ride on the Babylon 4 station) to lead the fight in the first war against the Shadows.

In the concluding moments of part 2 of “War Without End” (season 3, episode 17), which takes place almost one thousand years before the main story arc, we see Minbari cruisers approaching Babylon 4 after the station’s time travel to the past. Even though it’s almost a thousand years earlier, the Minbari are already an advanced space-faring race. They board Babylon 4 and meet Sinclair/Valen (a “Minbari not born of Minbar”) flanked by two Vorlons. Sinclair/Valen then presents the station to the Minbari, which is to be used as a staging point in the first war against the Shadows.

This is the setting for an awesome military sci-fi series of epic proportions. Prequel TV series are becoming increasingly common (Bates Motel, Gotham, Better Call Saul…) even if they’re not always unqualified successes (cases in point: Star Trek: Enterprise, Caprica), but this one has the makings of a great series.

Unfortunately, Michael O’Hare passed away in 2012, so once again, the role would have to be recast.

8. The Dilgar War

This is another great prequel series idea that would be set approximately thirty years before the main story arc, even before the war with the Minbari. We know very little about the war with the Dilgar, except that the Earth Alliance stepped in on the side of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds in their fight against the xenophobic Dilgar. Our one glimpse of a Dilgar was a tantalizing one: Sarah Douglas in one of her best performances as Jha’dur, a Dilgar war criminal, in the episode “Deathwalker” (season 1, episode 9).

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Back in those days, we had seen enough aliens in an ever-widening range of different “forehead wrinkles of the week” on both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine to make us nauseous. In contrast, the Dilgar felt truly real; the make-up job was refreshing, and Douglas’ portrayal breathed life brilliantly into the Dilgar race. I would have liked to see more.

9. Tales of Earth’s future

“The Deconstruction Of Falling Stars,” the season four finale, probably provides the largest number of new possible arcs of all Babylon 5 episodes. The episode depicts events 100, 500, 1000, and one million years into Earth’s future. The events peeked at include the aftermath of a civil war in 2261, a nuclear war and the rise of a new totalitarian government in 2762, and the subsequent decline of Earth’s society into a new Dark Age. The last glimpse we are offered is from an era far into the future where we witness humanity’s evolution into energy beings not unlike the Vorlons.

If hard sci-fi could ever be a hit on television, this episode provided enough material for several interesting seasons.

10. Tales of the Psi Corps

Star Trek’s Walter Koenig brought to life Babylon 5‘s most villainous character, Psi Corps’ Alfred Bester. No matter how despicable and calculating Bester was, you couldn’t help but like him, regardless of the fact that he considered “mundanes” (i.e., non-telepathic humans like you and me) as bugs to be squashed under his boot heel.

Even though he might seem a bit tame by 2014 standards, Bester is still a badass, and with some actualization, he could turn out to be a first-rate villain in a series on par with those in Games Of Thrones. This would also be an opportunity to finally resolve the long confrontation between Garibaldi and Bester. Now, if both Jerry Doyle and Walter Koenig could be convinced to reprise their roles, it would make for quite an interesting option.

11. The Interstellar Alliance

Between the penultimate and final episodes of season 5 (“Objects At Rest” and “Sleeping In Light”), John Sheridan spent 10 years as President of the ISA. In “Sleeping In Light,” we see Sheridan’s last moments before his disappearance. Bruce Boxleitner is old enough now to portray Sheridan in that time period without artificial aging.

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There is also the more obvious avenue of the rumor of Sheridan having disappeared rather than having died that could be explored further…

12. More Garibaldi, please

Who didn’t like Garibaldi? The smart-mouthed, wise-cracking troublemaker with a knack for making enemies of the wrong people and who always ended up with the short end of the stick (except by the end of season 5 when he becomes CEO of one of the largest corporations of the Earth Alliance). Okay, so he’s become a boring cigar-smoking executive by then, but after seeing his brief cameos in the made-for-TV movies A Call to Arms and The River Of Souls, you can’t help but want to see more of Garibaldi, either in a series about the Psi Corps, the ISA, or in his very own vehicle.

13. Ivanova

We don’t know exactly why Claudia Christian left the series. There are the numerous versions of the story online, and then there is what she wrote in her book, Babylon Confidential: A Memoir Of Love, Sex, And Addiction. All we know is that she disappeared after season 4 and instead of recasting her, Straczynski replaced her with Tracy Scoggins as Captain Elizabeth Lockley in season 5. Despite Scoggins being a hit with some of the fans, Babylon 5 was never quite the same again.

Christian did make a comeback in the series finale. We know that Ivanova was given her own starship command before the events of season 5, but she disappeared from the narrative for the rest of the series, only to reappear in the series finale, 10 years later, to attend Sheridan’s last supper.

Delenn asks Ivanova to take over leadership of the Rangers. She does not reply immediately, but by the end of the episode, we see her pinning a Ranger insignia on herself. Regardless of what prompted Christian to leave the series after season 4, we can assume from her cameo in the finale that she was willing to come back, and it would be great to see her assume the role of Ranger One in any of the series ideas listed above.

14. Book & Comic adaptations

Babylon 5 also lived on in a number of books and comic books. Although this “expanded universe” has petered out and was never as important as its Star Trek and Star Wars equivalents, it did produce a number of good stories. Despite the limited number of those books, there are still too many to go into details here, but several of them provide excellent adaption material, including the solo novel To Dream In The City Of Sorrows (for those who want to know what happened to Sinclair’s would-be bride, Catherine Sakai), the short story Space, Time And The Incurable Romantic (for those who want to know what happened to Marcus Cole − spoiler alert: he’s not dead), and the series The Psi Corps Trilogy, Legions Of Fire, and my personal favorite, The Passing Of The Techno-Mages. All three trilogies are considered canon.

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The world of Babylon 5 is very rich, but it was never explored in depth like other franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek. So there is plenty of room left to expand on what is already there rather than starting over. But regardless of which direction Straczynski decides to take, I am happy to know that Babylon 5 will live on for other generations to enjoy.