Recently, the Austin Geeks and Gamers meetup had a Babylon 5 viewing party, and I attended.
Like Deep Space Nine, I had seen some of Babylon 5 in college. I was intrigued, so I got a hold of all of Babylon 5 (all five seasons, the movies and Crusade) and I watched all of it. I liked it. If I had to give a one sentence assessment:
When I was in college, sometimes I would catch an episode in the dorm. There was a TV in a lounge that a few of us would gather at. I also remember looking at the Lurker’s Guide when it was hosted on Hyperion.
Like Deep Space Nine, since I had seen some episodes and I was familiar with the characters and the actors, the episodes that I had not seen seemed new and familiar in a strange way.
The organizer of the Meetup had met the creator of the series, JMS, around the time JMS was starting work on Babylon 5. I think JMS set out to create science fiction that was on the same level as great literature. I think he succeeded. Granted, one issue with science fiction is that even with great characters and stories, the special effects will get heavy weighting in people’s assessment. All the ships in the series were done with computer animation, which today looks dated. The CGI in The Lost Tales looked amazing.
I don’t know if I have decided if I like it better than Star Trek. As JMS pointed out in the Lurker’s Guide, a lot of people who don’t like Babylon 5 are expecting it to be like Star Trek, and he is trying to do something different. Plus there are multiple series in the Star Trek franchise. I think JMS does not plan on doing anything more with Babylon 5, and it looks like Star Trek will be re-invented every few years. I heard that JMS might re-do Babylon 5, but to my knowledge those are just rumors. If he were to re-visit the Babylon 5 universe, I would prefer he finish (or reboot and complete) Crusade. I think he was onto something special there.
One difference between Babylon 5 and The Next Generation is that it seems like in TNG every character was in every episode. Sometimes the character would only have one line, usually just summarizing the episode for people who were not paying attention. It was kind of annoying in a way. Maybe there were some contractual reasons for that. Deep Space Nine was better about keeping people out if they were not in the story, and even when they had one line it was not just a synopsis for stoners, but something more seamless and less obvious.
I also thought that the Earth Alliance uniforms in Babylon 5 were some of the best uniforms in science fiction. In Star Trek, I thought the uniforms for Enterprise and the movies with TOS cast (the second through the sixth) were the best. The uniforms from TOS itself looked like pajamas, and the uniforms from TNG did not look very military either.
I also like the use of intercutting between two (or more) things happening simultaneously. I know that is not unique to Babylon 5, but it reminds of something about what my brother said about seeing priests in The Godfather films: It is a signal that something major is happening.
It was a bit sad to know that quite a few of the important cast members had died. I knew that Andreas Katsulas had died a few years ago. At some point in intervening years I saw from the article about him on Wikipedia that Richard Biggs had died very suddenly and unexpectedly. Some of the lines by Doctor Franklin are more touching knowing that he had died pretty young.
Jeff Conaway also died a few years ago. He looked pretty bad towards the end of his life. I did not know he was kicked off of Taxi due to drugs. I remember reading a comment on a site about Babylon 5 while he was on the show from someone that they were glad to see he had gotten his life back together. I also found out at the Austin Geeks and Gamers meetup that Michael O’Hare died, and why he left the series. Unlike Star Trek, people never seemed to comment on the voices of the actors in Babylon 5. I think O’Hare had a voice for the ages.
There was some wisdom in Babylon 5. Who could argue with the notion that Susan Ivanova is the most beautiful woman? There was a scene where someone said unlike everybody else, they wanted life to be unfair, because if it was fair, then all the bad things that happen to you happen because you deserve them.
And I think I may have figured out the fourteen words to make someone fall in love with you forever: