Warning: Spoilers abound for Babylon 5 in this article, but not everything will be spoiled.
Babylon 5 (1994-1998) was one of those shows, that, once you see it, you realize what a legacy it has. Created by J. Michael Straczynski, the series was completely serialized by the end of its second season. The serialization continued until the end of its fourth season, when it was essentially cancelled; however, a surprise pick-up by TNT saved the series for a fifth season.
With TV shows almost completely serialized today in our era of “Peak TV,” Babylon 5 feels like a pioneering series in every sense for its time. Current series that have been compared to it include The Expanse (2015-present). Babylon 5’s political focus, well-crafted story arcs and quirky characters are all part of what made it a great show. While it may not have been as realistic as The Expanse when it came to science (although Babylon 5 the station did rotate to generate its own gravity), or as pessimistic about humanity as say, Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009), Babylon 5 was still an important show in the ongoing development of science fiction TV.
Babylon 5 also had (and still has) a small if dedicated fandom, who were some of the first to interact on a regular basis with its creator, Straczynski, on the Internet through a site known as Usenet. This was an early type of forum (this was the 90s, after all), and it wasn’t without its problems, but it essentially served the same purpose as Twitter does with creator-fan interaction today. Straczynski himself is extremely active on Twitter these days, with the prolific creator answering questions about his career, the show and current events.
This is an introduction to the universe of Babylon 5 and its characters. Some of the tech will be explored, as well as some of the many alien races that populate the show. The show was so massive in scope that it would be difficult to include everyone and everything in this show, but this is at least a primer.
The Universe of Babylon 5
Babylon 5 has countless alien races and other solar systems featured. Humanity is scattered across its own solar system. There are telepaths in nearly every race, including humans. Everyone gets between the different solar systems through Jumpgates, which utilize vortexes to slingshot ships back and forth. Most of the alien races are antagonistic towards one another, including the humans. The humans and a mysterious, monk-like race called the Minbari fought in a bloody and devastating war, only ending when the Minbari discovered a special connection between their race and the human race.
The Narn and the Centauri are two other races who frequently antagonize one another, although the Centauri often have the upper hand in battle, especially since they occupied the Narn homeworld for years before the start of the series. They essentially turned the Narn into slaves.
And that’s not even getting to the many other, smaller races who constantly fight and argue on Babylon 5. Babylon 5 is technically a port for all matters, operated by Earth. It also holds the main diplomatic center for the galaxy — a United Nations of sorts. The lead council is governed by the Minbari, Centauri, Narn, Earth and Vorlon representatives, with the smaller races making up the general membership. Vorlons are a race cloaked in secrecy, who live inside bulky Encounter suits, cloaking their true nature. They are a much older race than the others.
Earth has a massive space navy, but its not nearly as powerful as the Minbari navy, which is extremely technically advanced. Therefore, the two live in a sort of cold war (at least in Earth’s mind).
Which leads us to the characters who are tasked with keeping the peace.
Commander Jeffrey Sinclair
Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) is kind of a walking spoiler. He leaves the show after season one, but he has a pretty important role in the history of Babylon 5’s universe–he’s the link between humanity and the Minbari, and that’s all I’ll say. It’s a pretty neat reveal on the show in the excellent season 3 two-parter “War Without End”.
Sinclair was the quiet, stoic type; a former Starfury (fighter ship) pilot, he was made the commander of Babylon 5 due to the Minbari’s right to choose the commander of Babylon 5. He was a good friend of Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle), and he was probably the best mediator between the alien races of the station commanders that Babylon 5 had over the course of the series.
Lieutenant Commander (eventually Commander) Susan Ivanova
Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) is the XO of Babylon 5 for most of the series. She’s hot-headed and stubborn, but she is ultimately a good first officer to the two station commanders during her tenure and an excellent soldier. She eventually leaves Babylon 5 at the end of season 4, but she was one of the longest-serving officers of Babylon 5. The station commanders frequently left her in charge when they went off on missions.
Ivanova has several love interests over the course of the series, but her most notable relationship is with Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson). This relationship was one of the first long-term same-sex relationships on television between two women. While subtle, it was an important breakthrough. Ivanova also had relationships with men on the series, making her one of the first female bisexual leads on a TV show.
Captain (eventually President) John Sheridan
John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) is the second commander of Babylon 5, selected by the Minbari, despite his history of violent confrontations with them during the Earth-Minbari War. He is strategic but wallows in his past quite a bit before finally getting his gumption back towards the end of the second season. His beloved wife, Anna Sheridan, was lost in an archaeological expedition.
Sheridan also has a relationship with Minbari Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan); the two jointly lead the Rangers, a collective of Minbari, human and (sometimes) other alien warriors dedicated to maintaining the Light versus the coming darkness. When Earth comes under the influence of the “darkness” (the mysterious Shadow race) and becomes a fascist state, Sheridan is the one who declares Babylon 5’s independence. He also starts a war for Earth’s re-independence.
Security Chief Michael Garibaldi
Michael Garibaldi is the irreverent Security Chief for Babylon 5. He’s easily suspicious of others’ intentions, which makes him good at running security for a station full of multiplicity–but not so good at being friendly. Still, he has a few friends, most notably Jeffrey Sinclair. Garibaldi gets into trouble frequently, due to his curiosity.
Garibaldi does figure out people’s secrets pretty easily; for example, he figures out who the Rangers are before anyone tells him a thing about them, which surprises both Sheridan and Delenn (which it probably shouldn’t). He’s an ideal security man.
Dr. Stephen Franklin
Dr. Franklin (Richard Biggs) is the wisest of Babylon 5’s senior staff, and due to a small medical staff for a massive station, the most stressed out. He doles out advice well but rarely takes it for himself. He becomes addicted to stimulants and is forced to detox in a rather violent way, but he gets through it.
Kind and compassionate, he makes an ideal doctor and a perfect friend for most of Babylon 5’s other notably troubled individuals.
Delenn is the Minbari ambassador to Babylon 5 and a member of the Religious caste in Minbari culture. She was instrumental in beginning the war between Earth and the Minbari after the death of her beloved mentor. Since then, she aims to atone for her actions during the war by bringing peace to the galaxy and preserving the Light against the darkness.
Delenn has a major transformation between season 1 and 2, in an attempt to unite the humans and the Minbari against coming threats. She is thoughtful and philosophical, always seeking the most harmonious solution–but she’s not above using force to get her way. She has a loyal assistant, Lennier (Bill Muny), who she mentors.
Ambassador Londo Mollari
Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) is the Centuari ambassador to Babylon 5. Prone to scheming for his imperialistic visions, Londo might be the most morally gray figure that the station has. Mollari will almost always use force to get his way, and he’s responsible for a lot of death.
Mollari also has literal visions; he dreams he will become the Emperor of the Centauri people–but that it will be his ultimate downfall. He is one of the first in the galaxy to make a deal with the Shadows. His deal is this: that the Centuari get back Narn and in exchange, turn a blind eye to whatever the Shadows desire to do, which is something cloaked in mystery for most of the show. Mollari also has an assistant, Vir Cotto (Stephen Furst), who is a much more compassionate man than his boss will ever be.
G’Kar is the Narn ambassador to Babylon 5; he and Mollari are usually at each other’s throats, for obvious reasons. G’Kar goes on a long journey over the course of the series, eventually becoming a sort of religious leader to his people. But it’s a long fight for him, especially as his people fall once again to the imperialistic whims of the Centauri, and he himself is considered a political refugee.
Prone to fits of violent rage, he may not seem an ideal ambassador-type, but he always gets the job done, even if the results are not always…ideal.
The Rest of the Galaxy
Babylon 5 is a truly massive series, wide in scope, as befits a science fiction space opera of its caliber. If you’re interested in watching the show after reading this article, good news! The entire series is available on Amazon Prime to stream; just over two years ago, it was hard to find the complete series online, with most fans (including myself) just buying the (admittedly) excellent DVD sets. Don’t let the image quality or special effects throw you off from the series; while not always a great visual experience, Babylon 5 has a story worth experiencing, with fun characters to guide you along the way.