A Babylon 5 Reboot?

b5rebootThat picture above is almost enough to drive me to tears. So many of those wonderful people gathered for a fun publicity shot, so clearly enjoying themselves, are gone now; Richard Briggs, Andreas Katsulas, Stephen Furst, Jerry Doyle, Mira Furlan, Jeff Conaway (and of course, not pictured here, Michael O’Hare). Its the sadness and loss that permeates the memory of Babylon 5.

I expected the chief Babylon 5 event of 2021 would have been a remastered release of the complete series on Blu-ray- alas, that hasn’t transpired, the remaster limited to a digital-only release and streaming on HBO Max over in the States. Regrettable, if not surprising, the way physical formats become increasingly marginalised: possibly the new interest/HD remaster was just two or three years too late for the disc boxsets I had hoped for.

But it seems there was a hidden reason for that HD remaster, as it appears to have been a way of gauging interest in the Babylon 5 franchise- and somebody likes how it turned out. It has been announced by Warner Bros that the show is being rebooted, some totally unexpected news that is part exciting, part intriguing, part absolutely horrible. I suppose in a world in which Blade Runner got both a sequel and an anime series spin-off, anything is possible, but Babylon 5 coming back? Beyond weird. About the only thing that possibly makes any sense at this point is the news that original creator and writer J. Michael Straczynski is involved- on Twitter he has announced that he is currently writing the new show’s pilot. 

Straczynski has revealed that it won’t be a continuation or sequel, if only because of the simple, inescapable fact that we have lost the actors who played the major characters of Delenn, G’Kar, Franklin, Vir and Zack… its impossible to go back again, to the Babylon 5 we used to know and love. Instead he seems to be going back to the original idea for the show, a “from-the-ground-up reboot” retelling the story with what I assume will be a fresh, contemporary spin. Horrible as it might sound. I just find it rather unnerving, reading about kicking off with the season two storyline of John Sheridan (played by Bruce Boxleitner originally) being assigned to Babylon 5, a five-mile long space station positioned in neutral space attempting to maintain an uneasy peace between rival planetary empires. 

It could be brilliant. Imagine Babylon 5 with a considerable budget, in 4K, with cutting-edge visual effects enabling the scale and scope of the galactic space-opera. But it could be terrible. I suppose there’s no reason why they shouldn’t, but it could turn out to be about Earthforce commander Jane Sheridan and all sorts of new characters, a new G’Kar and a new Londo, or a new Delenn, switching sexes etc and just.. well, I suppose that’s the whole point of a reboot, and there’s likely no good sticking too close to the original anyway. But as a fan of the original, who took that shows ups and lows to heart, all those cliff-hangers within the show and outside (would we get a third season? would we get a fourth season?), it feels so difficult even considering going back. Can you go back? Those of us who grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy have already found its impossible to bring some things back. Maybe original B5 fans should stick with our DVDs (damn it, I still want my HD remastered discs!) while Straczynski makes the new show for an entirely different audience.

I can only hope that somehow Straczynski finds the formula to reboot it in the same way as Ronald D Moore managed to do it with his Battlestar Galactica; you know, different and better: but its a different thing, turning Glen Larson’s cheesy Star Wars-knockoff/homage into a gritty and adult show, compared to rebooting something that was perfectly fine first time around. Good luck JMS capturing lightning twice. 

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Babylon 5’s Jerry Doyle dies aged 60

b5jerryIts getting so I’m almost afraid to look at the news these days.

Well, mark this as another reason why this year seems particularly horrible. The actor Jerry Doyle, who played the space station’s flawed security chief Michael Garibaldi, has died at the age of 60. The show’s creator  J.Michael Straczynski has posted a moving tribute  regards Jerry’s passing, noting that “…Of the main cast, we have lost Richard Biggs, Michael O’Hare, Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conaway, and now Jerry Doyle, and I’m goddamned tired of it.” 

Jerry’s Michael Garibaldi was a refreshingly realistic character for a science fiction show; he came across as a no-nonsense, working-class guy just doing his job the best he could, with his some interesting character flaws and backstory which developed over the show’s five seasons. At a time when most tv science-fiction featured idealistic characters in utopian futures (dominated of course by Star Trek), Babylon 5 and its characters with individual arcs that changed over the length of the show was such a radical thing, it’s hard to describe its impact back then with the changed tv landscape we experience and take for granted now. Certainly Garibaldi was one of my favourite B5 characters; a little overweight, balding, suffering from drink problems… he seemed to be a ‘real’ guy in a genre dominated by tall, handsome, muscular heroes who always got the women and saved the day. Garibaldi was just doing his job and he didn’t get everything right- he could be a bit of a jerk as much as a hero; indeed in the latter seasons he was frankly a bit of an asshole.

Jerry didn’t have a ‘traditional’ acting background; he moved into acting fairly late, following a career as a pilot in civil aviation and a stint as a Stockbroker on Wall Street. I think his life experiences informed his acting and gave added depth/life to his character. I’ll certainly never forget Garibaldi. Post-Babylon 5 Jerry turned into politics and ran for office in the US House of Representatives as a Republican candidate but failed in his campaign, later having success on a national talk-radio show.

Its funny,thinking about it, the way the world is now, Babylon 5 is more valid and topical than it ever was, with its varied alien races seeking to exist in harmony in the face of interplanetary war, and its ensuing refugee crises and far-right political machinations. It all seems so familiar to the world we live in today. While I don’t think we need a reboot, I thinks its past time Warners remastered the show with updated CGI effects and re-released it to current audiences who might have missed it (the original effects files are long-lost and the show can’t be properly aired in widescreen or HD without replaced effects) .

Well, its a lousy reason to dust-off my Babylon 5 DVDs but I think I shall watch an episode tonight. Here’s to you, Jerry Doyle.