Everything We Know About the Delayed Babylon 5 Reboot
News broke in September 2021 that beloved cult science fiction series Babylon 5 would finally receive the reboot treatment on The CW. In an era where it feels like any and every IP with nostalgic value is making a comeback, Babylon 5 seemed an obvious choice. Devoted fans rallied for decades to see more of the intricate space drama, only to have their hopes shut down by Warner Bros. stubbornly locking Babylon 5 into a vault and swallowing the key. Back in 2018, Babylon 5 creator and writer J. Michael Straczynski tweeted that Warner Bros. had told his agent, “We have no plans, and no intentions, of letting anything else be done in terms of television with Babylon 5.”
But now our streaming, sprawling age of media appeared to offer that long-sought-after chance of revival. Three years later, it was announced that Babylon 5 would see a “from the ground up” reboot of its original concept, rather than a continuation of plot events that wrapped up in the ’90s. This was excellent news—until Straczynski’s pilot was delayed in development. Once again, the WB was haunting Babylon 5 like so many Shadow Vessels.
A great hand reached out from the stars
WarnerMedia put The CW up for sale in January 2022, which sent the development of the Babylon 5 reboot into a bit of a tailspin. In February 2022, The CW announced the slate of pilots it was picking up for production, and Babylon 5 was not amongst them.
Usually, this is a bad sign for the future of a proposed series. But for Babylon 5, all was not lost. Straczynski detailed the behind-the-scenes twists in a post on his Patreon.
“When a pilot script is not picked up to production, 99.999% of the time, that’s the end of the road for the project, the script is dead,” Straczynski wrote. However—and it’s a big however—in this case, the situation was different:
However: shortly before that piece was published, I received a call from Mark Pedowitz, President of The CW. (I should mention that Mark is a great guy and a long-time fan of B5. He worked for Warners when the show was first airing, and always made sure we got him copies of the episodes before they aired because he didn’t want to wait to see what happened next.)
Calling the pilot “a damned fine script,” he said he was taking the highly unusual step of rolling the project and the pilot script into next year, keeping B5 in active development while the dust settles on the sale of the CW.
So the President of The CW (a dedicated Babylon 5 fan, as well he should be) is keeping the reboot fires burning. While I was initially skeptical of a B5 incarnation on the youth-oriented network that brought us Riverdale, it’s exciting to know that the person in charge of said network is likely a G’Kar fanboy. That caused me to reorient my thinking, and now I would trust Mark Pedowitz with my life.
If not this year, then when?
“Here’s the bottom line,” Straczynski concluded on Patreon. “Yesterday, Babylon 5 was in active development at the CW and Warner Bros. for fall 2022. Today, Babylon 5 is in active development at the CW and Warner Bros. for fall 2023. That is the only difference.”
You heard the man. Come fall 2023 and we could be staring at a reconstituted space station that is our last, best hope for humanity. We could sorely use the hope.
What will the new Babylon 5 be about?
When the B5 reboot was first announced, the pitch was that the show would be a reimagining of the original show’s elements. That series had one of the best finale episodes on television, “Sleeping in Light,” and if you know what happened therein, and what has sadly befallen several of the main cast members since, you know it makes sense that a new B5 would be dreamed up more like the boldly rebooted Battlestar Galactica instead of a where-are-they-now like Sex & The City’s And Just Like That…
Indeed, the summary of the proposed reboot sounds very familiar: “John Sheridan, an Earthforce officer with a mysterious background, is assigned to Babylon 5, a five-mile-long space station in neutral space, a port of call for travelers, smugglers, corporate explorers and alien diplomats at a time of uneasy peace and the constant threat of war.” This is essentially the same plot as the old series, though “a mysterious background” makes me wonder if this new Sheridan also has some of the history created for Sinclair.
In a lengthy thread on Twitter after the reboot announcement, Straczynski further outlined his plans to give us a Babylon 5 for today’s world and the questions he has considered when writing the new show. “If I were creating Babylon 5 today, for the first time, knowing what I now know as a writer, what would it look like? How would it use all the storytelling tools and technological resources available in 2021 that were not on hand then?”
Where to watch Babylon 5: Apple TV+, Prime Video
The ’90s show was in many ways eerily prescient—from its depiction of surveillance states and government crackdowns on terrorism, to the too-easy rise of fascism, to the impact of our 24/7 cable news-saturated universe and beyond. In its depiction of a hardscrabble, war-torn future still dominated by capitalism, labor unrest, and grasping corporations, Babylon 5 is often said to be a more realistic representation of how we would actually behave in space, without Star Trek’s shiny visions of humanity doing a 180 and founding a utopia.
Straczynski appears particularly interested in exploring what a new Babylon 5 would have to say about our world today and how it might predict tomorrow. There are also technological advances in TV-making that would have been all but unimaginable in the ’90s, giving him an immense visual and effects palette with which to paint.
And with the passing of members of the original cast, a continuation was just not possible, as Stracynzski explains:
Better to go the way of Westworld or Battlestar Galactica where you take the original elements that are evergreens and put them in a blender with a ton of new, challenging ideas, to create something fresh yet familiar. To those asking why not just do a continuation, for a network series like this, it can’t be done because over half our cast are still stubbornly on the other side of the Rim.
How do you telling continuing story of our original Londo without the original Vir? Or G’Kar? How do you tell Sheridan’s story without Delenn? Or the story of B5 without Franklin? Garibaldi? Zack?
So John Sheridan is back, but other characters aren’t returning?
This is where it gets a little fuzzy. The reboot’s summary seems to suggest starting the show afresh with a different Sheridan (a Sheridan variant, if you will), but it’s unclear whether other B5 characters will be recast and will rejoin this universe. Since Straczynski wants to tell a new story while paying homage to the old, it would also make sense if Sheridan found himself amongst a whole different cast of characters. We could keep the familiar configuration of Narn, Centauri, and Minbari ambassadors on Babylon 5, or more aliens from the outer worlds could take center stage. Given Stracyznski’s ongoing affection for telepaths with his work on Netflix’s Sense8 and in comics, it’s safe to say we’d likely see a return of telepath-oriented plotlines as well.
But it’s also conceivable that a rebooted B5 could feature the old characters with a spin—think how Battlestar Galactica “revised” the character of Starbuck when the series came back in a different form.
In an AMA on reddit three years ago, Straczynski wrote that G’Kar would never be recast. As it should be. There was only one Andreas Katsoulas, and he was magnificent.
The same can be said of Mira Furlan’s luminous Delenn; Furlan owned the character so completely.
Who could possibly appear from the original series?
It’s hard to imagine a new Babylon 5 without some special guest appearances by the original cast members in some capacity. Many of the main actors have passed away—or, as Straczynski put it, are “still stubbornly on the other side of the Rim.” Mira Furlan (Delenn), Andreas Katsoulas (G’Kar), Richard Biggs (Dr. Franklin), Michael O’Hare (Sinclair), Stephen Furst (Vir), and Jerry Doyle (Garibaldi) are all lost to us.
Thankfully, our side of the Rim retains Bruce Boxleitner (John Sheridan 1.0), Claudia Christian (Ivanova), Peter Jurasik (Londo), Bill Mumy (Lennier), Patricia Tallman (Lyta), Andrea Thompson (Talia), Jason Carter (Marcus), Tracy Scoggins (Lochley), the legendary Walter Koenig (Bester), and others from a brilliant ensemble cast. It would be a treat and a half to see them in action again.
What do you, personally, want to see from the reboot?
Thanks for asking! I want a great many things, but top of the list, I’d love to see Straczynski writing queer people and relationships on a Babylon 5 for the modern age. He proved with Sense8 that he can do so with nuance and care. The original Babylon 5 was quite progressive for its time, casually referencing gay marriage decades before it was legal and laying the groundwork for a relationship between Susan Ivanova and Talia that didn’t get off the ground because of cast changes. If we have a “new” Ivanova, I’d clap my hands a lot to see her openly and happily bisexual.
Where to watch Babylon 5: Apple TV+, Prime Video
Also, please, somehow, bring back Peter Jurasik and put him in every scene.
What would you want from a rebooted Babylon 5? Meet me in the Zocalo—erm, the comments—and let’s talk.
(images: Warner Bros.)
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