A Return to Babylon 5: Musings on the Necessity of a Reboot

These past few years, it has seemed that the most original thought available to people in the entertainment industry has been “let’s bring back this thing that people really liked maybe a decade or two ago.” Granted, we, the endless consumers of media, have been partly to blame for this, what with our endless craving for nostalgia, and our furious keyboard griping whenever something doesn’t align with said nostalgia.

This year alone, in fact, there have been the announcements and/or releases of:

A remastering of the entire Mass Effect trilogy (which, admittedly, I have been gleefully playing through. I had almost forgotten how much I loved those games.)

-A Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remake

A new Matrix sequel (which I am admittedly very curious about. I may give my own thoughts on it at a later date, but for now I will say that I’m more than a little weirded out by how colourful the trailer is, given how the previous Matrix movies relied on a colour of black, green and somber, gothy edginess)

-A live action remake of Cowboy Bebop on Netflix

And just to round out this latest slate of remakes, only a few days ago it was announced there was going to be a reboot of Babylon 5.

*deeeeep breaths here*

A quick disclaimer: Babylon 5 was a science fiction series that ran for 5 seasons back in the 90s, and while it never reached Star Trek levels of popularity, it still amassed a cult following. Are we all clear on that? Yes? Moving on then.*

So, for a variety of reasons, I am very apprehensive about this set of news. While, on the one hand, Babylon 5’s original showrunner, J. Michael Straczynski, is writing and producing the new series, and he seems fully cognizant of the fact that he can’t, and shouldn’t, tell the same story twice…on the several other hands….

  • We have already had a lot of other beloved science fiction franchises being rebooted or given sequels….and they have by and large been a mixed bag. The newer Star Wars movies, for instance, have vacillated between bad to mediocre (with the notable exception of the excellent Rogue One), although on the flip side, the series The Mandalorian has been great so far. Similarly, the newer batch of Star Trek series have been letting me down: while I tried really hard to appreciate Discovery, it just feels in so many ways like a soulless facsimile of Star Trek, and Star Trek: Picard utterly forgets and fails to make use of the things that make its title character great. The Lower Decks, for what it’s worth, has been entertaining, if only because it shows more self-awareness than either other title.
  • If it is going to be a variation of the same main story, with younger actors cast in the same roles…then already it sounds like something I would not be interested in. Even if the story was radically different, it would be impossible for me to stop comparing it to the original story and the original actors, and that would completely spoil my immersion.
  • Straczynski has stated that he wants to re-tell the story of Babylon 5 so that it is relevant and reflective of our current time: ““How can it be used to reflect the world in which we live, and the questions we are asking and confronting every day?” While I can’t say I disagree with this reasoning, I do feel that it is unnecessary to re-tell an established story to do so. While the original Babylon 5 series was very much an artefact of its time, I can still appreciate it for what it is, as, I’m sure, can any newer viewers going back and watching it for the first time. For instance, I’ve been encountering a lot of people of the younger generation (I’m only 35, shut up) who have been discovering the various Star Trek series for the first time thanks to Netflix, and have been eagerly watching through them. If nothing else, this tells me that the original Babylon 5, too, has the potential to engage a newer audience and be relevant for viewers in the 2020s…if only one of these damned streaming services would make it available in Canada. Any question over the show’s “relevance” to the modern era feels moot, honestly.

Maybe in general I am just worried that lightning cannot strike twice. The first Babylon 5 was a fantastic and well written series that blended human drama with space politics, giving the viewers well thought-out and likeable characters who were allowed to grow and change over time, conflicts that were compelling and often morally grey, and a rich universe full of interesting and fully fleshed-out alien cultures. In a similar vein to Star Trek, Babylon 5 was not afraid to dive into tough philosophical and social issues in a mature and nuanced way…though unlike the more episodic Star Trek: The Next Generation, B5 frequently re-used events, people and things from prior episodes, and had an overarching plot that grew slowly over several seasons. (All of the above factors, incidentally, were things that I really liked about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, although there have been accusations for a long time that DS9 was merely copying B5’s formula. As someone who loves both shows, I refuse to take a side in this fight.)

I guess in many ways my attitude towards the reboot is not exactly rational, but instead is being driven by pure nostalgia: I feel like it was done right the first time around, and there is no reason to re-do it. While I will admit this attitude is based more on gut reaction and personal feelings than anything else, this is in part because shows can often be very personal to us. And I am writing this as a comparative latecomer to Babylon 5: I missed it when it was originally on the air, and was only introduced to it in the 2010s by friends of mine. I can only imagine how long-term fans of the show– people to whom it means something deep and personal– are reacting to this news. I know for a fact that if Paramount were to announce a reboot of Star Trek: The Next Generation, for instance, I would be up in arms over it: even if their intentions made sense, and even if they wanted to re-tell those stories with better technology and for a newer generation, I would still feel viscerally opposed to it, as they would be trying to alter or remake something that I had grown up watching religiously. It would not be a rational way of thinking, but it would be how I would feel, regardless.

If it were up to me (which it obviously isn’t, but I digress), I would have liked to see a sequel series, one that carries on the story of this universe rather than re-tells it. While, sadly, half of the original cast of the show have passed away by this point, there is no reason why a newer series couldn’t take place years after the original storyline, with newer characters. While I acknowledge that this might not be the best way to bring in new viewers and fans, it would honestly make more sense to me.

Generally, I will wait and see what becomes of this new series. The fact that Straczynski is helming it gives me some hope, but quite frankly, unless he is ready to tread some new ground and do something new with an established setting, I’m going to remain skeptical.

*Incidentally, and ironically, I still haven’t finished the original Babylon 5: last I recall I had trailed off somewhere around season 4. I really need to go back and finish it…just as soon as I’m done with The Expanse, that is.

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