Babylon 5 Is A Sci-Fi Masterpiece For One Important Reason

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

babylon 5 movie

While it’s not held in the same regard as Star Trek or Star Wars, Babylon 5 is one of the greatest sci-fi series of all time as it accomplished a nearly unthinkable feat: telling a complete story from start to finish. That’s thanks to the show’s creator, J. Michael Straczynski, and his amazing talent to write at speeds beyond mortal men, which allowed him to compose 91 of the show’s 110 total episodes. The result is a deep, character-driven series that avoids late-season sci-fi pitfalls.

The Product Of Careful Planning

babylon 5

To put this feat in perspective, The X-Files creator Chris Carter wrote 68 episodes out of the show’s 216, while of Lost’s three creators, Damon Lindelof was the most prolific, totaling 41 episodes out of 119. J. Michael Straczynski went even further, writing all of the TV movies and providing outlines for the tie-in novels as well.

Prolific writing aside, Babylon 5 benefited the absolute most from JMS starting the show with a clear vision and an end in mind, which, even through numerous ups and downs with network executives, he never wavered.

The Smallest Moments Become Important

To this day, there’s been nothing like the production of Babylon 5, which was planned as one long story arc from day one. The series pilot, “Midnight on the Firing Line,” centers on a surprise attack by the Narn on a Centauri colony, but what it also does is introduce themes, plot details, and character motivations that, in some cases, don’t pay off until Season 4. And in what other show could the knighting of an alien ambassador (Sir G’kar of the New Round Table) by a drunken “King Arthur” be an important character moment?

The Emergency Hatch

Even casting changes or sudden actor departures beyond anyone’s control were part of the plan of Babylon 5, with JMS remarking on his website in response to a fan’s question, “As a writer, doing a long-term story, it’d be dangerous and short-sighted for me to construct the story without trap doors for every single character. … That was one of the big risks going into a long-term storyline which I considered long in advance.”

Guest Writers Knew The Plan

JMS wasn’t the only writer on Babylon 5, but in stark contrast to the “mystery box” sci-fi shows of the following decade, all of the contributing writers were told what the overarching story was going to be and provided copious character notes so that no one ever felt “out of character.”

These writers include the legendary Hulk comics writer Peter David, Neil Gaiman, and even best-selling author and literary genius Harlan Ellison. Compare that to The X-Files, which would introduce bold new characters with no future plan on how to use them, which is what happened with The Lone Gunmen and even Alex Krycek.

No Other Show Has Been As Planned From Start To Finish

The singular vision and well-thought-out, meticulous planning of Babylon 5 are not done anymore, or we’d stop getting shows that fall apart short of the finish line, like Game of Thrones, Westworld, or modern Star Trek.

There’s no Battlestar Galactica twist where a major character is killed off because the writers weren’t sure what to do for the next step in their story. The nuts and bolts of Babylon 5 are so intricate that it’s hard to explain the final payoff without spoiling what makes the show so great, but rest assured, this is the one time that the journey is worth the destination.

You can stream Babylon 5 for free on Tubi.