Did Star Trek Rip Off Babylon 5?

By Henry Hards | Published

star trek villains ripping off B5

The relationship between Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) has long been a subject of discussion and controversy within the science fiction community. Both series debuted in the early 1990s, and both featured a space station as a central setting, which led to comparisons and suspicions of plagiarism.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered on January 3, 1993, as part of the expanding Star Trek franchise. Meanwhile, Babylon 5‘s pilot “The Gathering” aired later that year, with the series officially beginning in 1994.

How The Babylon 5 Vs Deep Space Nine Controversy Started

The controversy between Babylon 5 and DS9 began when some fans and critics noticed similarities in their core premises. Both shows featured a multicultural space station with various alien species and dealt with complex political themes.

Babylon 5 vs Deep Space Nine
Space Station Babylon 5
DS9 vs Babylon 5
Space Station Deep Space Nine

J. Michael Straczynski (often referred to as JMS), the creator of Babylon 5, added fuel to the fire by claiming that he had pitched his idea to Paramount (the studio behind Star Trek) before DS9 was developed. Though he stopped short of outright accusing them of plagiarism, his comments sparked debates among fans.

Back in 1992 JMS had this to say: “Were Pillar and Berman (ed note: Star Trek’s head honchos at the time) aware of B5 at any time? No. Of that I am also confident. The only question in my mind is to what degree did the development people steer them?”

He continues, “One scenario is that they did not steer them at ALL…but knowing of B5, and knowing how swell it would be if they could co-opt B5, if Pillar and Berman came up with a space station on their own, they would likely say nothing, even though they might be viewed as being under a moral obligation to say something. Another scenario is that they gave direction to the creative folks without telling them the origin of that direction.

Explaining why he never did anything about his suspicions that B5 was ripped off, JMS says: “There are several ways of dealing with this. One is to launch a major suit with full powers of discovery. The result is that DS9 gets tied up for months, maybe even years in litigation, and maybe the show doesn’t go forward. It also means hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by Warners and me and others pursuing this…not to mention the sense of ill will that will fly back and forth.”

Strange Similarities Between Star Trek: Deep Space Nine And Babylon 5

Babylon 5
Scene from Babylon 5

Beyond the space station setting, both shows explored political intrigue, war, religious themes, and cultural clashes. The central characters in both series were burdened with complex pasts, and both series took a more serialized approach to storytelling compared to many contemporary shows.

Adding further similarity, later in its run Star Trek: Deep Space Nine began to mirror Babylon 5’s linear storytelling structure. At the time, linear storytelling was unheard of on network television and Babylon 5 broke new ground when its creator crafted a specific, linear, 5-year arc for his show.

Spotting The Differences Between The Shows

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Scene from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

While the similarities are notable, the differences between the series are equally significant. Babylon 5‘s storytelling was more tightly serialized, with a five-year arc that was planned from the outset. DS9, though eventually serialized to a degree, maintained a more episodic structure typical of Star Trek series.

Moreover, the two shows differed in tone, style, and thematic focus. Babylon 5 had a grittier, darker feel, while DS9 retained the more optimistic view of the future associated with Star Trek.

The political systems, alien cultures, and spiritual beliefs explored in each show were distinct and reflective of their separate creative visions.

Babylon 5 Did It First, But No One Knew

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Season 1 Babylon 5 cast

In response to the controversy, several DS9 creators and Star Trek veterans commented that the development of DS9 was independent of Babylon 5. They noted that the concept of a space station was not unique and that many of the similarities were superficial or genre conventions.

The timeline of development also supports the assertion that DS9 was not a copy of Babylon 5. Work on DS9 began before Babylon 5‘s pilot was publicly known, and the creators of both series had limited awareness of each other’s work during the initial development stages.

Both Shows Are Iconic And Deserving Of Praise

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Cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Both Babylon 5 and DS9 have left lasting impacts on the science fiction genre. Babylon 5‘s commitment to a long-term story arc paved the way for future serialized storytelling, while DS9 is often praised for its complex characters and willingness to explore darker themes within the Star Trek universe.

The controversy between the two series has subsided over time, and many fans appreciate both shows for their individual merits. Both have become beloved entries in the annals of science fiction television, celebrated for their contributions to the genre.