During the ‘90s, when Star Trek was seemingly the only sci-fi franchise with traction on TV, J. Michael Straczynski offered fans a different vision of the future in his own series, Babylon 5. After a pilot episode aired in 1993, Babylon 5 went to series in 1994 and it fulfilled Straczynski’s promise of a five-year novel for television.
In addition to five seasons of the show, Babylon 5 expanded into TV movies, novels, comic books, and a short-lived spinoff series called Crusade. But the last time that anything new was produced for the B5 universe was in 2007 when Babylon 5: The Lost Tales briefly revived a few of the leading characters.
This week, the franchise makes its long-awaited return in the new animated movie, Babylon 5: The Road Home. Straczynski wrote and produced the film, which was directed by Matt Peters. The surviving members of the original cast have also returned for this project, with Bruce Boxleitner as John Sheridan, Claudia Christian as Susan Ivanova, Peter Jurasik as Londo Mollari, Bill Mumy as Lennier, Tracy Scoggins as Elizabeth Lochley, and Patricia Tallman as Lyta Alexander.
Fandom caught up with Straczynski to learn how Babylon 5: The Road Home came together, and what it might mean for the future of the franchise. There are minor spoilers for the film ahead, and then you’ll see an additional spoiler warning when we get into the ending and possibilities for the future.
HONORING ABSENT FRIENDS
Following the conclusion of Babylon 5, several of the key performers have passed away in the years since, including Richard Biggs (Dr. Stephen Franklin), Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar), Mira Furlan (Delenn), Jerry Doyle (Michael Garibaldi), Stephen Furst (Vir Cotto), Michael O’Hare (Jeffrey Sinclair), and Jeff Conaway (Zack Allan). And while Straczynski and the remaining cast members were eager to revisit this world, they also wanted to honor their absent friends.
“Warner Bros. came to me and said ‘We’re very interested in bringing back Babylon 5,’ which was really great for me to hear because I’ve been waiting a long time for that to happen,” recalled Straczynski. “It was so important also, because we lost so many of our performers, that it was like ‘How much longer should we wait around?’ That call finally came, and because of that factor of it, my very first email was to the cast members saying ‘Are you okay if we do this, given that you may have to be acting with actors playing the parts of our fallen friends?’ They all came back and said ‘Yes, let’s make it so it’s a testament and a memorial to those actors.’”
ON THE FAST TRACK
According to Straczynski, the time from the first call from Warner Bros. to the film’s release date took “a little over two years.” He also indicated that the studio was very easy to work with on this project.
“It was very quick and easy,” said Straczynski. “Warners came to me, we made the deal after we cleared this with the actors. And then I got to writing, wrote the first draft, turned that in. They liked it, they had no notes, and we went into production.”
“The hard part was keeping it quiet,” continued Straczynski. “The cast understood the necessity of keeping this quiet because there have been so many false starts in the history of Babylon 5. Some of the things that were going to happen didn’t happen, and I didn’t want to get the fans excited unless and until we knew that this was actually going to happen. For the most part, we kept it quiet until really just a few months ago when we put the word out that this was coming.”
JOHN SHERIDAN’S WILD RIDE
Babylon 5: The Road Home begins near the end of the fifth season of the original series, just as President John Sheridan and his wife, Delenn, leave Babylon 5 for their new home on Minbar. Shortly thereafter, an accident on Minbar sends Sheridan falling through time, space, and even the multiverse itself as he desperately tries to find a way back to where he came from. Straczynski said that he came up with this story specifically to revisit certain places and characters from the show.
“I thought ‘The best thing I want to do here is a travelog of the B5 universe, make it a love letter to the fans and to our fallen friends, and do a story about beauty and love that people may not be expecting,’” noted Straczynski. “So it really came from putting Sheridan in a position where the fate of the entire universe rests on his shoulders and what can resolve it is not blowing something up or hitting something, but surrendering to love. What would that story look like? That’s where we came from.”
RECASTING THE HEROES
Out of necessity, many of the main characters had to be recast for this film. Andrew Morgado takes over the role of G’Kar, while Rebecca Riedy portrays Delenn, Anthony Hansen plays Michael Garibaldi, and Phil LaMarr voices Dr. Stephen Franklin. Paul Guyet does double duty as both Jeffrey Sinclair and Zathras, since Zathras’ original performer, Tim Choate, passed away in 2004.
Straczynski revealed that Warner Bros. did the initial search for the new performers before sending him the top candidates for each role before he made his final selections.
“Honestly, I have to say the process was pretty flawless,” admitted Straczynski. “Warner Bros. did the initial work of sifting through all of these tapes from voice actors they’ve worked with, and some that they hadn’t, and narrowed it down to about three choices each. Then they gave me those three choices and they were all excellent choices, but there were one or two that really captured the spirit of the character.”
“We had decided early on that we didn’t want to do a straight up identical voice impersonation of the original actors,” added Straczynski. “That seemed somehow just kind of odd to replicate the frequencies of their voices. You can do that with A.I.. What we were looking for primarily were actors who could… capture the idea of the character, the sensibility of the character as it was created by this actor, not to replace [them], but sort of build on that heritage and legacy. When you look at it from that point of view, the choices became obvious pretty fast. So I think I responded to all of the possibilities within a day or two and locked them down.”
Straczynski has often said that some of his Babylon 5 characters surprised him when he was writing the series. But for the film, he found that only one of the scenes took him by surprise: The unexpected reunion between Sheridan and G’Kar, or at least someone speaking with G’Kar’s voice and persona.
“[Characters surprising you is] kind of a long term process where you spend years with a character and they surprise in terms of what you thought about five years ago that they’re doing differently now,” explained Straczynski. “But when you’re writing something for the first time in a very compact form, there isn’t an awful lot of room to be surprised structurally. Probably the one where I surrendered the most to the character was in the conversation between Sheridan and what appears to be G’Kar.”
“I knew in my head that when I got to that scene they would talk, he would get some information about the nature of the universe and reality,” continued Straczynski. “What that was, I didn’t really know until I got to that scene. I cued up Sheridan, then I opened up the window in my head where G’Kar lives and said ‘You tell me, I have no idea.’ And he went off and came up with something pretty cool. Andreas [Katsulas] was one of the first of us to fall. That was a hard one in particular for a lot of different reasons. And to hear his voice, and put him back in that moment and have him talking about, as Sheridan says ‘’My G’Kar, is he alive? Is he dead?’ And this version of G’Kar says ‘He was, he is, we are.’”
“I’ve always had the most fun making the show watching Peter [Jurasik] and Andreas doing Londo and G’Kar, because they’re just such masters of the form,’ recalled Straczynski. “And the eloquence that Andreas brought to it. In writing that sequence, you’re hoping that the actor can translate that eloquence into a new form. And he definitely did. Of all of the scenes that I play over and over again, that’s probably my favorite.”
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO IVANOVA
Claudia Christian was one of the few cast members of Babylon 5 to leave the show before the fifth and final season. Her final appearance as Susan Ivanova in the series finale was filmed during the fourth season. Christian’s return in Babylon 5: The Road Home marks the first time that she has played Ivanova in over 25 years. “[Claudia and I] had been in touch over the years, and when this came along there was no reason not to include her,” noted Straczynski. “And she was eager to do it, and she did a really good job of recreating that character and bringing her back to life.”
Ivanova appears in scenes throughout the film, but her standout sequence comes when Sheridan arrives on an Earth that is about to be destroyed. And the only ones around to witness it were Ivanova and Londo.
“With the world about to end, I literally put in there ‘Who can energize that scene a bit?’ I thought ‘Let’s put our two cynics in there,’” explained Straczynski. “The two people who are not going to be terrified or weepy or distressed about it. They’re like ‘Yeah, you know what? Sooner or later everyone gets a planet thrown at them.’ The two characters who made sense for that were Londo, just for the sheer drunken foolishness of the character, and Ivanova, who had that sort of dour Russian ‘We’re all going to die’ attitude anyway.”
“Having the two of them there was a great balance,” continued Straczynski. “We didn’t have that many scenes between Londo and Ivanava alone in the series. I thought ‘Let’s get a chance to make up for that.’”
Bill Mumy’s Lennier and Tracy Scoggins’ Elizabeth Lochley also got spotlight scenes, which was part of Straczynski’s desire to give the cast equal time.
“I wanted to service as much of the original cast as I possibly could,” admitted Straczynski. “We balanced it out so that everyone’s parts were more or less the same in size. If you were to actually do a line count, Bill’s lines are the same as Claudia’s are the same as Tracy’s, because I wanted no one to feel like they were being left out. Bill loves doing Lennier, he’s dedicated to the character, not to the makeup. So he was very happy to hear that no makeup would be involved in this. I just want to give everyone a chance to shine. Everybody has their moment on stage.”
BUILDING AN ANIMATED UNIVERSE
Straczynski went on to speak about the process of getting sketches and animatics from Warner Bros. throughout the production of the movie before the final animation was delivered. He also mentioned that his favorite scenes in the film were some of the lower key moments.
“What really got me are the moments you wouldn’t necessarily expect like the moon hitting the Earth,” said Straczynski. “They were the character moments. The moments when they’re leaving B5 and smashing the ISN camera, the moments leading up to that where you see on Sheridan’s face the growing irritation about this thing and saying to the mic ‘Let’s just deal with this.’ The moment with Sheridan and his dad. It’s quiet, but it’s beautiful. The lighting is terrific, the character animation looks great. It’s just very emotional. That I really like. And of course the big climatic scene at the end, those are the ones that jump out at me.”
THE MUSIC OF THE STARS
The Road Home has a team of three composers, Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis, and Kristopher Carter, who are taking the musical reins from original Babylon 5 composer Christopher Franke. When asked about the switch in composers, Straczynski took the opportunity to explain why Franke didn’t come back.
“Folks are asking why Christopher Franke did not come on for this,” said Straczynski. “Chris is more or less retired at this point… I did check with him. Once that was done, Warners gave me these other composers and I looked for someone who had a sense of scale and scope, but also heart. That led me to the final selection and they did a great job. When they were half way through, they sent me their first half of the music. My only note to them back was ‘On the one hand, this is exactly what I would expect. And on the downside, this is exactly what I would expect.’”
“I said ‘Feel free to play. Don’t feel you have to be precious,’” continued Straczynski. “Same thing for the animators. ‘Don’t feel that you have to be precious to what was done before. Put your heart into it. Have some ownership of it.’ And like I told the music folks, ‘it’s okay to play and push the envelope a little bit.’ They redid a few things in the first half, and then in the second half took off and had a great time with it. You can just feel the joy of it. They did a great job.”
CHARTING THE FUTURE
Some bigger SPOILERS follow for Babylon 5: The Road Home and how it concludes.
Late in the movie, Sheridan finds himself in a reality where the Shadow War never happened, and all of the classic Babylon 5 characters are alive and well. And instead of returning the focus to the show’s original timeline following the culmination of Sheridan’s storyline, the film stays in this reality before the conclusion.
“That sets in place a template for where we’re gonna go,” explained Straczynski. “There’s some misunderstanding about if there are more [films] they would explore different multiverses. Where we land at the end of the movie, bringing together all of the characters from all the different versions we’ve had in real life, is where we’re gonna stay, should we do more movies. I wanted to create an environment where we have access to Sinclair, access to Sheridan, access to Delenn, access to Lochley and Ivanova, and everyone else. Just a ‘What if the Shadow War doesn’t happen? Or what if it happens in a different way? How would that play? What would that look like?’”
Straczynski also reiterated that this new Babylon 5 animated universe is completely separate from the live-action Babylon 5 reboot that he has been developing for Warner Bros. and The CW.
“The animated version is basically Babylon 5 classic,” noted Straczynski. “It’s all the classic characters. That universe will, I hope, go forward. With the reimagining, when Warner Bros. and The CW came to me and said ‘We want to do this’ was not to again, be precious about the past, but to say ‘Look, if I was creating the show today, knowing what I know now and being a better writer now, I hope, than I was twenty to thirty years ago, what would it look like? And what would be contemporary and interesting to a modern audience? What themes could we explore that we couldn’t explore before?’”
“That led me to a structure that is I think fun, that is challenging, that is absolutely 100% of the show, but at the same time very new and very different and more action-oriented in some respects,” continued Straczynski. “It’s more representative of where I am as a writer. So I figured let’s create the two different tracks: Classic show and this new version of it… If that were to proceed, it would be a whole new approach to the concept. We have a nice balance between the reimagining and the classic B5, starting with a fresh clean slate that can go wherever it wants to. There are things lurking in the shadows that we may or may not plug into, but they are always available to us, and just have fun to play.”
However, Straczynski indicated that fans shouldn’t expect characters from Crusade or Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers to appear.
“They’re different contracts, different shows,” said Straczynski. “Outside of the hardcore fans, no one knows who those characters are. I would rather stick with B5 and look forward not backwards. I am so happy to have [Babylon 5], whether we get Crusade or not, or things down the road, that’s a different conversation. The point is we have B5. After twenty-plus years of waiting, we have some new Babylon 5. For me, the animated movie we have now feels like the most proper B5 thing we’ve done since the original show. It feels authentic, like not a moment has passed between the original show and now. It just feels true to what the show was and can be again. I am very happy.”
Babylon 5: The Road Home is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and Digital.
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