BEGINNINGS and ENDINGS
J. Michael Straczynski
This article first appeared in the Official Babylon 5
Magazine, Vol 2 Issue 8 (March 1999).
(With many thanks to Michael Warren for providing this info!)
With the transmission in the UK of the final regular Babylon 5 episode, Sleeping in Light, the series is now complete (though the final episodes must now cycle through to all the other countries in which B5 airs). So it seems appropriate to now take a moment to look back at the very inception of the series. Its no secret that B5 began when two ideas Id been working on for a series one being a very contained, small series set on a space station, the other a big, huge sprawling saga that would involve dozens of worlds collided in my head and I realized suddenly that they were the same show, where the major events of the story would be writ small upon the stage of the space station. In the shower at the moment of this revelation, I dashed out and hurriedly scribbled down what would become the main thrust of the series before I could lose the thread of it.
Ive never shown anyone those original notes.
I convey the following for whatever historical value it may have in showing the thoughts at the very moment that the B5 universe unfurled itself in my head, and what the intent was going into the story.
In looking at what follows, it may help to understand that when I write down notes on a project, I instantly try to create the mood of it, so I can find the fingerprints more readily later on. Hence the "being a history" phraseology in the first bit creating the sense of an almost medieval or myth-based history. It may also read a bit choppy, because I was trying to get down a lot in a small amount of time, before it slipped away.
The Babylon Project
Being a history of the last of the Babylon stations.
A historical drama covering the years 2258-2262. Multiple POV. (Different narrators? Use of personal journals per season/per episode? Or only opening?) The whole story is told in the past tense. We learn eventually that this is a documentary produced after the deaths of all involved. (So narratives would be in the past tense?) Assume they were interviewed at various points, possibly use that for narrative, but not actual structure dont start each episode with "I remember", just informs the general structure and approach. Metafiction?
Set up one main news source/network (INN? Interstellar News Network?) which provides archival material and funds the documentary recreation of the rest. (So use only one continual source, rather than multiple networks/news sources.)
Based on Babylon: center of trade, diplomacy, politics, spying, intrigue. (Babylon fell, this too will eventually fall. Do different. Expires? Redundant?) We hear of distant places, see them only occasionally, stay with the station POV, bring the events down to Human scale.
Also: Babylonian creation myth. Universe born in conflict between order and chaos. Opposing forces that frame the conflict w/our characters. Forms crucible. Two forces pushing from either side, our characters in the middle, have to find their own way. Break the pattern.
Characters: ambassadors from various worlds one drinker, decadent world on decline, wants old days back in full glory; other warrior/priest, oppressed people looking to strike back (victims/enslaved by prior?); spiritual/priest character (but dont repeat other character in this, or becomes redundant, so priest character becomes warrior, warrior becomes priest, characters change and grow); station commander (war hero/survivor); traders, some with ambiguous intentions/agenda.
Story is future history. Covers only the events of 2258-2262. Characters and universe have history before, and history after. We dive in, witness the events of those years, then dive out again at end. Universe goes on. Characters go on. Emphasize continuity. One year of story equals one season.
Each season equals one volume. Use prose fiction structure: introduction (season one), rising action (two), complication (three), climax (four), denouement (five). So story/series is five seasons/five years arc.
Other/tech: establish telepaths (artifically created, via outside interference). Robotic/cybernetic beings? Or not, too easy to misuse. Telepath organization? Monitor and control? If so, tie to government. If not, make underground/commercial structure. (Government better.) Who watches the watchmen? AI likely, but better to stay clear, cliché.
Hook into real-life politics: assassination, betrayals, corruption, show rise of fascist government, how it happens. Focus on process.
Air of mystery. No one is what they seem. Emphasize myth: myth in story, also mythic structure. Characters all archetypal. Main character (station head) becomes transcendent through experiences with story, characters, through growing war. Must become more than he is in order to deal with them. He makes mistakes. Not perfect. Learns. Not cliched all-knowing captain. (War hero? Or war survivor? Difference.)
All characters flawed. Drinker/alcoholic character. (Drugs? Or too hard, lose sympathy?) Lesbian/bi character? Everyone is running to or from something, have no home elsewhere, station is home. Transformational nexus. Myth structured around conflict, brings myth to foreground: civil wars, wars of attrition, wars of religion, inter-species war. Humans not smartest or sharpest knives in drawer; make up for with sheer courage. Stubborn nobility.
Similar in tonality: Casablanca, Dune, Lord of the Rings, Prisoner, Gone With the Wind, Civil War, Kennedy Assassination, Foundation, Lensman. Sense of wonder.
Series is not about answers. About questions of identity, place, position, who we think we are vs. who we are vs. who other people think we are, breaking out of prison of earlier actions to become something better (or worse) than we began. Personal responsibility, personal consequences, with large impact. Big story can come from small individuals. Power of one mind to change the universe.
The last sentence was of course the one that set the tone for the pilot movie, The Gathering. The rough beats for the characters were all there, but needed refining. The future-history and documentary aspects, though clearly in the premise and the end of the show, are two of the things that have not yet been strongly picked up on by viewers.
Anyway, those were the first words I wrote about The Babylon Project (later renamed to Babylon 5 when I decided on the five year storyline, because The Babylon Project sounded too SciFi for my tastes).
That was the beginning.
This is the end.
With one hell of a middle.
J. Michael Staczynski
4 January, 1999.