Highlights from the Babylon 5 Scripts of J. Michael Straczynski
Publication Date: February 12, 2014
In the six years since The Babylon 5 Scripts of J. Michael Strazynski limited edition series was retired on June 30, 2008, the B5 Books Team receives weekly (sometimes daily) emails from new fans about the availability of this limited series.
While we would never re-issue the books, the sheer volume of requests warranted our consulting with our Babylon 5 Fan Board – great arbitors of what is fair to the fans and what isn't – to get their feedback about a compilation that surveys a snippet of content from each of the 14 volumes.
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the series (January 26, 2014), the idea is to give fans an abbreviated experience of the full set. This highlights volume would solve several issues:
- a glimpse for the fans who never could have afforded the original investment
- a preview for fans who are now paying hundreds of dollars per volume for copies on eBay
- a "loaner" edition to friends for people who own the complete set
THE FAN BOARD RULING
What we presented to the fan board is this exact compilation. Their ruling was "permission to proceed" citing that (1) the material included represents less than 7% of the total content of the series and, (2) no material was included from the coveted Volume 15 – a bonus book of gems from Joe's vault given to fans for free who bought the whole set.
WHY WAS THIS EVER A LIMITED EDITION SERIES TO BEGIN WITH?
The fan disbelief over this decision is palpabable. We believe that if we knew then what we know now, we probably would not have made this choice. The fact is that getting these books published was an enourmous investment and we had to hedge the risk. Limited edition was the best way to do that. By the release of fourth volume we had solid indicators of the success of the series however, a promise was made that it was limited edition and it was way too late to change that.
WHAT HASN'T THIS SERIES BEEN MADE AVAILABLE AS EBOOKS?
Just a few months before the final volume was released, Amazon introduced the first ever Kindle and started the ebook revolution. Therefore electronic rights were not part of our negotiation package years before. To release them as ebooks now would break our promise of a limited edition series.
* COMMENTARY ON THE GATHERING
From cosmetic matters like the spelling of G'Kar (né Jackarr) to the elimination of Kosh's lifemate Velana, Straczynski recalls this first wave of creative decisions that shaped Babylon 5.
* COMMENTARY ON "THE PARLIAMENT OF DREAMS"
This analysis of the first episode written after the series entered production danced between the trivial – the contents of G'Kar's dinner – and the profound – the episode's approach to Earth's dominant religion – showcasing the scope offered by the Babylon 5 universe.
* THE OPPOSITE OF "NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T"
Both personal and professional, the essay draws connections between J. Michael Straczynski's young adulthood and his writing career, identifying key components of his personality and how they shaped his work.
* SAMPLE EPISODE SYNOPSES (8 MARCH 1993)
This memo – written by Straczynski a month before the first teleplays were commissioned – outlined potential stories for season one. Three were abandoned completely. One made it to treatment and was eventually adapted for the DC comic book. Another was radically re-imagined before being written. Five were rendered, more or less, as they were outlined herein.
* COMMENTARY ON "THE COMING OF SHADOWS"
As Straczynski himself acknowledges in his commentary, "The Coming of Shadows" was the result of a writer working at the height of his powers. Just as "Chrysalis" had upended the narrative table at the end of season one, "Shadows" demolished the diegetic dining room. The script speaks for itself, but it's worth noting that the writer is never one to waste a nice turn of phrase; Londo's comment about assassins in his final scene was cut from "Shadows" but found its way into the script for "No Compromises" a few years later. Straczynski has said that Warner Bros. and PTEN no longer gave him notes on scripts after the mid-point of season two; read "The Coming of Shadows" and you'll see why.
* "THE COMING OF SHADOWS" TELEPLAY
* INTRODUCTION TO "FESTIVAL!"
At this point in the series, Straczynski had noted an interest from fans in "lost" story material. Since, as he noted, the memos covering that latter half of season two "weren't terribly enlightening," he delved into his files for an unprecedented look at the Babylon 5 that wasn't:
* "FESTIVAL!" FRAGMENT AND NOTES
"Festival!" was Straczynski's first attempt at writing what eventually went before the cameras as "The Parliament of Dreams." The extant pages feature the mysterious Mr. Jones, a recurring character Straczynski had planned to feature throughout the series. Indeed, Mr. Jones – or characters of a similar nature – would frequently surface in story notes as late as season five, but never appeared. Straczynski finally used the name for the telepathic watchmen in Crusade's post-Psi Corps Earth Alliance.
* COMMENTARY ON "PASSING THROUGH GETHSEMANE"
In the best tradition of Science Fiction, "Passing Through Gethsemane" examines the impact of a hypothetical technological innovation upon the human condition. Straczynski originally planned to tackle the story of a mindwiped criminal coming to grips with a forgotten past early on, but a fan suggested the story online and the writer was forced to spike the story to avoid a potential lawsuit. Happily, the fan in question provided Straczynski with a notarized legal release and the tragic tale of Brother Edward was aired early in year three.
* "PASSING THROUGH GETHSEMANE" TELEPLAY
* COMMENTARY ON "SEVERED DREAMS"
Like "The Coming of Shadows" in the previous year, "Severed Dreams" is J. Michael Straczynski at his epic best, raining fire on the printed page and putting his characters through hell in the process. The version of the teleplay presented herein features General William Hague, as played by Robert Foxworth. The version that aired in 1996 (and subsequently earned Babylon 5 its second Hugo Award) featured Major Ed Ryan, Hague's aide-de-camp in the general's stead. The reason for this is explained in the accompanying commentary.
* "SEVERED DREAMS" TELEPLAY
* COMMENTARY ON "WALKABOUT"
The commentary expresses some of Straczynski's personal philosophy, manifested within the Babylon 5 universe as the Foundationist religion. It also ties Dr. Stephen Franklin's walkabout – a component of his Foundationist faith – to the writer's time in the religious commune mentioned in the selection from Volume 2, as well as the aftermath of his flight from the institution and its relationship to "Shadow Dancing" later in the season. After exploring the personal roots of the story, Straczynski segues to science fiction becoming science fact with a story ripped from the headlines of 2004's news.
* SEVENTH INNING STRETCH, OR "HOW TO ALMOST LOSE A TV SERIES"
After a personal digression that speaks to the importance of Superman in Straczynski's life (this was written before he started writing for the character with 2010's Superman: Earth One and a brief stint on the monthly Superman series), the executive producer discusses a scenario few showrunners have ever faced: the dissolution of the television network broadcasting their still-viable series.
* "THE BOOK OF THE WAR" COMIC BOOK SCRIPT
Unlike Star Trek, where comic books and novels (and even the Gene Roddenberry-produced animated series from the early 1970s) enjoyed a second-class status in regard to their canonicity, J. Michael Straczynski's vision for Babylon 5 included a tightly integrated approach to tie-in media. Barring the first six novels from Dell, all of the comics and books published to flesh out the B5 universe developed from outlines provided by Straczynski. He even wrote the initial issue of DC's ongoing comic. Unfortunately, DC's peculiar editorial position – writers could not have final editorial say on their own scripts – resulted in Marcus Cole's (originally Marcus Wilde) origin story being abandoned mid-script. Much of the material eventually found its way into the ninth Dell novel, To Dream in the City of Sorrows by Kathryn M. Drennan.
* ON THE EDGE OF A VERY SHARP BLADE
Just as "The Seventh Inning Stretch, or 'How To Almost Lose a TV Series'" explained how the demise of PTEN shot the fifth season out from under Babylon 5, "On the Edge of Very Sharp Blade" recounts TNT riding to the rescue with a new mount for the beleaguered series. It also offers an insight into the version of season five Straczynski had conceived to tie in with the mooted spin-off series; as hindsight would reveal, TNT had a black hat as well as a white one.
* COMMENTARY ON "INTERSECTIONS IN REAL TIME"
"The Coming of Shadows" and "Severed Dreams" showcased Straczynski's flair for the epic while "Passing Through Gethsemane" showcased his skill with crafting a classic science fiction plot. "Intersections in Real Time" is another color in the writer's crayon box: a chamber piece for captive and captor in the key of 1984. With only two characters and one set (after a happy coincidence recalled in the commentary), the philosophy of Babylon 5 was writ small in one man's refusal to swallow the big lie no matter the consequences.
* "INTERSECTIONS IN REAL TIME" TELEPLAY
* COMMENTARY ON "SLEEPING IN LIGHT"
Excerpted from Volume 11 which was a slight departure from the standard operating procedure. For the first ten volumes, the script books presented Straczynski's teleplays in the familiar original airing order preserved on the DVD releases, but the writer felt that it was vital to the context of Babylon 5's behind-the-scenes narrative to include the series finale, "Sleeping in Light" at the end of season four, when the episode was written and filmed.
Also of note is the fact that this essay notoriously caused problems for the B5 Books staff; they were repeatedly reduced to tears by Straczynski's emotional account of writing and directing the series finale which significantly slowed down the production process.
* COMMENTARY ON "A VIEW FROM THE GALLERY"
Every writer gets asked "Where do you get your ideas from?" and Harlan Ellison – Babylon 5's conceptual consultant – famously answers, "An idea service in Schenectady...they send me a six-pack of ideas every week." In his commentary for "A View from the Gallery," Straczynski answers the question by pointing to Ellison, who received a story credit on the episode for constantly inquiring about the station's blue-collar Average Joes. As he recounts the origin of B5 maintenance men Bo and Mack, Straczynski also discusses a rarity for the series: an episode that runs short when edited together.
* COMMENTARY ON "THE FALL OF CENTAURI PRIME"
This script is all about the fireworks – the deadly ones rained upon Centauri Prime by a joint Drazi-Narn attack on the planet, the emotional ones ignited by Lennier's ill-timed declaration of love to Delenn and the lack of said fireworks to celebrate the new emperor's ascent to the throne of the Centauri Republic. "The Fall of Centauri Prime" is emblematic of Straczynski's tying off of narrative strands in the waning days of Babylon 5's run and was the first of several farewell episodes as the principal characters each left the station in turn.
* "THE FALL OF CENTAURI PRIME" TELEPLAY
* COMMENTARY ON "OBJECTS AT REST"
"Objects at Rest" was the final episode of Babylon 5 to be filmed, the series finale – "Sleeping in Light" – having been produced at the end of the fourth season. Barring a handful of explanatory notes for Volume 15 – a collection of rarities given to purchasers of all 14 volumes – and a commentary on In the Beginning, this essay concluded Straczynski's written recollections of the years spent writing and producing Babylon 5 from 1992 to 1998. It chronicles the end of production and compliments the "Sleeping in Light" commentary's snapshot of the end of the story – two endings for the price of one.