Celebrating the 20th anniversary of Babylon 5 and our two most popular out-of-print series
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.
WHAT IS "ECHOES OF ALL OUR CONVERSATIONS?"
Fifteen years of "behind the scenes" Babylon 5 history as told by the actors and crew who were there in word-for-word transcripts of interviews with journalist Joe Nazzaro while the show was in production.
The limited-edition, six-volume series (and supplemental index) presented the uncensored and complete transcripts of Nazzaro's interviews with detailed editor's notes to provide a context for each conversation.
While this highlight sampler only contains 13.4% of the total pages from the series, it gives a comprehensive experience by including 27 interviews from across all volumes. Specifically --
J. Michael Straczynski (From Volume 1)
Speaking two months before the pilot premiered on PTEN, the optimistic creator explains how his series differed from the then-ubiquitous Star Trek franchise and expounds on his hopes for its future, without knowing how the two-hour debut will be received.
John Iacovelli (From Volume 1)
Nazzaro spoke to Babylon 5's production designer near the end of the first season. This interview covers the move from Santa Clarita Studios -- where the pilot was filmed -- to the converted hot tub factory that housed the series, and has the added benefit of serving as a travelogue of the three soundstages and the sets they contained.
John Copeland (From Volume 2)
The Babylon 5 producer gives a comprehensive accounting -- literally, in some cases -- of what exactly he does and speaks to Babylon 5's technical innovations two years into the series.
Mira Furlan (From Volume 2)
Conducted after her character's metamorphosis, but just prior to Delenn's plunge into the secret war against the Shadows, this transcript is a snapshot of a stranger in a strange land, appropriate for both the character and the emigrant who portrayed the role.
Ron Thornton (From Volume 2)
With a pilot and two seasons of CGI under his belt, the visual effects creator delves into the nuts and bolts -- or rather, bits and bytes -- of creating Babylon 5's revolutionary special effects.
Larry DiTillio (From Volume 2)
Second only to Straczynski's auctorial voice was that of his script editor, who wrote seven episodes of Babylon 5's first two seasons along with handling re-writes on several freelance scripts. This candid interview followed his departure from the writing staff and recalls both the contributions he made as well as the ideas he'd hoped to develop if he'd stayed on the show.
Peter Jurasik (From Volume 2)
This mid-third season conversation with journalist Joe Nazzaro captured his personal friendship with the actor beneath the hair and provided an enlightening insight into the actor's feelings about his craft in general and the role of Londo Mollari in particular.
Jim Johnston (From Volume 3)
With "Point of No Return" -- his twelfth and final directing assignment -- behind him, one of the early shapers of Babylon 5's visual aesthetic proffered his sometimes pointed opinions on the series.
Jason Carter (From Volume 3)
Like its subject, this energetic interview bounces among a variety of Marcus-centric subjects and captures the zeitgeist of what was then considered to be the final season of the series: the fourth.
Stephen Furst (From Volume 3)
From the set of "The Illusion of Truth," the actor talked about slipping out of his Centauri wig and into the director's chair, offering his unique view of B5 from both sides of the lens.
David J. Eagle (From Volume 3)
Hot from helming Kosh's swansong, "Falling Toward Apotheosis," the veteran director of seven episodes (with six more in his future) discussed the challenges of bringing Babylon 5 to the screen, including two incidents of premature detonation.
Jeff Conaway (From Volume 3)
The Grease and Taxi star talked about the second chance at Hollywood Babylon 5 offered and how Zack Allan went from a walk-on in "Spider in the Web" to a series regular with his own storyline in year three.
Michael O'Hare (From Volume 4)
Dating from the summer between seasons one and two, this piece reads as an exit interview. When the Echoes books were initially published, the reason for O'Hare's departure was still shrouded in mystery. At the 2013 Phoenix Comicon, Straczynski fulfilled an obligation to the recently deceased O'Hare and told the fans assembled to celebrate Babylon 5's 20th anniversary of O'Hare's courageous battle with mental illness.
Jerry Doyle (From Volume 4)
Speaking from the set of "Sleeping in Light," the ever-loquacious commercial pilot-turned-stockbroker-turned-actor considered the imminent conclusion of his first significant acting gig.
Christopher Franke (From Volume 4)
The composer tackles sound -- orchestral, that is -- in space in a beat-by-beat discussion of his approach to the music of Babylon 5.
Claudia Christian (From Volume 4)
Another "exit interview" from the summer between seasons four and five finds a volatile actor addressing her controversial departure from Babylon 5. Though she and Straczynski have since come to an amicable understanding, the interview pulls no punches in its examination of the still-bleeding "Ivanova-ectomy."
Neil Gaiman (From Volume 5)
J. Michael Straczynski surrendered a slot in his otherwise unbroken streak of 70 episodes behind the keyboard to get the writer of Sandman into the Babylon 5 universe and allowed him unprecedented liberty, as Gaiman explained in his account of the making of "Day of the Dead."
Bill Mumy (From Volume 5)
The veteran of two iconic SF television series revealed his mixed feelings on Babylon 5's fifth season to Nazzaro from the set of the 100th produced episode, lamenting his curtailed participation in the final year.
Patricia Tallman (From Volume 5)
Nazzaro gets inside the actor's head to see what she made of Lyta Alexander's pivotal part in the telepath arc that dominated Babylon 5's final season.
Andreas Katsulas (From Volume 5)
In the waning days of the final season, the actor reflects, between puffs of his cigarette, on his time as Citizen G'Kar in a philosophically inclined interview that underlines why he was perfect in the role.
Bruce Boxleitner (From Volume 6)
A year after he finished filming the TNT movie Babylon 5: A Call to Arms, the show's leading man looked back on his time in space with the same upbeat charm that made him a leader on set, on and off camera.
Richard Biggs (From Volume 6)
Nazzaro's final interview with the actor came after he reprised the role of Dr. Stephen Franklin for the short-lived spin-off series, Crusade and offers one last glimpse of one of Babylon 5's true gentlemen.
Gregg Maday (From Volume 6)
As Babylon 5's studio liaison from Warner Brothers, he turned a blind eye to Londo Mollari's genitals and okayed the controversial script for "Believers," proving that not all "the Suits" are out to get the creative types.
Douglas Netter (From Volume 6)
Slipping forward in time to 2001 and north to Vancouver for the production of Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers, the other executive producer discusses the role of "business" in the phrase "show business."
Dylan Neal (From Volume 6)
The star of Legend of the Rangers discussed his role when the TV movie still seemed destined to pick up the B5 torch and launch a Babylon 5 spin-off series for the 21st century.
Walter Koenig (From Volume 6)
Between the filming of Rangers and its 2002 broadcast, Nazzaro caught up with the Star Trek-turned-Babylon 5 icon to discuss his visits to the station as Alfred Bester, his aborted appearance on Crusade and the character's afterlife in print.
Tracy Scoggins (From Volume 6)
Speaking from the set of Babylon 5: The Lost Tales, the last addition to the B5 cast discussed her hopes for the direct-to-DVD production, the challenges of working on virtual sets and her belief that Babylon 5 would be remembered.