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J. Michael Straczyinski on his plan for the new Babylon 5 reboot: 'You cannot step in the same river twice'
With Babylon 5 joining the long list of revivals and reboots currently in the works — including more recent fan favorites like MTV's Teen Wolf — longtime fans might be a little nervous about what this could entail for such a beloved property... especially one that really revolutionized how space-set science fiction would be depicted on television.
However, everyone can rest assured, as not only will creator and now re-showrunner J. Michael Straczyinski (Sense8) be returning to helm this current project, but he stated on Twitter not long after the news was announced that the new show, which is in development to air on The CW, will not be a continuation of the original series.
"To answer all the questions, yes, it’s true, Babylon 5 is in active development as a series for the CW," Straczynski tweeted. "We have some serious fans over at the network, and they’re eager to see this show happen. I’m hip-deep into writing the pilot now, and will be running the series upon pickup. The network understands the uniqueness of Babylon 5 and is giving me a great deal of latitude with the storytelling."
"As noted in the announcement, this is a reboot from the ground up rather than a continuation, for several reasons. Heraclitus wrote, 'You cannot step in the same river twice, for the river has changed, and you have changed.'" Straczynski continued. "In the years since B5, I’ve done a ton of other TV shows and movies, adding an equal number of tools to my toolbox, all of which I can bring to bear on one singular question: If I were creating Babylon 5 today, for the first time, knowing what I now know as a writer, what would it look like? How would it use all the storytelling tools and technological resources available in 2021 that were not on hand then? How can it be used to reflect the world in which we live, and the questions we are asking and confronting every day?"
He then touched upon how the series is often cited for how prescient it's been in regards to the state of our current world, and noted that he'd like to do that with the future — which is part of the allure of not simply rebooting what fans already know and have watched. "There would be no fun and no surprises. Better to go the way of Westworld or Battlestar Galactica where you take the original elements that are evergreens and put them in a blender with a ton of new, challenging ideas, to create something fresh yet familiar."
Of course Babylon 5 is chockful of memorable characters with compelling arcs, so it makes sense that fans would want to see their favorites return and for their stories to be continued in the new series. But Straczynski states that it's not an option. "Over half our cast are still stubbornly on the other side of the Rim... How do you telling continuing story of our original Londo without the original Vir? Or G’Kar? How do you tell Sheridan’s story without Delenn? Or the story of B5 without Franklin? Garibaldi? Zack?"
And it's not just a matter of characters and storylines. It's also the fact that technology has come so far since Babylon 5 first premiered in 1993. The original show is hailed for how it really pushed the boundaries of how to tell a serialised space-set saga set over 5 seasons, and Straczynski wants to try and recreate that aspect as well.
"The original Babylon 5 was ridiculously innovative: the first to use CGI to create ships and characters, and among the very first to shoot widescreen with a vigorous 5.1 mix," states Stracyzinski. "Babylon 5 introduced viewers accustomed to episodic television to the concept of a five-year arc with a pre-planned beginning, middle and end…creating a brand new paradigm for television storytelling that has subsequently become the norm. That tradition for innovation will continue in this new iteration, and I hope to create additional new forms of storytelling that will further push the television medium to the edge of what’s possible."
He also made sure to reassure fans that everyone at The CW are supportive and enthusiastic for this project. "They understand the unique position Babylon 5 occupies both in television and with its legions of fans, and are doing everything they can to ensure the maximum in creative freedom, a new story that will bring in new viewers while honoring all that has come before. Onward!"
The original Babylon 5 ran for five seasons from 1993 to 1998, inspiring a still-growing series of spinoffs and tie-ins as it told the story of human military staff and alien diplomats aboard the titular space station, and their attempts to navigate the tense aftermath of several inter-species conflicts and wars within that galaxy. However, the new show will be kicking off with Earthforce officer John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner in the original) arriving on Babylon 5 and starting a chain reaction that eventually leads to the launch of an unimaginable conflict with an advanced alien civilization, and creates a future Sheridan hadn't envisioned.
The series is still in development at this point, though it sounds like a pilot or series pick-up could come sooner rather than later.