The second TNT commissioned Babylon 5 movie was called In The Beginning. Straczynski pitched it to the network as a prequel to the four seasons that had already aired. However, Straczynski employed an interesting plot device as he wrote it, choosing to tell the story retrospectively through the eyes and words of one its most beloved characters, Londo Mollari.
As we know from flash-forwards in season three’s War Without End (Eps 16 & 17), there is a future in which all of Londo’s deceptions and betrayals have come home to roost. That future has now come to pass.
It is seventeen years after the Shadow war and the surviving remnants of the Shadow fleet have turned their eyes to Centauri prime. Nearing the end of his life, Mollari, now Emperor, watches from his palace as the Shadows and their “associates” turn the once proud Centauri homeworld in to a burning wasteland. He is interrupted from his lamentations by two children playing in the great palace’s halls but instead of shooing them away, he asks them to stay. In a moment of irony that isn’t lost on Londo, or the viewer, he asks the children “What do you want?” They ask for a story and he promises them a story “…About great deeds. About armies of light and soldiers of darkness. About the places where they lived, and fought, and loved, and died. About great empires, and terrible mistakes. A true story.”
And so, it begins……
Warning: Spoilers Ahead.
We next meet Londo as a young man. The Centauri republic and Earth Alliance are on good terms and Earth is looking to strategically expand its sphere of influence. Senior Earth Alliance commanders have called a meeting with Londo to find out what he knows about an alien race thus far unknown to Earth – the Minbaris. Londo warns them to leave the Minbari alone, or at least proceed with extreme caution but his warnings appear to fall on deaf ears.
Meaanwhile, on Minbar, Lenonn, the leader of the Rangers, a group that has watched and waited for a thousand years, fears the fulfillment of a prophecy and seeks the support of the Gray council. On that council are the novitiate Delenn and her mentor, Dukhat. Together they decide to travel to Z’Ha’Dhum to verify Lenonn’s claims – but perhaps Dukhat knows more than he is letting on.
On Earth, a young officer Sheridan is offered a plum assignment as First officer on board the Prometheus to head to the edge of Minbar space on an exploratory mission. Despite the opportunity to advance his career, he declines, citing the fact that the captain of the Prometheus, Captain Jankowski, is regarded as a “loose cannon” by his crew and does not do well in first contact situations.
At Delenn’s swearing in ceremony, the Prometheus comes across and shadows the Minbari ship. The Minbari detect the Earth Alliance ship and, as is traditional for them, change course and approach with all gun ports open in a show of open-handedness. Presuming the Minbari ship to be hostile, Jankowski orders the crew of the Prometheus to open fire – setting in motion a chain of events which will result in the Earth-Minbari war and the almost complete destruction of the human race. A war that will end only when the Minbari suddenly and inexplicably surrender on the verge of total victory at the Battle of the Line.
As far as the Babylon 5 movies go, I think In the Beginning is by far my favorite. Having Londo as storyteller is an ingenious plot device because, as Straczynski says in the DVD commentary, it really is Londo’s story to tell. He is one of the few characters who can bear witness to all that passed because, as he says, “I was there.” Besides, Jurasik’s character is arguably one of the most beloved of the series.
Also, whereas in other movies, the infodumps are somewhat jarring, in In the Beginning, they are far more excusable because of the nature of the way the narrative is being relayed. Londo is the storyteller, it is literally his job to tell the story – warts and all.
In terms of story, if you’ve followed Babylon 5 all the way to the end of season 4 at this point, you really aren’t going to learn anything new about major events in the B5 timeline from In the Beginning. We know Commander Sinclair has memory loss from his time at the Battle of the Line, we know the Minbari surrendered at said battle with total victory within their grasp. We know Ivanova lost a brother in the war and that Sheridan earned the moniker “Star Killer” in the same war. But what In the Beginning does give us is the particulars of these events and the context in which they happened, effectively filling in the blanks of what Straczynski has been drip feeding us over four seasons. The movie is interspersed with clips from episodes from the previous four seasons (namely And the sky full of stars (Ep 8, S1), A late delivery from Avalon (Ep 13, S3), War without End Pt 2 (Ep 17, S3), and Atonement (Ep 9, S4)) – which integrate seamlessly and go to further illustrate Straczynski’s brilliant writing and his original vision for an overreaching story arc that spanned all five seasons.
In the Beginning truly is a B5 fans movie. With the exception of Garibaldi, Lyta, Vir and Lennier, the entire ensemble cast puts in an appearance to greater or lesser degrees. In fact In the Beginning explains so many story threads in one nice little package it’s hard to imagine this movie not getting made just for the B5 faithful – let alone to introduce a whole other network’s viewers to this universe and its characters.
As I mentioned before, the DVD commentary features Straczynski and he is accompanied by Michael Vejar, who he openly admits was one of his favorite directors on the show. It may be what makes In the Beginning such a gem. Between them they drop nuggets of information about the movie’s plot, production, shooting techniques and schedule. It makes for interesting listening. At one point Straczynski mentions that there is some debate about when In the Beginning should be watched – either before you start watching the series because, well, look at the title of the movie – or at the end of season four of the show. I definitely fall in to the latter camp and I say that only because there are moments of foreshadowing in In the Beginning that just aren’t going to make any sense if you haven’t watched the show up to the end of season four. Not only that, but much of the beauty of Babylon 5 is the plotting and slow revealing of information that Straczynski does so well. To dive in to the show knowing all this back story would, I think, seriously curtail your enjoyment of the show itself, so I say watch In the Beginning here, when you have reached the end of season four.
A great television movie for the B5 fan. Recommended.