It was just seven days since the Great Hollywood War descended on us all. Both the Writer’s Guild and the Actors Guild were at odd with the Producers over everything from pay equity to use of artificial intelligence. Those of us hoping to take refuge in the celebration of San Diego Comic-Con found ourselves frustrated in the corridors of the Convention Center.
All of it recalled one of the great TV science fiction series: Babylon 5. How appropriate then that our only scheduled interview to not get canceled at Comic-Con would tie-in with the new film, Babylon 5: The Road Home. The upcoming animated movie released by Warner Bros. reunites most of the series’ original cast for a sort of “what if” scenario. The story finds Commander John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) hurtling through time and experiencing alternate timelines related to some of the show’s biggest storylines.
We’d originally come to Comic-Con to speak with Boxleitner and his co-stars, Patricia Tallman, Claudia Christian, and Tracy Scoggins. The strikes, however, forced all four performers to bow out; instead, and luckily for us, creator J. Michael Straczynski and director Matt Peters were promoting the film, which arrives on Blu-ray and VOD August 15.
Amid the mayhem of Comic-Con and the chaos of the ongoing strikes, Stracyznski, gray haired and dressed in a nondescript gray shirt, joins us at a roundtable. In addition to ourselves, a middle-aged man with a beard and dressed in a Tiki shirt sits with his phone recording the conversation in his hand. Another, younger man in a T-shirt and jeans sits with his hands folded, a silent acolyte following him with a handheld camera.
To our right, another reporter, clad in all black and wearing ghost-white make-up and sunglasses giggles. He brought a companion with him as well: a droopy-eyed man with brown curly hair dressed as The Predator. Both Ghost Face and The Predator openly puff away at marijuana vape pens. As Stracyznski joins us, he gives a quizzical look that seems to align with our own thoughts — seriously?
We begin by asking the series’ creator — who also wrote and produced the new film, as he did with the show — why, almost 30 years after the show ended, he wanted to revisit the story.
“Why not?” Stracynzki laughs.
“What happened was Warner Bros., seeing the 30th anniversary coming along, said ‘Let’s do an animated movie.’ We’ve lost so many original cast members, it’s hard to do it any other way. Before I set a word to paper, I sent a note to the cast saying, ‘Some of you may have to work with actors playing your fallen friends. Are you ok with that?’ And they all said yes — they want to make their performances a testament to the original cast who played these parts.”
Stracynzki’s elegiac comment refers to the death of a handful of original cast members. Series regulars Mira Furlan, Michael O’Hare, Stephen Furst, Jerry Doyle, Andreas Katsulas, and Jeff Conway have all passed since the show ended. The Road Home will replace them with sound-alike actors.
“We didn’t want to do a strict imitation,” the creator explains. “We wanted the new actors to give the sensibility of the original actors, not fill the void. What’s funny is that you never know how a project is going to turn out.”
“When it came time to write the script, I wanted to do a celebration — something new viewers could enjoy, old viewers would like, and something fun,” Stracynzki continues. “The first thing that came to mind was a line from the Bible (though I’m an atheist): ‘Make a joyful noise.’ It has a heartfelt sensibility to it. I wrote the script, turned it in, and Warner Bros. had no notes. They’re all fans.”
As a big fan of the show, we nod in satisfaction. Across the table, Ghost Face puffs on his vape pen before interjecting into the conversation.
“What’s going on with the reboot?” Ghost Face blurts. For the uninformed, Warner Bros. and Stracynzki announced that Babylon 5 would get the big-screen treatment as a rebooted film trilogy in 2010. Though he has said he finished the script, the film has yet to get the green light. Conventional wisdom in Hollywood says that the movie has fallen into Development Hell.
Perhaps for that reason, Stracynzki doesn’t look amused by the question.
“I can’t talk about that with the strike on,” he grumbles, his face a mask of stone.
“What about the Blu-Ray remaster?” Ghost Face presses, referring to the impending release of the full series on the medium.
“Can’t talk about that either,” deflects Stracynzki. “You’re zero for two.”
All Our Futures Past
Doing his best to save the interview, one of our colleagues across the table jumps in, asking Stracynzki about why he selected a time travel/alternate universe story for the animated feature.
“Fans know how the show goes,” he says. “So I wanted to play with the continuity of it. As a fan myself, there’s always detail to get lost in. I wanted to play with the timeline. I didn’t want to do the multiverse thing, I thought that might be a bit much.” He pauses a moment, then laughs: “That’s for the sequel!”
“[The characters] have lived with me for 25 years,” Stracynzki explains with a grin. “Often, I’ll be talking to someone and hear Londo’s voice in my head. They’ve never left.”
His statement brings to mind one of the other elephants in the room. Season 5 of the show saw one of the series’ most popular characters, Susan Ivanova, played by actress Claudia Christian, disappear from the show. Interviews in the subsequent years revealed a major rift between Christian and the producers, led by Stracynzki. Christian claims he fired her from the show.
Babylon 5: The Road Home sees Christian return to the role of Ivanova, which begs another question: do she and Stracynzki still have a strained relationship?
“We repaired our gap between us that took place when she left the show,” Stracynzki assures us, a hint of relief in his voice. “It’s great having her character back. Over the course of the show, we bring together Lockley [the character that replaced her] and Ivanova and Sinclair, all the characters get to interact — stuff that was never able to be done.”
The Road Home
But for all the catharsis, reunions, celebrations, and memorials — does The Road Home live up to the legacy of the series that inspired it? When confronted with the query, Stracynzki beams.
“Nobody in the cast had seen the finished film when Bruce and I sat down to do the commentary. As we were waiting for the film to start, he leaned over to me and said, ‘How is it really?’ I said, ‘Bruce, it’s the best thing we’ve done since the original show.’ Doing the commentary he forgot to talk. He was really watching it with a big grin on his face.”
As we prepare to wrap the interview, Ghost Face, still vaping on his pen, spits out one last question.
“Will we ever get a release for Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors?” Stracynzki worked on the animated DIC series back in 1985, prior to creating Babylon 5.
“I don’t own that series,” he grunts. “I have nothing to do with it.” He pauses another beat. “You’re zero for three!”
With that, we all share a laugh together before disappearing back into the hubbub of the Convention. We think it’s the same kind of joyful noise Stracynzki had in mind when he sat down to pen Babylon 5: The Road Home. We also have a feeling that joy will spread among Babylon 5 fans come August 16.
Babylon 5: The Road Home arrives on VOD and Blu-Ray from Warner Bros. Discovery Home Entertainment August 16.