Andreas KatsulasBabylon 5
Babylon 5: The Legend of the Rangers: To Live and Die in Starlight
Medium: TV
Date: 19 January 2002
Fictional date: 2265
Director: Michael Vejar
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Keywords: SF
Country: USA
Actor: Dylan Neal, Andreas Katsulas, Alex Zahara, Myriam Sirois, Dean Marshall, Warren Takeuchi, Jennie Rebecca Hogan, Mackenzie Gray, David Storch, Enid-Raye Adams, Gus Lynch, Todd Sandomirsky, Andrew Kavadas, Simon Egan, Bernard Cuffling
Format: 90 minutes
Series: << Babylon 5 >>
Website category: SF
Review date: 15 April 2009
No, really. That's its name. It was the pilot for a series to be called The Legend of the Rangers and thus also has that episode title. Unfortunately the proposed series didn't even manage to do a Crusade and no episodes were made. This pilot is thus all that exists, which is a shame since it really impressed me and I think the series had lots of potential. Admittedly not everyone holds this opinion. The movie has its flaws, but once we're past the obvious one I thought most of them were positives. Let's go through the list.
The first and biggest flaw is the way in which all the characters think it's a court-martial offence for our hero (played by Dylan Neal) to back down from a firefight on the grounds that his weapons systems were down and his ship and crew would have got barbecued. "We live for the one, we die for the one." Uh-huh. I suppose you've also had your frontal lobes removed for the one. That's some pretty ferocious stupidity, but I can just about forgive it on the grounds that it's some kind of weird Minbari-inspired Anla-Shok tradition that's not supposed to make sense. You know. Duty, honour, all that gibberish. I really hope this isn't typical of how the Anla-Shok upper echelons were going to behave in the proposed series, but at least it's more fun than Star Trek's Prime Directive.
Flaw #2 is the humanising of the Rangers. I call it a flaw because a number of people seem to have objected, but personally I didn't particularly mind it. Perhaps the Rangers were more philosophical back in their Babylon 5 days, but then again at least this lot are cooler than Marcus. Me, I liked these emotional, fallible Rangers. Time has passed, the Anla-Shok have seen a lot of action and they're having to blood plenty of new faces. It shouldn't be surprising that a few traditions are getting bent a little. Another example of this would be the Valen, which is a spaceship mostly designed by humans and thus violates Minbari aesthetics by resembling a brick.
Flaw #3 is the Liandra's battle system. The weapons officer jumps down into a VR chamber where she has a 360-degree 3D view of all their attackers, then blasts the hell out of them by seeming to shoot energy bolts from her fists. Me, I thought this looked great. Perhaps a little silly at times, but it's new and different. However other people's reactions have varied.
Flaw #4 is the new enemy. They're called the Hand and they're basically the Shadows, times ten. They're billions of years old instead of thousands, supposedly far more powerful, etc. They're currently trapped in what seems to be a possible reference to Thirdspace, but they're making plans for breaking into our universe and doing, um, bad stuff. This is of course shameless self-plagiarism, but let's give JMS the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was planning to make them interesting later. Besides, the Shadows were so awesome that I don't mind even these cut-price duplicates.
That's all the bad stuff I can think of. As for the good stuff, this film has two huge weapons in its arsenal.
The first is the special effects. Call me shallow, but this thing looks like nothing else you'll ever see in the Babylon 5 universe. Being released in 2002, it's in the age of the Star Wars prequels and for the first time manages to give the franchise spaceship battles and CGI that don't look faintly embarrassing. The jump gates look nothing like their predecessors. The alien worlds actually look like alien worlds. The spaceship battles kick arse. I've already mentioned the Liandra's weapons system. The tech and special effects on display here look almost a generation beyond Crusade, despite the fact that that series is supposedly set later than this, with the Alliance's most super-duper battleship and was made and aired less than three years previously.
The second is the cast. For the first time ever, JMS has assembled actors I can enjoy watching. None of them had ever played Third Anonymous Alien on Babylon 5. Even one minor character we'd supposedly seen before (Tannier) isn't being played by the same actor. Of course there's Andreas Katsulas back for the last time as G'Kar, but it's always good to see him. Best of the bunch though is Dylan Neal, who's clearly the best leading man to have made it into this franchise. He can bring alive even second-rate dialogue, he's full of energy and he's always adding something to his scenes. I really, really liked his performance. I wish this had gone to a series just for him. Mind you, I also liked his best friend, who perfectly captured that zen-like Minbari acceptance of the inevitable while always also being alive and focused. He reminded me of Lennier (in a good way).
The script is good, once you've got past the aforementioned hiccups. It's doing everything a pilot needs to do, while also managing to be a good movie. It even has laughs. "We don't have any first class accommodation. However we do have several long hallways and a number of very nice closets."
Overall, I liked this a lot. It has strong links back to its parent series, being based around the Anla-Shok and having Narn, Minbari and even Drazi regular cast members. The latter looks like a blue blob, but that's the Drazi for you. I wouldn't have minded a bit more of that in Crusade. It has a good budget with good-looking fight scenes and special effects. Unexpectedly it's even strong in JMS's traditional weak area (acting). It also came out at what should have been a good time, with an SF-friendly TV environment (Farscape, Stargate) and the Star Wars prequel trilogy stomping all over cinemas, but the only Star Trek series still in production being Enterprise. If we assume that JMS had something up his sleeve with the Hand, the follow-up series should have been great. Damn.