In the Babylon 5 film In the Beginning, Londo Mollari tells a story. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of warfare, genocide, grief
It is a testament to the storytelling ability of JMS—and the mythology of this show as a whole—that In the Beginning works as well as it does. I came into this film bizarrely prepared for what unfolded! I knew why the Human-Minbari war broke out; I knew why Delenn’s grief was integral to the start of that conflict; I knew that the Minbari were ruthless in their destruction of human colonies and bases; and I knew why this war came to a sudden and surprising end.
What In the Beginning does is take all of the pieces of this story, scattered about four seasons of this show, and present them in linear order. As it does so, it fills in the blanks. That connective tissue is what makes up most of this movie, and it is immensely satisfying. I mentioned this in a number of ways during the film itself, but I was blown away by how suspenseful and dread-inspiring this was. It shouldn’t have been! I knew exactly what was going to happen! Except… technically, I didn’t. It’s all those previously-unrevealed details that thrilled me.
Let’s talk about them.
The Arrogance of Man
There are so many deliberate parallels here, and they compound the tragedy. Arrogance plays such an important theme in the beginning (ha!) because we’re shown how this affected both the humans and the Minbari. After defeating the Dilgar, humanity was… look, arrogant doesn’t even feel like the right word. Humans were floating on their success, and they were so certain of their might and their power that they DELIBERATELY DECIDED TO GO SEEK OUT THE MINBARI. Not just that, but they outright ignored Londo’s warnings not to upset the Minbari. Y’all, HE TOLD YOU!!! But the human military men we meet here invited Londo to get his advice while having no real interest in listening to it. They just wanted information and nothing more!
Meanwhile, we also get to see a fantastically eerie scene in which the Minbari Grey Council denies the Rangers any more resources to prepare for the prophesied Shadow War. And really, that scene is a great example of why this film was so great to me: the audience knows more than the characters in it. We get to see them make these monumental mistakes, we get to yell at them for starting this slow-motion trainwreck, and we watch in dread as this disaster continues to get worse and worse. Arrogance goeth before the fall, indeed.
A Sign of Respect
But even when you put that dread aside, there’s another component of this movie that I found compelling. Y’all, this is so disturbing. It’s one thing to be told that humans misinterpreted the open gun ports as a sign of respect, and it’s one thing to get to see the scene where Delenn loses Dukhat. It’s much different to see that same scene in great detail from the human perspective, to see the panic slip over the human commander as he and his first officer argue about what they’re supposed to do. Watching that man make such a terrible, terrible decision was horrifying, y’all, and it adds to the intensity of what Delenn and the other Minbari went through.
And from that moment, this film gives us a true sense of what this three-year war was actually like. Most of that had been background information for us. We’d seen a few clips here and there over the course of the earlier seasons, but the war was a mythology. It was something that added flavor and nuance, a backstory that informed the present. But the present was the story that mattered more. Which is perfectly understandable! I’m glad that the show unfolded as it did, and even if I never got this movie, I would have been immensely pleased with the show’s story.
Which makes this a beautiful, haunting bonus. And y’all, it’s FUCKING HAUNTING AS HELL. This truly gives us a chance to see how relentless the Minbari advance was, how dire the situation was, and how the humans believed that they truly were about to be wiped out by this force. It adds context to Sheridan’s destruction of the Black Star, for one. Now I actually get why this was such a big deal! (It’s the difference between being told something and shown it, for the record.)
A Chance for Peace
And then there’s the big secret, the massive surprise that this film dropped on me. Y’all, Sheridan and Dr. Franklin went on a secretive peace mission to meet with a Minbari representative to end the war. AND THE MISSION WAS SET UP BECAUSE DELENN MET WITH KOSH. I just!!! THIS WAS ALL TOO MUCH. I mean, I loved getting to see Dr. Franklin defy orders to turn over Minbari genetic information; I loved Sheridan and Dr. Franklin meeting for the first time; I loved seeing G’Kar and being reminded of how far he has come, how he started off so overflowing with anger, so eager to do whatever possible to help his people. I LOVED IVANOVA AND HER HAIR AND HER PROMISES TO HER OLDER BROTHER.
And then it’s all destroyed. Why? Because Londo Mollari made a miscalculation. Once again, this film reminds the viewer where each of these characters were in their journey. The Centauri were still spiteful of the Narn, and of course they would do anything to sabotage the Narn doing anything to help themselves. Yet in the process, they derailed peace-making efforts for TWO YEARS. How would that have changed events? How would history have changed?
Yet even the framing device for this episode is fascinating. It’s not a cheesy attempt at retelling a story, but rather something like a more serious version of what The Princess Bride film does. Londo tells a story to a governess and the two children under her care, and it wasn’t until the final scene that I understood when all of this was occurring. I feel like this confirms that the events we saw in “War Without End” are the version of the future we’ll get in season five. That thing is controlling Londo, and he’s using alcohol to dull its power over him. And thus, there’s an emotional reason why Londo would reflect on the past. That THING has forced him to betray some of the only friends he has ever had, and this story is a reminder of where they came from. Where they all came from! The title, then, is more than just a literal description of Babylon 5’s mythology. It’s a reference to the character journeys we have experienced over four seasons. In the beginning, these people barely knew one another.
And look how far they’ve come.
The video for “In the Beginning” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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