Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Babylon 5 Rewatch: Setting the Scene - The Major Powers of 2257

Ahead of my upcoming Babylon 5 rewatch, it may be useful to set the scene of what is going on in the B5 universe when the series pilot episode opens. This information is not strictly necessary, but it may be helpful in reminding people in what space empire did what to whom and when.

This first article focuses on the major races and alliances. The second will focus on the B5 station and some of the underlying concepts of the show.


The Galaxy in 2257

By the beginning of the Earth year 2257, the galaxy has become divided between five major powers and a plethora of smaller worlds. A series of brutal interstellar wars has taken its toll and there is a desire in the galaxy for peace, a time of trade and diplomacy when differences can be resolved without the need for violence. To capitalise on this, the Earth Alliance has constructed an immense space station, Babylon 5, in neutral space. Representatives from dozens of worlds have gathered to meet in security to further their goals of peaceful cooperation.

It is an ambitious, expensive and controversial undertaking, many on Earth seeing it as a waste of time and demanding that the money should be better spent on the homeworld. But its potential is incredible, opening the markets of dozens of worlds for goods and allowing for the exchange of scientific and medical knowledge to help cure plagues and make new discoveries.


For the five major powers, each has its own goals and interests in the Babylon Project.



The Earth Alliance
Founded: 2085
Homeworld: Earth
Capital: Earthdome, Geneva, Switzerland
Governing body: The Earth Alliance Senate
Head of state: President Luis Santiago

The Earth Alliance is one of the youngest races on the galactic scene. It only joined the interstellar community in 2156, when a scout ship from the Centauri Republic inadvertently stumbled across the Solar system during a routine survey. The arrival of the Centauri was fortuitous, for it united a world creaking at the seams and which had been on the verge of a possibly terminal nuclear conflict. Within a few years, the Alliance had purchased jump drive technology from the Centauri and begun a remarkable diaspora, settling a dozen major colonies and many more military and scientific outposts across dozens of systems close to Earth.

The Earth Alliance established itself as a major power in 2232 when it intervened in the Dilgar War. The Dilgar Imperium had launched a lightning military campaign, scouring out a path of conquest through several minor powers, including the Abbai, Drazi, Ipsha and Vree. Earth initially refused to get involved, but the Dilgar crossed a line when they attacked the Markab Confederacy, one of Earth’s earliest trading allies. The Alliance military – Earthforce – responded with a ferocious counter-offensive that caught the Dilgar completely by surprise and threw them back to their homeworld in less than a year of heavy fighting. Just a couple of years later, the Dilgar homeworld was incinerated when its star went supernova (this being the primary cause for the Dilgar conquests, with the proud empire refusing to ask for help). The Earth Alliance was established as a major player on the galactic scene and Earth became confident and proud…too confident.

In 2245 the Earth Alliance made contact with the ancient, proud, isolationist and incredibly powerful Minbari Federation. The first contact went horrendously wrong, with the Earthforce vessels opening fire in the mistaken belief that the Minbari were going to attack. This incident triggered a war that lasted three years and finally saw the Minbari fleet mount an assault on Earth itself. During this desperate final engagement – the Battle of the Line – the Minbari abruptly ceased fire and departed. The Alliance began rebuilding, uncertain why it had been spared at the moment of final defeat. The prevailing theory is that the Minbari religious caste had objected to genocide, the mass slaughter of billions of civilians, and had compelled the end of the war, but the truth of the matter has never been revealed.

The Earth Alliance Omega-class destroyer. Introduced after the war with the Minbari, this is Earth's most formidable warship and the first to simulate gravity through the use of rotating sections.

Since the end of the Earth-Minbari War, the Alliance has pursued a less bellicose and arrogant role in interstellar affairs, proposing the Babylon Project as a forum for interstellar diplomacy so such a war might never happen again. Surprisingly, they have been backed in this project by the Minbari themselves, as well as Earth’s more traditional allies among the League of Non-aligned Worlds and the Centauri Republic.

The Earth Alliance is ruled from the custom-built administrative city of Earthdome, located near Geneva, Switzerland, on Earth. The major colonies of the Earth Alliance include Mars, Io, Proxima III, Orion VII, Vega and Beta Durani. An increasingly significant player on Earth is Psi Corps, the organisation which regulates telepaths.


The Centauri Republic
Founded: c. 1250
Homeworld: Centauri Prime
Capital: The Capital
Governing body: The Centaurum
Head of state: Emperor Turhan

The Centauri are a (mostly) humanoid species hailing from the planet Centauri Prime, located about 90 light-years from Earth. The Centauri began their expansion into space at least nine centuries before Earth’s first stumbling steps towards the stars and within five centuries had established nothing less than an interstellar empire, subjugating several vassal-races and conquering planets to strip them of their resources.

The Centauri Republic peaked about a century before they made contact with Earth (fortunately for humanity, who otherwise might have been enslaved rather than befriended); one of the last gasps of Centauri imperialism was the invasion of the Narn homeworld in 2109. Although successful, the Narn proved fractious and unwilling subjects. A century of gradually escalating bloodshed and rebellion saw the Centauri finally withdraw from Narn in the early 23rd Century. Other rebellions and economic contraction saw the Centauri abandon many of their outposts and conquests, falling back to just a dozen major colonies. The Centauri notably failed to intervene in the Dilgar War and also refused to help their allies in the Earth Alliance during the war with the Minbari. Although both actions were prudent, they were also seen as cowardly and the Centauri reputation moved from that of a bold imperial power to a decadent, corrupt shadow of its former self, little more than a tourist attraction.

Ambassador Londo Mollari of the House Mollari.

Although they have a reputation as has-beens, the Centauri remain one of the most technologically advanced civilisations in local space; only the Minbari and Vorlons are more powerful, and both are far more isolationist. The Centauri military is large and formidable, if only deployed in recent times for defence. Also, whilst the Republic has been reduced to just twelve major planets, each of these is old, long-settled and populous (compared to many of Earth’s much younger colonies, with only a few tens of thousands of settlers apiece).

The Centauri Republic is ruled by a hereditary emperor – currently Turhan – who is advised by a Council of Ministers. The Centauri noble houses meet in a vast forum known as the Centaurum to discuss matters of import.

Like many species, the Centauri possess telepaths, who are organised into a guild. The Centauri do not seem to have as many telepaths as Earth and Minbar, and seem to employ them frequently for interrogation, intelligence-gathering and corporate espionage.

The Centauri are noted for their flamboyant hair, which men wear in an elaborate crest. Usually, the longer and more elaborate the hair, the more powerful and influential the house. Elderly Centauri men sometimes wear wigs when their hair stops growing. Centauri women shave their heads (sometimes growing a single ponytail) as a sign of "rising above" such petty gestures.



The Narn Regime
Founded: c. 2220s
Homeworld: Narn
Capital: G'Kamazad
Governing body: The Kha'Ri

The Narn are a race of reptilian humanoids (with marsupial reproductive characteristics) originating on the planet Narn, located about 20 light-years from Earth. They are the youngest major power of the local galactic scene.

The Narn established a peaceful, tolerant and religious society a thousand years ago, when their formerly fractious tribes were united by the religious leader G’Quan. The Narn had only just taken their first faltering steps into space and established their first interstellar colony on Ragesh III when the Centauri Republic stumbled across them. The Republic noted that the Narn homeworld was rich in resources, so brutally annexed the planet. The Narn were enslaved, forced to strip-mine their own planet to fuel the Centauri economy. At first the Narn tried to practice peaceful, passive resistance, but as the occupation continued and the death toll climbed into the millions they turned to violence. An escalating series of increasingly brutal rebellions began in the mid-22nd Century and continued without surcease for decades. The Centauri reprisals were brutal, bloody and indiscriminate. Large stretches of the planet were laid waste, the formerly vast forests razed and the planet acquiring its noted red hue.

Ambassador G'Kar of the Narn Regime.

Eventually the Centauri realised that the cost of invading and occupying Narn had grown far greater than the return from its resources. Driven by the peace-favouring policies of the young and idealistic Emperor Turhan when he took the throne, the Centauri formerly withdrew from Narn in the early 23rd Century.

The Narn were nothing if not industrious. They seized everything the Centauri had left behind – weapons, spacecraft, equipment – and turned it to their own advantage. With an industry that was truly impressive they quickly built their own war machine and established their own interstellar alliances. The Narn quickly gained a reputation for being bellicose, aggressive and cynical (they sold weapons to Earth during the Minbari War, but only ones they had stolen from the Centauri so if the Minbari discovered them, they’d assume that the Centauri were responsible), but also capable of surprising subtlety when required.

The Narn Regime now spans half a dozen or so major colonies. They are governed by a council known as the Kha’Ri and have built a formidable military at least the equal of Earth’s in capability (if not in size). The Narn are organised as a strict militaristic hierarchy, a necessity given the harsh circumstances on their homeworld, but they also have a strong religious tradition. G’Quan remains their most venerated religious figure.

Unusually, the Narn possess no telepaths, something they see as a tremendous tactical disadvantage. Narn geneticists have been attempting to introduce the telepath gene to their species for decades, to no success.


The Minbari Federation
Founded: c. 1250
Homeworld: Minbar
Capital: Yedor
Governing body: The Grey Council
Head of state: None at present (a new one is due to be elected in 2259)

The Minbari are a humanoid species, noted for their distinctive bald heads and the large bones which extend out of their skulls (often sculpted into fearsome or aesthetically pleasing shapes). They are a study in contrasts: the Minbari are a deeply spiritual and peaceful people, given to meditation, art and music. They are also industrious builders and seekers of knowledge. And, when roused to anger, they are a formidable and utterly terrifying force, implacable and overwhelming in battle. The Minbari starfleet, centred on their elegant Sharlin-class warcruisers, is the most powerful in known space (aside maybe from the Vorlons), capable of overcoming any threat with almost contemptuous ease.

Relatively little is known of the Minbari. They hail from the planet Minbar, a somewhat cold world rich in crystalline deposits located several dozen light-years from Earth. The Minbari cut their cities directly out of crystal formations. They are ancient, establishing civilisation on their planet when humans were still living in caves. The Minbari have had spaceflight technology for over a thousand years, but they have been cautious, slow to expand and explore surrounding space and have only established fourteen major colonies (all of them far older, larger and more populous than any of Earth's). They have, however, developed technology that outstrips that of even the Centauri by centuries.

A senior Minbari of the warrior caste.

The Minbari have shared almost nothing of their past history with other races. It is known that they are divided into three castes: religious, worker and warrior, each with strict areas of responsibility and control. They do not worship gods, as such, but more the spirit of the universe itself, with their priests combining the role of historian, philosopher and spirit guide. Their most venerated holy figure is Valen, who overcame a period of disgruntlement between the three castes by founding the Grey Council, a ruling body with three representatives from each caste, approximately a thousand years ago. Remarkably, no Minbari is said to have ever killed another Minbari in anger or violence for centuries.

The Minbari have a reputation for xenophobia, although this is not quite accurate. The Minbari, particularly of the religious caste, are curious about other races but also wary of them, seeing many other races as barbarous, violent and consumed by greed and fear. The Minbari limit contact with other worlds, but they have established strong trade and scientific trades with a select few.
The Minbari, like most races, possess telepaths. Minbari telepaths serve the religious caste and are noted for their utterly formidable mental discipline and control, the result of millennia of training.

The Minbari Sharlin-class warcruiser, the primary capital ship of the Minbari Federation. During the Earth-Minbari War, only two Minbari warcruisers were destroyed, compared to hundreds of Earth vessels.

In August 2245, the Minbari made contact with Earth, when their flagship encountered a human scouting fleet on the fringes of Minbari space. Believing the Minbari vessel was about to attack, Captain Jankowski of the EAS Prometheus made the decision to open fire. A freak shot managed to penetrate the Minbari warcruiser’s hull and killed Dukhat, the leader of the Grey Council. The Minbari declared a holy war against the vastly inferior Earth Alliance. In three years of almost completely one-sided warfare the Minbari destroyed most of Earth’s space forces and destroyed several colonies before it finally located Earth and mounted a final assault. On the verge of a major victory, the Minbari abruptly turned and left, choosing to spare humanity rather than committing an act of genocide.

Since the end of the Minbari War, the Minbari have been more active in galactic affairs. To the surprise of many, they have been supportive of the Babylon Project, co-sponsoring the construction of Babylon 5. The Minbari participation in the project has gone a long way to giving it legitimacy and encouraging participation by other races.



The Vorlon Empire
Founded: unknown
Homeworld: unknown
Governing body: The Vorlon High Command

Nothing is known about the Vorlons. Or almost nothing. The Vorlon Empire occupies a vast stretch of space several hundred light-years from Earth. No ship enters Vorlon space without their permission, and they never give permission. The Vorlons are utterly immune to diplomacy, threats or bribes. They communicate with other races when they want to for reasons of their choosing. They are not interested in economics, religion or diplomacy. They speak in metaphors and gnomic utterances, sometimes revelatory in meaning but mostly baffling.

The Vorlons are suspected to employ organic technology, living starships, although both the rarity of encountering a Vorlon ship and the fact they are almost completely undetectable to the instruments of lesser races means this cannot be confirmed. Their spacecraft are extraordinarily manoeuvrable, with even the smallest apparently capable of solo jumps (an impossibility for other races, with even the Minbari struggling to fit jump drives on vessels much smaller than a destroyer). The largest Vorlon ships ever seen are approximately two miles in length, dwarfing the capital ships of most other races.

A Vorlon in its encounter suit.

Even the true appearance of the Vorlons is unknown. They only meet other races when clad in encounter suits which completely hide their true appearance. They claim this is due to their atmospheric requirements being exotic and unusual compared to other races, but this regarded with scepticism. It is unknown if they possess telepaths or not, with their encounter suits apparently blocking all telepathic impulses.

The first official contact between Earth and the Vorlon Empire came by way of a transmission from Vorlon space in late 2256, confirming that they would be sending a representative to the Babylon 5 space station, to the absolute shock of almost all the other races on the station. The reason for the Vorlons breaking their long isolation is, surprisingly, unknown.



The League of Non-aligned Worlds
Founded: prior to 2230
Member states: the Abbai Matriarchy, the Brakiri Syndicracy, the Drazi Freehold, the Gaim Intelligence, the Hyach Grand Council, the Markab Confederacy, the Vree Conglomerate, Balos, Cascor, Grome, Hurr, Ipsha, Llort, Onteen, Pak'ma'ra, Ventuki and Yolu (among others).

As well as the five major powers, local space is home to many dozens of smaller, more independent worlds. Many decades ago, the strongest of these smaller powers - the Drazi, Gaim, Brakiri, Markab, Vree and Hyach - were convinced by the Abbai to band together into an alliance which could stand united against any of the major powers, particularly the Centauri (several League worlds used to be Centauri vassals). This provided both mutual security and also provided a forum for airing grievances and resolving problems before they escalated into war.

Abbai representatives to the Babylon 5 Advisory Council. 

Although fine in practice, the limitations of the idea were confirmed in 2230 when the Dilgar Imperium invaded League space, occupying Balos XII and sweeping through several other systems. In concert, the League could have driven the Dilgar back but petty national jealousies and rivalries saw them unable to act together (in particular, no race was willing to place its military under the command of an outsider). The Dilgar exploited these rivalries expertly. The war only ended in 2232 when the Earth Alliance attacked the Dilgar fleets, taking them by surprise and driving them out of League space in disarray.

Gaim (left) and Drazi (right) representatives to the Babylon 5 Advisory Council.

After the Dilgar War, the League regrouped and has adopted a new philosophy of establishing alliances with the major powers. They have forged closer ties with the Earth Alliance, the Narn Regime (with whom they share a distrust of the Centauri) and even the Minbari, who have grown less isolationist since their own war with Earth. The League participates in the Babylon Project, with ten of the League races representing their concerns to the Babylon 5 Advisory Council. Controversially, however, the League only has one vote on the council despite representing many worlds.

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4 comments:

anrake said...

Still the greatest SF ever. Anywhere we can re-watch these online? Netflix, Amazon, etc?

Anonymous said...

Congrats on starting B5 again, Adam! I may just have to watch this thing in parallel with you. Should be fun!

Franck Coffin said...

My favorite show of all time. This makes me want to rewatch it too !

Anonymous said...

Great articles, really looking forward to following along with the B5 rewatch.