Due in large part to its commitment toward developing original programming of both an episodic and telefilm nature (FARSCAPE, DUNE, FIRESTARTER: REKINDLED), the Sci Fi Channel is providing fans of the B5 universe with a reason to smile again. Specifically, the cabler is set to debut an original two-hour made for TV movie titled BABYLON 5: THE LEGEND OF THE RANGERS this Saturday at 9 p.m. (ET).
"When [the original BABYLON 5 series] came to the Sci Fi Channel, it became one of their top five or top 10 shows, and they noticed this," explains executive producer and series creator J. Michael Straczynski. "They invited me over and asked me what I wanted to do next? I mentioned that I'd always had a soft spot for the Rangers because it was a fun concept. We just sort of touched on them in the show here and there, but they became very popular at conventions you would see a lot of guys dressed in Ranger costumes. The mystique of it and the mythology behind it was of interest, so I said, 'Why don't we do this?'"
From that initial meeting stemmed the concept for LEGEND OF THE RANGERS. As established in the original BABYLON 5 mythology, the Rangers are an elite military unit charged with protecting the fragile Interstellar Alliance from forces bent on its destruction. Within its alien/human ranks is David Martel, second in command to the starship Enfalli and an officer thrust into a position of authority when his captain falls casualty to a heated space battle. However, when Martel orders his crew to stand down rather than make a suicidal last stand against their attackers, he blatantly violates the Ranger doctrine ("live for the one, die for the one"), and must have his fate with the unit judged before a disciplinary hearing.
"Martel is the type of guy who doesn't have all the answers, doesn't pretend to have all the answers and who relies very heavily on his crew," says actor Dylan Neal, who portrays Martel in the film. "He's a guy who means well and is always trying to fight for the good in any cause, but he does have a bit of an attitude. He's certainly not your classic Ranger. He's given command of the Liandra as sort of a second chance to see if he can redeem himself. So he assembles a crew around him to pick up all of his weaknesses."
Having a friend in Citizen G'Kar hero of the Shadow War who intercedes on his behalf at the disciplinary hearing, Martel is exonerated of any wrongdoing and, as mentioned above, given command of the "cursed" starship Liandra. His first mission is to escort a group of ambassadors to an undisclosed planet for a top-secret meeting. However, when the transport is attacked en route, Martel and his crew must face off against the newest threat to the Alliance one that can pose the galaxy's greatest.
Sporting an all-new cast, LEGEND OF THE RANGERS stars Neal, Alex Zahara as the ship's Minbari first officer Dulann (who also happens to be able to see the spirits of the cursed ship) and Myriam Sirois as weapons specialist Sarah Cantrell.
"Sarah is the technical weapons combat specialist, so she is really in the thick of the action," says Sirois. "She is an independent, strong female character, which Joe is really great at writing. He gives women a voice and makes them feel like they are really a part of the crew and not just the token girl on the show."
Dean Marshall plays Malcolm Bridges, the infiltration and covert operations specialist aboard the Liandra who is armed with a rather unique weapon called a "holo suit."
"The Rangers work behind the scenes a great deal," says Straczynski. "This is not meant to be a ship-bound show. There is a covert operations officer onboard whose job is to infiltrate and he has a holo suit, which he can use to appear as someone else in order to infiltrate."
In terms of returning characters, the only familiar face that fans will recognize is that of the latex-encased Andreas Katsulas who plays Citizen G'Kar.
"The whole [B5] cast has always known that who appears in what is all dependent on what the story is and G'Kar's character served this story best," says Straczynski. "Londo at this time is emperor on Centauri Prime and he is kind of confined in that respect. I couldn't logically put him in the story without really bending the story to do that. President Sheridan would not get involved in something at this level, while Ivanova is off being an officer at Earth Central. We can eventually go meet them, but to work them into this particular story seemed very difficult."
A common thread that runs among this novice cast is one of unfamiliarity. While most are familiar with the now classic sci-fi property, few have actually followed the series with any kind of seriousness.
"I had heard of BABYLON 5 before I started working on the show," says Sirois. "But to be honest with you, I wasn't a follower or anything like that. I had seen a few episodes and watched some sci-fi, but that's about it. Of course, now I know a lot more!"
However, knowledge of B5 mythology was not a prerequisite when auditioning for the film. On the contrary, Straczynski preferred that his cast focus on the material at hand rather than immerse themselves in the show's rather hefty back-story to insure quality performances.
"I just wanted to know the stuff that was in the script," says Neal. "First of all, the obvious: the aliens. Who are they? What's our relationship? Basically, anything that was referred to that I sort of had to know what I was talking about. That was it. I still don't concern myself with the whole five-year history of the show because it's too involved. If we get a go ahead, I'll sort of slowly and gradually get up to speed."
Check back this weekend for part two of CINESCAPE's BABYLON 5: THE LEGEND OF THE RANGERS coverage.