Time definitely changes us. My first impression after watching Legend of the Rangers was that it really let me down. I wanted more Babylon 5 and I was hoping to find it when this movie emerged. But it wasn’t B5: it was a new and different thing, so I disliked it. But literally 20 years later, re-watching it makes me realize how many things are the same. The difference is that this comes off like a B-movie one finds on Saturday afternoons of our youth. That’s not to say it’s bad! I remember a 1972 movie called Gargoyles which is also a B-movie and I love it. The Boy Who Cried Werewolf; another B that I loved. Legend of the Rangers has that same feeling but you can see it actually has a lot in common with its parent series. The biggest thing might also be one of the saving graces for this pilot: G’Kar. Now, just because I wanted more B5, doesn’t mean they were on the right track here. I mean, Crusade was part of the B5 universe, but it was a very different style of story. Legend does give us a lot of the same stuff we saw with B5 but that’s not automatically a good thing.
Through the course of the story, we discover that an archeological team has found a billion year old civilization 8 miles underground. There is a door that was used to send an unknown race (referred to as The Hand of God) into a dark dimension. So far, I’m thinking the Shadows and Thirdspace. The Shadows and the Hand both have allies who they recruit to help them because as powerful as they are, they really aren’t that powerful. There’s a holosuit in what should have been a pilot episode to a series, just as there was a similar device used in The Gathering. David is able to blow up an enemy vessel using deceit and explosives; just as John Sheridan did with the Black Star. And I was disappointed by the unrecognizable series I was seeing back then? Am I kidding? This is basically B5: A Retelling! I mean, there’s even a reference to every race having Swedish Meatballs and a legend good vs. evil. And yet, I have to say that surprisingly, it works. “Accept the miracle and move on!”
Yes, I was actually enjoying the ride far more than I expected. Yes, I admit that like all of JMS’s movies, the pacing is odd. It’s a full 30 minutes before we are told the ranger motto and given a naming ceremony designed to introduce us to who the tactical officer is along with the first contact specialist, navigator and comms specialist, healer, covert ops, engineer, tank, first officer and captain. In essence, we are given a capable crew, all of whom could have had a really enjoyable run on an ongoing series, had it been picked up. But, again, that’s 30 minutes into the story. Prior to that, we are given an exciting opening but then too much time with showing us how much David is like Capt. Kirk of Star Trek: a bit of a rogue who does things his own way. G’Kar stands up for him and helps him obtain a ship, the Liandra, which is cursed but that doesn’t change that David starts off out of favor with his leadership. Up front, we learn that the first officer, who spends the better part of the story on his back, can sense the dead crew. It adds a creepy quality to the story which might have been loads of fun to see play out over a larger series. And, in Valen’s name, the one ghost who does turn up and opens his mouth really wide was genuinely disturbing! I loved it.
”We live for the one, we die for the one. But we don’t die stupidly!” Does that mean you live stupidly? No, sorry, just kidding. There are things I didn’t like. I am completely against the idea that the Rangers are basically a martial arts dojo. The Japanese aesthetic seems to have really ramped up since the original series. There was always the sense of the Minbari being a parallel, but it’s really pronounced here. And what kind of weapons system was Sarah using? There’s a moment she’s utterly exhausted after giving all she’s got to shoot at loads of mines, but that means if she didn’t have the physical stamina, they’d be dead. Computers, much? What happened to the idea of actually using weapons systems instead of advance VR gaming for life and death situations?
“Isn’t the universe is an amazing place? I wouldn’t live anywhere else!” G’Kar is still the best character in B5 history. Oh, make no mistake, there are a ton I really like, Sheridan being right up there, but G’Kar is such a perfect character to have on the show. And he still gets some outstanding lines. He also references Lyta as a friend he traveled with who is now “gone”, leading us to wonder what happened to her. He mentions that Sheridan is still alive, thus putting this within the 20 years between Objects at Rest and Sleeping in Light. (His mere presence proves that, but his intact eye makes this not very far into the future. If that’s not enough and you want to be more precise, this is 3 years after Objects at Rest, per JMS.) But in some ways, that’s also a letdown. The main character’s name was David. He says his parents died. David is also the name of Delenn and Sheridan’s son but he won’t be of age by the time Sheridan dies which means this can’t be David Sheridan, even covertly. And to make that a harder pill to swallow, G’Kar’s parting words as he is visiting the B5 station is to remember that “no one here is exactly who he appears to be.” He pauses, looks at David and says “but then, who is??” If the timeline didn’t prove otherwise, or if David was played by a younger actor, I’d begin to believe this was David Sheridan using an assumed name to avoid favoritism as the President’s son. And I think that was the thing that utterly derailed me when I watched this the first time around. I wanted another Sheridan.
So, yeah, this is far from perfect, but it is fun and it does work despite some of its seeming failings. If they show had been picked up as a series, I suspect it would have been quite good. The cast is solid; not great, but let’s face it: early days! They needed time to fit into their roles. Alas, we may never know what the Legend of the Rangers truly was but it was a glimpse into another chapter of the Babylon 5 story. I’m happy for having given it a second chance but it’s time to move on. As G’Kar said: “Love to stay, can’t, have to go, kiss-kiss, love-love, bye!” ML
The view from across the pond:
The only familiar face in this one is G’Kar, and he doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but I didn’t mind at all. I would always rather see a franchise moving forward than constantly feeding off its past. I know it’s what the fans generally don’t want, and the reaction to this was predictably negative, but I think it’s a great movie and it’s a damn shame it was never picked up for a full series as intended.
Our new hero is David Martell, and I liked him straight away. He talks a lot of sense, and is up against unbending fools who think getting deliberately killed would be more honourable than living to fight another day. Martell isn’t an idiot, and has other ideas:
“We live for the one, we die for the one, but we don’t die stupidly.”
It takes G’Kar to point out that the emphasis in the mantra “we live for the one, we die for the one”, shouldn’t always fall on the dying part. There is honour in living as well. Martell is a fairly traditional hero, but he’s also very clever. I loved his bomb in an escape pod ploy, and loved it even more when he figured out a way to play the same trick twice.
As for the other characters, it seems a shame to have to talk about them in terms of their future potential when they didn’t in fact have a future, but I think Na’Feel was shaping up to be really funny. I don’t know if JMS intended Tirk to be a regular character if this went to a full series, but he was great too. As for Kafta, I was just enjoying Mackenzie Gray’s performance as the campest alien ever, when he turned out to be the surprise villain, and that worked very well. Most of the others failed to make a huge impact, except for Cantrell who made an impact in the wrong way… with her fists… floating in space.
I wonder if JMS realised his mistake when he watched what his script turned into, although one wonders how he ever thought his idea of Cantrell holographically controlling the weapons could possibly work without making everyone burst out laughing. I get the idea, and it’s actually quite a clever one (although it makes little sense in term of the practicalities of precision and aim), and completely different to anything I’ve ever seen before. You have to give credit for a new idea, but it just looks ridiculous. It’s clearly supposed to be heroic and perhaps the fault is with the director for going really big with it: dramatic music, slow mo, Cantrell’s angry expression while she punches away at the air. It’s just laugh out loud silly.
The idea of the cursed ship was a fun idea, although I never really cared much about the backstory of the original crew. The stretchy mouthed ghost was really creepy though. It’s no wonder Doctor Who had a go at that too. The alien threat was impressive, something from the dawn of time that makes even the Shadows look like “nothing more than insects”, and predictably they left behind some pyramids. That seems to be the universal imagery for an old civilisation, even in sci-fi, but it was all fascinating, big, mythical stuff, and it’s disappointing that we never got to see that story explored. This did make me laugh though:
“They do not have a name as you understand the concept. They are called the Hand.”
Sounds like a name to me. Not a good one, but a name.
This movie had so many clever little moments that appealed to me, and JMS was clearly trying to do something different. Seeing the bridge crew sat around a desk instead of in a big control room was like no sci-fi spaceship I’ve seen, but it makes perfect sense that a ship could be controlled like that. It’s a fresh idea, and also adds to the claustrophobic feel of the whole thing. In fact, the whole ship is deliberately small and clunky, and that adds a level of danger and requires the crew to be more inventive than usual. What a shame we never got to see more of it. At least, in terms of the movies, B5 saved the best until last.
It’s not quite the end for our B5 journey though. Stay with us, and we’ll be taking a look at the short-lived spinoff series Crusade. There is also one last attempt at a B5 revival, The Lost Tales, but as that includes one of the Crusade cast it really is best left for last. But for now, let’s bid a fond farewell to the greatest B5 character of all, G’Kar, and reflect for a moment on what might have been. The Legend of the Rangers deserved better, and so did JMS and the whole B5 franchise. RP