Posted September 06 2002 - 07:42 PM
Shadow War : Dominion War
The adventure centerpiece of both Babylon 5
and Star Trek: Deep Space 9
, the two series most likely to be compared, was war
I don't think one can talk about this aspect of the shows without first prefacing with a word on how so-called sentient "aliens" are depicted in each.
One of the things that absolutely fascinated me about B5
was the depiction of not a simple, flat "equality/equivalence" of intelligent life forms, which is what we're all too used to in popular filmed "science fiction", but a hierarchy
of sentience and intelligence. As G'Kar, the Narn ambassador to the station Babylon 5, tells Captain Sinclair's soon to be fiancee, Catherine Sakai, in "Parliament of Dreams" or "Mind War", there exist life forms that roam the galaxy that are so advanced that, next to them, human(oid)s are like ants on an evolutionary scale or continuum. Best not to get in their way.
| There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They are vast, timeless . . . They are a mystery, and I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the universe---that we have not yet explained everything. Whatever they are, Ms. Sakai, they walk near Sigma-957. They must walk there alone. |
The only equivalent attempts at depicting vastly superior beings in ST
usually come off as wisps of light in early Trek
(e.g., in "Gamesters of Triskelion", "Return to Tomorrow", "Squire of Gothos", "Errand of Mercy") or "advanced humanoid" ("Arena", "Squire of Gothos" (again), "Who Mourns for Adonais?").
Also up for mention from later Trek
are the mysterious Nagilum of "Where Silence Has Lease", who experiments with humans in an attempt to understand the phenomenon of death, the Douwd of "The Survivors", who has destroyed an entire race of billions of Husnak (but has loved and married a human
woman), Gomtuu, the organic sentient, intelligent ship that exists to "host" lesser life forms ("Tin Man"), the ethereal Cytherians of "The Nth Degree" (akin to the Thasians of "Charlie X"?), and, of course, the "Q-Continuum" of countless Trek
An observation here whereby the two franchises are somewhat, though not totally, distinguishable. Despite their vaunted "superiority", almost all of ST
's superevolved beings acknowledge and interact with human(oid)s. (V'ger and Tanru of "The Changeling" even seek to meet and/or "join with" their human creators.)
I prefer, though, B5
's hierarchic view and presentation of higher life forms, which seems to me a more natural "fit" to an evolutionary model of life-form development. Some life forms precede others by billions of years, and, if
they survive so long and
attain "sentience" (self-awareness and the ability to consciously manipulate their environment), we suppose, based on models seen here on Earth, that such beings would attain also abilities far beyond those of the younger species, especially in the cognitive domains.
Ultimately, Babylon 5
's super-sentients tend to both be remote and remain nameless ("The Shadows' own name for themselves is 10,000 letters[!!!
] long, and unpronounceable." Is there a linguist in the house?!?) Likewise with the other "First Ones", the unnamed Lovecraftian aliens of Babylon 5: Third Space
, and "The Hand (of God)" of Legend of the Rangers
In the universe of ST
, these superbeings seem to exist primarily
to interact with humanoids, particularly humans, just like their less highly evolved sentient counterparts, and they are most often "benign and benevolent" (I suppose in accord with the Roddenberry ST
philosophy that "advancement" in evolution = some kind of "socio-moral" advancement to a humanistic (i.e., Roddenberry) ideal).
The super-sentients of B5
, on the other hand, are ideally (as the quote from G'Kar avers) un
interested and/or dis
interested in the "lowlier" intelligent species, being, of course, so far in advance of them on the evolutionary continuum. Their interaction with humanoids is "far-and-few-between", as they say, and incidental, to boot. They are inaccessible or nigh unapproachable. The Shadows "speak" directly (that is, in a humanoid language---English, of course) only once in the whole series (to Lorien and to Delenn in "Into the Fire"). Otherwise, their communication is achieved only through their high-pitched chirping, usually to their minions who, like Mr. Morden, Anna Sheridan, and Justin ("Z'ha'dum"), serve as intermediaries to the protagonists of the series. The Vorlons, likewise, keep a mysterious distance from man and other humanoids, giving only cryptic verbal clues to the meaning of what they say or communicating through dreams or waking visions.
The "Q"-Continuum is Star Trek
's closest equivalent to Babylon 5
's "First Ones". Voyager
episodes, like "Deathwish" (a "Q" with ennui wants "out"), "The Q and the Grey" (Continuum civil war and "Q" wooing "Kathy"), and "Q2" (teenaged "Q" with adolescent rebellion problems), however, destroy any pretense of the "superior" nature of this group of aliens, as they continually foist their "personal" problems onto the "puny humans". But, what's an all-powerful entity to do? Now just imagine one of the Shadows bringing in its offspring for "counseling" from Mr. Garibaldi. ([high-pitched EM buzz]"That'll learn ya some reeeal discipline, young whippersnapper!
"[/high-pitched EM buzz])
groups, "First Ones" and "Q"-Continuum, on closer examination, however, turn out to be more pre-occupied with beings that they pretend are "beneath" them (despite the G'Kar quote above) than is initially signalled, and this pre-occupation betrays the anthropocentrism
of each "franchise". For reasons that are known to fans of Babylon 5
and will become
known to those who futurely catch the episodes they might've so far missed, this will be seen as so. Those super-sentients have their own (parallel) axes to grind with regard to humanoids. Ultimately, blame it on the fact that humans
wrote each story. ("Man is the measure of all things.
A (superficial) comparison of the war threads themselves
: The events of the Dominion War
take place in Earth's 24th century C.E. The Shadow War
takes place in Earth's 23rd century C.E. (at the tail end of the so-called "Second Age of Mankind").
alliance: Klingons, Federation, (belatedly and reluctantly) Romulans
vs. "Axis of Evil" allies: Dominion ( = the Founders (rulers), the Vorta (administrators), and the
Jem'Hadar (the kamikaze
military)), Cardassians, and (belatedly) the mysterious Breen
The two space stations Babylon 5 and Deep Space 9 are the two groups of protagonists' respective home bases and the showplaces of each series.
Babylon 5 has been built by the Earth Alliance, but with the funding from other major space-faring powers (the Minbari, the Narnites, the Centauri, and the so-called League of Non-Aligned Worlds). It is a place of commerce which is governed over by Earth in consultation with the other governments through their resident ambassadors. It has been set up to foster peace between the erstwhile warring major powers (Earth Alliance vs. Minbar; Narn vs. Centauri "Republic" (actually a decadent empire)). It is "neutral" territory.
Deep Space 9 is a Bajoran
station built, then later abandoned, by the Cardassians after their rule of Bajor has come to an end. The Federation has stepped in to help the Bajorans rebuild their world and as protector. The two co-govern the station, which is also a place of commerce and residence, as well as space port and military station strategically placed near the only known stable "wormhole", an entrance to the so-called Gamma Quadrant of the Milky Way.
Neither station is destroyed by enemy forces in wartime during the courses of the respective stories because of their respective military values for all concerned parties. In the case of Babylon 5, there are other reasons as well, best left unelaborated here.
The Dominion War
is fought mostly in the so-called Alpha Quadrant. Although
the Founders of the Dominion do intend to "avenge" the Romulan/Cardassian rogue military
destruction of their original homeworld that is depicted in the two-parter "Improbable Cause"/"The Die is Cast",
some skirmishing does go on in the home quadrant of the Dominion.
In the Shadow War
of Babylon 5
the E(arth) A(lliance) (Earth and its human colonies), and the Centauri Republic
are neutralized as combatants, due to the machinations of the Shadows. More interesting, and more dramatically realistic, in my opinion, would have been to have the two "allies" actually be manipulated into entering the war (the actual fighting) actively on the side of the Shadows.
This leaves the war itself to be fought between a coalition of humans based on Babylon 5, Minbari, Narnites, and "lesser (humanoid) races" (Brakiri, Drazi, Hyach, Pak'mara, etc.), with the nominal backing of the Vorlons (super-sentient non-humanoids) against the ancient, super-sentient arachnid-like so-called Shadows, who seem at first to have nearly invincible military technology, and their "dark servants" (who remain mostly unseen. Later the Drakh step forward as a major Shadow servant race). The enemy, in proper accord with its nature, remains much more remote in B5
than in DS9
. We are never taken aboard a Shadow or a Vorlon vessel, for instance, whereas we do get to see the interiors of Dominion, Cardassian, and Breen ships. (On the other hand, we are
treated to a visit to the capital city of the Shadows in "Z'ha'dum".)
Though the action isn't technically restricted to any one area of the galaxy, Babylon 5
's Milky Way is always oriented toward the Outer Rim. What lies near or beyond the Rim is a constant theme and reference in the show. Much of the war-action takes place there.
The Shadows' home world, Z'ha'dum, is located there (while the Vorlon Empire, as it's called several times, is situated in space toward the interior of the galaxy (from which no exploratory (or military?) ships have ever returned). The Rim is the place where the "First Ones" go to transcend the galaxy, and of course, Sheridan himself joins them finally "beyond the Rim" at the story's end.
For reasons of drama, each group of protagonists has overwhelming odds set against it (natch), and, as always, the "good guys" (at first) fight a defensive war.
Why: What was it all about?
Simply put, (as far as I understand it, at least)
In the Shadow War
superbeings manipulate less evolved sentients into eternal, recurring cycles of antagonism, supposedly to help them evolve, but actually more as a sort of cosmic chess game to impress each other,
whereas the Dominion War
is occasioned by the usual geopolitical ("cosmopolitical"?) power struggles.
The shortcomings of the Dominion War thread in DS9
The major shortcoming of this thread, in my opinion, was (and is) the lack of a tie-in to the struggle between the wormhole aliens, known to and worshipped by the Bajorans as the "Prophets", and their arch-enemies, the P'ah Wraiths. This story is left as almost totally separate from the Dominion War
thread---a missed opportunity.
If J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) had been plotting events for DS9
, somehow the Dominion would have ended up being aided by the P'ah Wraiths, while the Federation Alliance would have been backed or assisted by the "Prophets" of the so-called Celestial Temple (the wormhole). (And, in fact, they do intervene to (temporarily) save the day at one point at Benjamin Sisko's behest and entreaty.)
Keeping these two stories almost totally separate seems both unrealistic in terms of the logistics of the politics of the struggle and, for me personally, dramatically unsatisfying. As a previewer of the episode said at an Internet site at the time, if the two stories had been tied together, Sisko's eventual fate would have had a lot more meaning to it for the audience than it does.
The shortcomings of the Shadow War thread in B5
For me, similar: not enough exploitation of the "First Ones". Marcus and Ivanova's quest for other "First Ones" allies to aid in the fight against the Shadows should have lasted longer and the contact should have been somewhat deeper ("Voices of Authority", "The Summoning", "The Long Night"). As it is, it seemed a little too easy
for them to find these beings and convince them to intervene on the side of human(oid)s (whom they usually ignore completely). Of course, JMS had more of an excuse than his DS9
counterparts: he was working under the prospect of a premature cancellation of B5
at the end of only its fourth season.
Because the Dominion War
gets dragged out longer and the audience gets to go
to more places in the story with the protagonists, it has more the feel
of a "real" war, advances, retreats, stalemates, and all. Much of B5
's staging was obviously limited by budget, so much of what we learn about the happenings in the war is told
to us second-hand (much as with a stage drama). I still find it amazing how well the events come off, despite the budget limitations the producers were working under from their niggling and diffident corporate parent. (Warner Bros. didn't seem to have the guts (?) to take the risk alone, so it financed the show through the PTen partnership, whatever that was.)
The Shadow War
, as presented, has a rushed feel to it, by comparison. Its conclusion that
the Vorlons and Shadows just say "Oh, never mind." and go away when the humanoids say "I don' wanna play!"
rings more than a bit false to me after the enormous investment of resources and time each lead adversary has put into bringing this event (the war) about (not to mention the build-up to this climax that has progressed over the previous three and a half years on the show).
Because of this, the Dominion War
thread, for me, gains the edge in terms of satisfactory conclusion. This despite the fact that I still find the motivation for the war in Babylon 5
to be far more interesting---far less "run-of-the-mill"---as science fiction.