"The Geek Menace"

So this month, a couple big things happened in the geek part of my life. I'm having a hard time figuring out which one had more significance. Those two things were the trailer for Star Wars Episode One (I saw it attached to Very Bad Things, by the way...and Very Bad Things is an appropriate name for that movie, as it was definitely one of the Very Worst Things I've seen in a theatre) and the final episode of Babylon 5. I am going to have minor spoilers for the former and big ones for the latter, so don't read this unless you've seen them or don't care to.

Star Wars...ah, now that's a relationship that goes back a long way. I was six years old when that came out, and I must have seen it in a re-release a couple years later or something...because I still remember seeing it, with my dad and Uncle Jim. I don't remember much else about what my six-year-old (or however year-old) mind thought, but I remember the anticipation as those bucket-headed troop guys waited nervously, and the door blew open! In came these evil, inhuman looking robots, blasting away at everyone. And then...the ultimate evil stepped through the door, dressed in black and looking just as inhuman as the robots (who I later found out were in fact men in armor, called Stormtroopers). But I knew this guy wasn't a robot, robots weren't that powerful and evil. He held a man up by his throat and showed no mercy, he blew up planets, he had the coolest weapon in the galaxy...a lightsaber. He was Darth Vader, and I maintain that to this day there is no cooler villain. Others are smarter, wiser in battle, more powerful, but no other villain's entrance has given me chills the way Darth Vader did when I was six.

Star Wars was the reason I started writing awful, awful derivative fiction about "Troy Asteroid and the Earth Defense Force." It's the reason I grew up to read more science fiction, which made me more open to comics. It's why I read comics, which are a big part of me, and it's why I write, which is an even bigger part. It took my young imagination and blew it up, made it ten times bigger. And every time I saw another installment, it did the same thing. I didn't even hate the friggin' Ewoks until I was older. To me, they were just another part of the magic of Star Wars.

So ever since the end of Return of the Jedi, I'd been hearing that we were going to get the first episode next. Three years, the normal interval for a new Star Wars movie, passed, and no movie. Four, five, six, and I decided it wasn't going to happen, although I couldn't imagine why. Then, of course, the rumors started. Every year, like clockwork, you'd hear "Lucas is starting on the Star Wars movies again." My refrain quickly became, "I'll believe it when I see it." Last year, I started to hope again, but in the back of my mind, despite all the rumors, the pictures, the stories, the official and unofficial channels, there was a bit of me thinking, "I'll believe it when I see it."

I've seen it. And it is good. No, make that great. When I finished watching it on TV, I had a big grin on my face, and repeated, "Cool" about three or four times. When I saw it in the theatre, I got goosebumps. The two-bladed lightsaber, the Jedi Council, the way Ewan "Obi-Wan" MacGregor greets Anakin Skywalker by casually hitching up his sleeve and shaking his hand, the massive space battles, the rumbling war machines...oh, I can't wait six more months to see this movie!

Now, I hadn't been waiting as long for the end of Babylon 5. See, I first started watching when the DC comic came out, curious about this series that was big enough to have its own comic. I watched and enjoyed, then got on the Internet and found out that it was a planned, five year arc. I remember how shocked I was when season two started (I came on the tail end of year one) and they had changed the year and the narration! A show that actually developed! Characters lived, died or grew out of stories, not as a way to make the weekly promos more exciting. The weekly stories contributed to a larger plot, and there were mysteries yet to be solved. Even throughout the weakened fifth season, when I missed my favorite character Ivanova, I held out faith and enjoyed parts of the episodes. Then the final four, where the characters slowly drifted away from Babylon 5 to meet their tragic or happy ends, were incredibly moving.

But the finale...oh, the finale got me. I'd heard long ago that everyone involved cried when they read the script, and a few who saw early copies cried during the viewing. I expected it. But as I watched the gathering of old friends for a sad occasion, I didn't really tear up much. A couple moments, sure, but I thought this was supposed to be powerful, moving? Then came the end. The characters walked out and left the station, and there was an honor guard of ships from around the universe. And then...JMS himself, clad in a workman's uniform, flipped the light switch. I got a little choked up.

Then...it started. The music, unbelievably sad and yet triumphant from Chris Franke, and the explosions, beginning at the tail of the station. This CGI creation was being destroyed, having served and accomplished its mission. That's what got me, the destruction of this image on a screen, when all the human moments had barely touched me. Because I knew then that it was over. A historic, five-year journey (that actually took five years, rather than being extended ala Star Trek) that forever changed my expectations for TV science fiction.

Babylon 5 is gone, and Crusade won't have the same magic. It can't. If nothing else, it's not as different, it's something we've seen already now. I'll look to Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or ABC's Cupid, for my solid TV now, and wait for JMS to revolutionize comics with Rising Stars. And I'll wait for George Lucas to work his magic on the big screen once again.

Randy W. Lander

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