“’We live for The One, we die for The One.’ Interesting that you put all the emphasis on the second half of that sentence.”
Al’s Rating: If nothing else, this would have been a show about some really snappy dressers.
Al’s Review: You know what I missed in Crusade? Narns. Narns and Centauri and Vorlon Technology and the navy blue Earthforce uniforms with the leather stripe down the center. Their absence was obviously an intentional choice on the part of the creators. They wanted Crusade to feel like Crusade, not Babylon 5.5, and I applaud them for their boldness. At the end of the day, however, that show just couldn’t fill the void left by Babylon 5, and watching Legend of the Rangers: To Live and Die By Starlight, it was never more clear to me how many people must have felt the same way.
To Live and Die by Starlight is the pilot movie of the never-materialized second B5 spin-off show. It’s set several years after the penultimate B5 Season 5 episode Objects at Rest, but sometime before the events of Crusade (I think). Our hero is the virile and strong-jawed David Martel, a recruit-on-the-rise inside the Anla’shok. When we meet David, he is forced to assume command of an embattled Ranger ship, the Enfali. With its captain dead, weapons nonfunctional, and dozens of enemies swarming outside, he issues the order to retreat in violation of the “These Colors Don’t Run” Ranger code. It’s a decision that ought to lead to his expulsion from the Order, but, thanks to a timely intervention from Citizen G’Kar, David is instead merely passed over for promotion and is denied the chance to captain a new, state-of-the-art Ranger vessel, The Valen.
Luckily (or perhaps not), David is still given a ship of his own: The Liandra. It’s small, cramped, twenty years out-of-date, and bears the scars of two wars and four killed crews. Some say it’s cursed and even claim that the dead walk its halls. Together with his standard-issue Misfit Crew (including several Minbari, a cantankerous Narn, and a hard-headed Drazi), David takes the barely functional Liandra out on its maiden voyage: an easy-peasy diplomatic escort mission alongside The Valen, where nothing could possibly go wrong.
Things go wrong. Just after jumping out of hyperspace, the ships are ambushed by a squad of mysterious vessels and The Valen is destroyed. Alone, outgunned, and possibly harboring a traitor, David must use his leadership abilities and his Misfit Crew’s mad skillz to defeat the unknown vessels and get everyone home alive.
It’s not a bad little plot, though maybe a little tired-looking when measured against what shows like Farscape and Firefly (which were both airing around the same time) were offering. It is positively swimming in the flotsam and jetsam of B5, however. There are Narns and Drazi and more Rangers than you can shake a stick at. Christohper Franke’s music makes its triumphant return (I never minded Evan Chen’s stuff, but Franke just rocks). There’s even a mysterious and powerful race threatening the galaxy as we know it. It’s everything I asked for, though I’m not so sure that it really came together in the way that I’d hoped.
See, unlike a lot of television sci-fi, the original Babylon 5 was set in a singular location. The problems they faced were borne from solutions to prior problems and any solutions they employed tended to wind up causing new problems of their own. It was, among other things, a show about consequences and how you deal with them. Legend of the Rangers, from what I’ve seen, would have been about a ship of unnecessarily good-looking heroes swooping in, saving the day, and then jet-setting away at maximum warp. As much as it may look like Babylon 5, Legend of the Rangers has the feel of something a whole lot different and much less interesting.
The show does involve some cool concepts, however, and despite the above gripes, I did like the characters and the actors who played them. The Ranger “samurai lifestyle” feels sort of derivative, but I watch enough martial arts movies that a few more scenes set in a dojo aren’t going to phase me. It was also neat to get a closer look at more Minbari technology. I’m not sure I loved it, but it’s interesting and different–certainly light years away from the tactile “keyboards and triggers and pistons” tech we’re used to in the B5 universe.
I don’t know if JMS had any long-term plans for Legend of the Rangers, like he did for B5 and claimed to for Crusade, but I honestly believe that, for all its faults, this is a show that could have worked if it had been given a chance. Unfortunately, however, Legend of the Rangers was never picked up for a series and now it only survives as a Made-for-TV Movie in the company of Thirdspace and River of Souls, and that does it a disservice. It’s by no means a great film, but it very well may have opened a new and interesting chapter in Joe Straczynski’s galaxy of Shadows and telepaths and lonely space stations. Instead, Legend of the Rangers: To Live and Die By Starlight simply exists as an oddity. Lacking the feel of Babylon 5 and the urgency of Crusade, it is a mismatched sock to the rest of the B5 Universe; all alone in the night.
- Although he is played by a different actor, we first saw Tannier in Season 5 of Babylon 5, during episode 506: Learning Curve.
- Wow, the CGI is remarkably better than even Crusade, which only aired three years before.
- Hi, Mr. Casting Director. While I totally understand that the Rangers are a naturally fit and active bunch, I don’t think it would kill you to find someone who is bald, or needs a pair of glasses, or is over the age of 35. They don’t all need to look like starting quarterbacks and prom queens.
- Ocular targeting: cool concept, sort of ridiculous in actual fact.
- The Minbari technology is pretty cool, but feels a little too close to Star Trek magic for my tastes.
- You know, it’s kind of nice to see a Drazi who isn’t a whiner or a treacherous blowhard.
- The “Today is a good day to die” joke is presumably a shot at Lieutenant Worf from Star Trek, TNG.
- The creepy, dead ranger has a large mouth.
- The slightly undercranked fight scene towards the end was reeeeally unimpressive.
- G’Kar completely steals the council’s thunder at the end of the movie. Bad form, Pan!
Dulann: Minbari ears are substantially more sensitive than human ears.
David: Well, at least ours are bigger and better placed.
Dulann: Size is not everything.
David: Yeah, I’ve heard that before.
Dulann: So I am informed.
Sarah: As a wise man said, “We live for The One, we die for The One.” And as another wise man said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
Dulann: I must make them understand that there is nothing to be gained by expelling you from our company.
David: You’d get my room. It has a better view than yours.
Dulann: Hmmm. A point I had not considered.
G’Kar: “We live for The One, we die for The One.” Interesting that you put all the emphasis on the second half of that sentence.
Dulann: You don’t solve problems by hitting them.
David: Yeah, well it made me feel better.
Dulann: This star reminds us that we are born of the stars. We live in starlight, we die in starlight. We come from the stars in life, and we return to the stars in death.
Dulann: We are Rangers. We walk in the dark places no others will enter. We stand on the bridge and no one may pass. We live for The One. We die for The One.
Sarah: Today’s a good day to die.
David: Oh, with you *every* day is a good day to die.
Drazi: Your name is Tirk, isn’t it? That isn’t a Drazi name.
Tirk: My mother created it. She says it means: “Don’t touch me! I’m not having another child after this, ever.”
If You Liked This Movie, Try These:
- Babylon 5