Produced between the fourth and fifth seasons of "Babylon 5", this is a superb prequel which ties together the events of the series very effectively. It tells the story of the Earth-Minbari War (2245-2248), a major part of the series' backstory which is explored in numerous episodes, as is its legacy and aftermath. In the style of classic war films such as "The Longest Day" and "A Bridge Too Far", the events of the war are told from multiple perspectives on both sides so as to give us a complete picture of the conflict.
The wonderful script was written by the series' creator, executive producer and showrunner, the all-round creative genius J. Michael Straczynski (JMS), who wrote no less than 92 out of its 110 episodes. Michael Vejar handles the material with style. It is a credit to both JMS and Vejar that the film is able to maintain such a high degree of tension and, particularly in its last 20 minutes, evoke such a strong emotional response in spite of the fact that many (though certainly not all) of the events depicted would have already been familiar to fans of the series. It never seems like a rehash of things that viewers already knew, which it could very easily have done with poor writing. The series occasionally flashbacked to the war and several clips from the relevant episodes are reused but they fit seamlessly into the narrative.
The frame story takes place in 2278, sixteen years after the events of Season Five, on a devastated Centauri Prime and ties into the future sequences of the Season Three episode "War Without End, Part Two". Londo Mollari, the elderly Emperor of the Centauri Republic who is rapidly approaching his prophesied death, tells the story of the war to two young children, Luc and Lyssa Deradi, and their nanny. Played to perfection by Peter Jurasik, Londo is the most important and compelling character in the series as far as I'm concerned. In many respects, the story of "Babylon 5" is the story of Londo Mollari so it is appropriate that he is the one recounting this particular tale. Londo is an enormously tragic figure who is haunted by innumerable bad choices and poor decisions that he has made during his life, most of which were fuelled by his vaulting ambition and misguided sense of patriotism. He feels great remorse for them but can do nothing to change them. He is the Emperor but the Emperor of a civilisation in ruins. In theory, he has enormous power but little way to exercise it meaningfully. He is desperately lonely and miserable. The presence of children in his throne room is clearly a breath of fresh air in his otherwise bleak existence.
In the flashbacks to 2245, however, Londo is a different kettle of fish. Relatively young, he is serving as the Centauri liaison to the Earth Alliance. The position was probably not taken too seriously by the Centauri since humans were then quite a minor player in galactic affairs but it was nowhere near as big a joke as his subsequent position of the Centauri ambassador to Babylon 5 in its early days. As such, at this point, Londo perhaps still thought that his career had some upward mobility so he was not yet the drunken buffoon that he was in "The Gathering" and most of Season One who gambled away his money, passed out on tables and was probably the butt of every other joke in the Centauri royal court. At a meeting with senior Earth officials, Londo is asked to provide Centauri intelligence on a species with whom humans seek to make contact: the Minbari. He attempts to persuade them not to send an expedition to Minbari space. However, his warning falls on deaf ears and the Earth Alliance President orders the expedition to proceed. As historical parallels are common in JMS' writing, I imagine that this example of gunboat diplomacy was inspired by U.S. President Millard Fillmore sending the Perry Expedition to Japan in 18534 with orders to force an end to the Japanese isolation from world affairs.
The Earth-Minbari War began due to a tragic misunderstanding. The hot-headed Captain Jankowski of the EAS Prometheus ordered his crew to open fire when a Minbari vessel approached it with its gun ports open. Although it was intended as a gesture of respect, it was interpreted as a threat. In the Prometheus' attack, the venerated Minbari leader Dukhat, the head of their ruling body the Grey Council, is killed. In response, the Minbari declare a holy war against Earth and plan to wipe out every human man, woman and child in retribution. Since their ships are considerably more advanced and more powerful than those of the Earth Alliance, Earth does not stand a chance against them. The film does an excellent job of depicting humanity's desperation at their plight. They are faced not only with the prospect of defeat but extinction. Surrender is preferable but the Minbari refuse to even respond to humanity's attempt to surrender. However, as Londo says in his beautifully written and moving speech towards the end of the film, the humans made the Minbari fight for every inch of space and faced their fate with bravery and dignity.
Mira Furlan, who probably has the most screen time overall, is as excellent as ever as Delenn, a member of the Grey Council and the future ambassador to Babylon 5. In her grief and rage at Dukhat's death, she cries out "No mercy!" and orders the counterattack on the Prometheus. However, she comes to deeply regret this decision and feels that there is nothing to be gained by wiping out the humans. Delenn is a wise and compassionate character and this comes through in spades in the depiction of her painful inner conflict as the war progresses and nears its (seemingly) inevitable conclusion. Bruce Boxleitner is likewise very strong as her future husband, the brave, loyal and level-headed Lt. Commander John Sheridan, the first officer of the Lexington who scores humanity's only significant victory against the Minbari when he destroys their flagship, the Black Star. Boxleitner does an impressive job at differentiating between the younger Sheridan and the older one who would take command of Babylon 5 in 2259. When he first appears in the film, Sheridan does not yet have the forceful presence that is so integral to the character, something which he develops almost as soon as he assumes command of the Lexington after Captain Sterns' death.
Andreas Katsulas excels as G'Kar as always. His performance signifies how much the character changes over the course of the series. He is very much the insidious, scheming, untrustworthy Narn hellbent on revenge against the Centauri whom we met in "The Gathering" as opposed to the wise, dignified holy man that he eventually became. As Dr. Stephen Franklin, Richard Biggs does not have as big a challenge in portraying the younger version of his character since Stephen did not change anywhere near as significantly as others but nevertheless plays the role with his usual skill. Claudia Christian has a brief cameo as a teenage Susan Ivanova who wishes her beloved older brother Ganya good luck before he goes on the mission from which he would not return. Although he receives "Special Appearance By" credit, the series' original leading man Michael O'Hare only appears in archive footage from the Season One episode "And the Sky Full of Stars". This was a very important early episode which shed some light on the 24 hours missing from Jeffrey Sinclair's memory during the final battle of the war, the Battle of the Line, which ended with the astonishing surrender of the Minbari.
The great character actor Theodore Bikel, who previously played Rabbi Yossel Koslov in the dreadful Season One episode "TKO", is wonderful as the Minbari Lenonn, the leader of the Anla'Shok (otherwise known as the Rangers). Convinced that Valen's prophecy about the Shadows returning to their homeworld of Z'ha'dum in preparation for another great war is coming true, he attempts to convince the Grey Council to lend the Rangers further support. Dukhat mounts an expedition to Z'ha'dum to confirm Lenonn's theory, which leads to the fateful encounter with the Prometheus. Lenonn is a good, dignified and perceptive man who laments the outbreak of war not only because of the severe loss of life but because another of Valen's prophecies states the humans will play a vital role in the coming war. The appearance of two Vorlons, Kosh and Ulkesh, is a powerful indication that Lenonn's fears are well founded.
Reiner Schöne portrays Dukhat as a man of great wisdom, strength and intelligence, which gives his death meaning for the viewer and makes it easy to understand why he was much loved by the Minbari. Robin Sachs is excellent as Coplann, a member of the Grey Council who is dubious of Lenonn's claims that the Shadows are returning. Robin Atkin Downes (who later played the deeply unpopular character Byron in Season Five) is very good as Morann, another warrior caste representative on the Grey Council who enthusiastically supports the holy war against Earth at its outset. However, both Coplann and Morann eventually grow weary at the ceaseless death and destruction as the war draws to a close. Tricia O'Neil is simply marvellous in the two scene role of the Earth Alliance President, delivering her character's wonderful and inspiring speech before the Battle of the Line with great pathos. The film also features strong performances in roles of varying size from J. Patrick McCormack as General Lefcourt, the uncredited Lane Davies as Callier, James Patrick Stuart as the presidential aide and Jacob Chase as Luc Deradi.
Overall, this is an excellent film which, in many ways, is a pure distillation of the "Babylon 5" universe. Even so, I would advise anyone planning on checking out the series not to watch this film first as it takes for granted that the viewers were already familiar with "Babylon 5" and therefore features "spoilers" concerning many important revelations during its first four seasons.
Review by GusF from the Internet Movie Database.