For seven episodes now we’ve heard about the Earth-Minbari war, with little attention paid to it aside from a cut scene that was restored in the special edition of “The Gathering.” It’s such an important element in the history of Babylon 5 that it’s mentioned weekly in the opening narration. Finally we get to understand what the war was like and some of the fallout that has come since the war ended. As is usual early on in this series, those answers simply uncover more questions, but that doesn’t keep “And the Sky Full of Stars” from being one of the better entries in the first season.
Building on the notable line from “The Gathering,” that “there is a hole in [Sinclair’s] mind,” the episode explores what happened during the 24 hours that Sinclair has forgotten. The device it uses to explore that missing gap is interesting, particularly on the heels of “The War Prayer,” which introduced the anti-alien organization Homeguard. Now we see there is some other organization out there –possibly government sanctioned –that is dedicated to seeking out possible alien influence and infiltration in human authority figures. That mysterious organization, represented by Knight One and Two (Judson Scott and Christopher Neame), captures Sinclair and scans his mind through a virtual reality interface, basically doing what Psi Corp is not allowed to do in order to get their answers.
The truth behind Sinclair’s missing time period unlocks a whole new element of the show: Despite his attempt to ram the Minbari war cruiser, Sinclair was captured and brought aboard the ship. Interrogated and tortured, the Minbari made the decision to release Sinclair and surrender in a war they were winning after Sinclair’s presence made a light bulb glow. And the Minbari are supposed to be advanced. Go figure. Of course, we find out much later that the glowing of the triluminary indicated the presence of a Minbari soul and that the reason the Minbari surrendered was pretty much outlined in “Soul Hunter” – their belief that losing souls is detrimental to the race as a whole. When they discovered humans and Minbari share the same souls, they realized the war was pointless on a spiritual level. They were only damaging their own kind in the slaughter that was occurring.
As if Sinclair’s unveiled memory wasn’t enough of a revelation for the series, the exposed past also reveals that Delenn was present at the time of Sinclair’s capture. The early dialog between Franklin and Delenn about their respective roles during the war shows us the desperation Earth was resorting to in order to fight back, but continued Delenn’s been coy approach to anything about her background or involvement in the Earth-Minbari war (if you can call the threats of violence she used against G’Kar in the pilot episode as “coy”). Now we know she was present at the Battle of the Line and part of the Minbari leadership at that point in the war. Of course, this pales to the news we will eventually get – that Delenn was largely responsible for there even being a war. Still, for a series only eight episodes in to reveal so much about two of its central characters – the fact that they were for all purposes mortal enemies in the war ten years ago – was a pretty big paradigm shift. It ties nicely back into G’Kar’s statement that nobody is exactly as they appear: Delenn is a member of the Gray Council and was during the war, and presumably a big part of her Ambassadorial position is to keep an eye on the former Minbari captive – the captive who changed the course of a war that almost wiped out the entire human race. While Delenn ultimately becomes one of the greatest assets and allies in the show’s overall story arc, the first season suddenly gives us reason to distrust the only ambassador we previously had a reason to trust.
This is also the episode that teaches viewers to really pay attention to the background information in the show. In one scene, Garibaldi sits reading a newspaper – a paper that winds up tying into some of the previous episodes while also giving more context about the world the show takes place in. A quick scan of the articles mentions something living in hyperspace (explored later in the saga), the Raghesh 3 controversy (from “Midnight on the Firing Line”), a scandal surrounding Psi Corps’ support in the recent election (also from “Midnight on the Firing Line”), the incidents with Homeguard (from “The War Prayer”), interspecies mating (referenced in “The Gathering”) and information about San Francisco having been the subject of a nuclear explosion. Yes, a quick scan of the paper wouldn’t give viewers all of that information – to capture it requires pausing the scene (or reading the website of fanatic viewers who paused it themselves). It reveals the amount of information creator J. Michael Straczynski put into his series, however, and the subtle ways he uses to provide that information. Missing the newspaper won’t make or break anyone’s experience of the series, but it’s a cool thing if you notice it, and it won’t be the last time Straczynski uses this sort of method to provide background.
If you can’t tell, “And the Sky full of Stars” is one of my favorite episodes. In a season of stand-alone stories (as one of our commenters said about a previous episode: the first season is largely a prelude to the story to come), this is the first episode to really move the overall story forward, even if it’s primarily done by giving us more of a background than actually initiating any forward momentum. That alone makes this a stand out episode.
It’s a rarity that I say this, but the entire episode is a highlight. It’s a definite “must see” for anyone who is interested in the overall story arc. To be fair and actually “highlight” an element, however, I love the scenes of Sinclair in his Starfury, taken unawares by the enemy and incapacitated to the point that his only option is to ram the opposition. It’s a moment that helps connect Sinclair with one of his heroes, as the character is a huge fan of Tennyson’s “Ulysses”. Much like the Greek hero, Sinclair refuses to surrender or die outside of his own terms.
Sinclair: “Everyone lies, Michael. The innocent lie because they don’t want to be blamed for something they didn’t do, and the guilty lie because they don’t have any other choice.”
Sinclair: “We never had a chance. You say we could have won, but you weren’t there, you didn’t see them! When I looked at those ships, I…I didn’t just see my death — I saw the death of the whole damn human race!”
Knight Two: “Then why did they surrender?!”
Sinclair:“I don’t know! Maybe the universe blinked. Maybe God changed His mind. All I know is that we got a second chance!”
For a season that largely serves as a prelude, this is one of the best pieces of background you’ll get. You may even want to revisit it following the events of “Points of Departure” in season two.