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Battle of the Line

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The Battle of the Line is a fictional battle in the Babylon 5 fictional universe, the final battle of the Earth-Minbari war. The Battle of the Line was a desperate attempt by the Earth Alliance to stop a Minbari combat fleet from attacking Earth. Over 20,000 Human defenders fought in the battle, including most of the remaining warships of the Earth fleet. Despite this armada, the Minbari fleet easily destroyed most of the defending human warships, taking few losses themselves. Incredibly, however, the Minbari suddenly surrendered to the almost-defeated humans with no explanation.

The first commander of the Babylon 5 outpost, Earthforce Commander Jeffrey Sinclair, was captured by the Minbari during the battle.[1] One major plot element of the first season of the television show involves his attempts to regain his memory of those events.



Approximately two years before the Battle of the Line, the first contact between Humans and Minbari ended in disaster. The lead Minbari ship opened their gun ports as a customary show of respect, but the captain of the lead Earth ship, believing this heralded an attack, opened fire pre-emptively. This resulted in the death of Dukhat, one of the nine members of the "Grey Council" who rule the Minbari species. The Grey Council, offended, declared a holy war against the humans.[2]:192 Dukhat's protégé, Delenn, cast the deciding vote.

The resulting conflict was essentially one-sided, as the Minbari were far more technologically advanced than the humans; their weapons were superior and their defenses so powerful that most human pilots and weapons officers could not even achieve firing solutions. Additionally, the Minbari gave no quarter. The result was a bitter war in which the Earth Alliance military bought time with their lives. Commander John Sheridan succeeded in destroying the Black Star, the Minbari flagship—it was the only Minbari capital ship lost during the entire war, and it was ultimately a fruitless victory.[3]:174


After two years of bloody warfare, the Minbari came within striking distance of Sol system. The President of the Earth Alliance requested that "every ship capable of fighting" take part in a final defensive maneuver to allow evacuation: "one last battle to hold the line against the night." Over 20,000 human defenders answered her call and took the field.[4] Confident they could quickly destroy any human resistance, the Minbari fleet bypassed Mars and Io to strike at Earth directly, destroying the human defenders with impunity as they had before.

As the battle drew to an end, the Earth fleet was virtually annihilated, and the Minbari fleet virtually unscratched. The devastation of Earth seemed inevitable.[5]

Minbari surrender[edit]

Lt. Commander Jeffrey Sinclair flew a Starfury fighter into battle. His entire squadron was destroyed in under 60 seconds. After his fighter suffered serious damage, he attempted to ram the nearest Minbari cruiser,[2]:192 unaware that it was in fact the Grey Council's flagship. At Councillor Delenn's suggestion, they instead chose to capture and interrogate him in an attempt to better ascertain Earth's defenses. He was rendered unconscious and was brought before the Grey Council, and scanned with the triluminary. To their profound shock, it indicated that he not only possessed a Minbari soul, but that soul was none other than that of the Minbari's most revered cultural and religious figure, Valen. Because of the Minbari belief in reincarnation, they believed that Sinclair was the current host of Valen's soul, since the triluminary was coded with Valen's DNA and said to only 'react' in his presence. For generations, fewer and fewer Minbari were being born and many wondered where the souls were being reincarnated. The triluminary seemed to answer this question: they were being reborn as humans. The Grey Council was horrified at the fact that, by killing humans, they were harming their own kin, and violating a deeply respected stricture that Minbari must never harm each other. In response, they ordered Sinclair's memories of the examination purged, returned him to his fighter, and set him adrift. Desperate to stop the final consummation of this profound mistake, The Grey Council then ordered the Minbari to immediately cease hostilities and surrender, without explanation; due to the xenophobic views of the warrior caste, they believed that spelling out their reasoning would have only resulted in the warriors refusing the order.[2]:192


When Sinclair awoke, he found himself drifting in his damaged fighter, 24 hours later, after the war was over. Human losses were catastrophic, with fewer than 200 survivors, but the planet remained intact.[6] As the first season of the television show begins, Sinclair has struggled with survivor's guilt and been bothered by his amnesia.

The near-annihilation prompted the Earth Alliance to expand its diplomatic and technology efforts, prompting the Babylon Project. Post-war Earth-Minbari relations were understandably tense, but the Minbari did help fund Babylon 5.[6] Delenn, who volunteered to stay close to Sinclair and observe him, was assigned to Babylon 5 as the official Minbari diplomat, with no other station occupants (originally) aware of her membership on the Grey Council.

Plot significance[edit]

Series creator J. Michael Straczynski cites the mystery surrounding the Battle of the Line as a key aspect of introducing Babylon 5 to the audience: "The Battle of the Line and the hole in Sinclair's mind was always intended as the entry point or trigger to the story. It's like Frodo being given the Ring in LoTR. The story isn't about that, that's how we get INTO it."[7] Straczynski further explained that actor Michael O'Hare's departure at the end of season one did not impair the resolution of the storyline: "The only difference in the resolution of that aspect is this: we had originally intended to resolve the missing 24 hours, and the Battle of the Line, by episode four, season two. We've simply moved it up 3 eps to the first episode."[7] The Babylon File author Andy Lane calls Sinclair's memory loss "one of the most important plot threads to run through the series".[3]:76

Straczynski claims to have always intended the Battle of the Line storyline to be resolved in early season two: "I said, from the very beginning, that once the series got rolling, no single primary question could be allowed to go more than about one season before answering it, otherwise you get into a frustrating Twin Peaks situation where *nothing* is resolved".[8]


In American Science-Fiction TV: Star Trek, Stargate, and Beyond, author Jan Johnson-Smith notes "the Battle of the Line reminds us of the flotilla of little ships at Dunkirk or perhaps the Spitfires and Hurricanes of the Battle of Britain."[9] James Iaccino, writing in the Journal of Popular Culture, notes of Sinclair that "The mysteries which surround this hero's past are in keeping with those encircling the Jungian prototype".[10]


The Battle of the Line is referenced as a major plot element in the following Babylon 5 episodes:

  • "The Gathering", the series pilot, in which the backstory of the Earth-Minbari war and Sinclair's blackout during the Battle of the Line are revealed. During the pilot, Sinclair is told by a Minbari, "There is a hole in your mind.",[3]:75–76 which becomes a recurring theme throughout season 1.
  • "And the Sky Full of Stars", season 1, episode 8, in which Sinclair is captured and interrogated by two humans convinced that he knows more than he is saying about the Battle of the Line.[3]:115–118[11]
  • "Legacies", season 1, episode 17, in which a diplomatic incident results after the disappearance of the corpse of the Minbari war leader who oversaw the Battle of the Line.[3]:148–150[12]
  • "Points of Departure", season 2, episode 1, where the full story of Sinclair's questioning by the Gray Council is revealed.[3]:173–178[8][13]

Additionally, the event is mentioned or referenced in the episodes "Soul Hunter", "A Late Delivery from Avalon", and the Crusade episode "Patterns of the Soul".[14] The television movie Babylon 5: In the Beginning, developed between seasons 4 and 5 of the television series, provides a complete look at the events of the Battle of the Line; while the movie is set chronologically earlier than the events of season 1, it aired after season 4 to an audience who had already seen the mystery evolve throughout seasons 1 and 2.[2]:191–199 A separate book adaptation of the film was published in 1998.[15]


  1. "Everything You Need To Know About Babylon 5". Io9.com. 2012-01-18. Retrieved 2012-12-16.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Lane, Andy (1999). The Babylon File Volume 2: The Definitive Unauthorized Guide to J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5. Virgin Books. ISBN 0-7535-0233-X. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Lane, Andy (1997). The Babylon File: The Definitive, Unauthorized Guide to J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5. Virgin Books. ISBN 0-7535-0049-3. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  4. "A Late Delivery From Avalon". The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5. 2004-07-13. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
  5. Yates, Steven (2003-03-29). "The First Casualty of War". LewRockwell.com. Archived from the original on 2014-03-14. Retrieved 2009-07-18. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Sprange, Matthew (2006). Babylon 5: the Role Playing Game. Mongoose Publishing. p. 2. ISBN 1-905471-20-3. Retrieved 2009-07-18. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  7. 7.0 7.1 "About Michael O'Hare's Departure". GEnie, via The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5. 1994-05-20. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Points of Departure". The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5. 2004-07-13. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
  9. Johnson-Smith, Jan (2005). American Science-Fiction TV: Star Trek, Stargate, and Beyond. I.B. Tauris. p. 204. ISBN 1-86064-882-7. Retrieved 2009-07-18. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  10. Iaccino, James F. (2001). "Babylon 5's Blueprint for the Archetypal Heroes of Commander Jeffrey Sinclair and Captain John Sheridan with Ambassador Delenn". Journal of Popular Culture. 34 (4): 109–120. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.2001.3404_109.x. ISSN 0022-3840. Retrieved 2009-07-23. (Registration required)
  11. "And the Sky Full of Stars". The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5. 2004-07-13. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
  12. "Legacies". The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5. 2004-07-13. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
  13. Janulewicz, Tom (2000-10-25). "Babylon 5 - 'Points of Departure'". Space.com. Archived from the original on 2005-09-14. Retrieved 2009-07-18. Unknown parameter |url-status= ignored (help)
  14. "Patterns of the Soul". TV.com. Retrieved 2009-07-18.``
  15. David, Peter (1998). Babylon 5: In the Beginning. Random House. ISBN 0-345-48363-4. Retrieved 2009-07-18. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png

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