"You can't stop the
love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand
I don't care, I'm still free, you can't take the sky from me
Take me out to the black, tell 'em I ain't comin' back
Burn the land and boil the sea, you can't take the sky from me
There's no place I can be,
Since I found serenity
But you can't take the sky from me
September 20, 2002 - FOX-TV premiered an odd little show from the brilliant
Joss Whedon (previously responsible for the wildly popular
Buffy the Vampire Slayer). It was billed as a "western in
space," and it lived up to that description, and surpassed it.
is set at least 500 years in our future. The Earth
was exhausted, used up, its ability to support life becoming
tenuous - so mankind found a system of many planets and large
moons and set out to terraform most of them. Most, if not all of humanity
emigrated to these worlds.
The innermost, Central Planets, were the home of The Alliance,
the governing body for the entire system. As corrupt,
autocratic, and heavy-handed as a government could be, the outer
planets were largely ignored, the terraforming unsupported
beyond the bare minimum necessary to support human life, which
made these frontier worlds harsh and unforgiving - much as the
1800's American west is often portrayed. To enforce and expand
their rule, The Alliance's great ships of war patrolled the
And there was war. A civil war
that pit the Alliance against those who would end the oppression
and the expansion into the Outer Planets. The Alliance prevailed.
That sets the stage
for this unique production; this is the universe that
created the remarkable individuals that inhabit it. Because
above all else, Firefly is a character-driven story
with an ensemble cast with genuine chemistry with each other
that comes through the camera.
Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) had
fought in the war on the Independent side - the Browncoats.
After the war ended, Reynolds found and purchased an older Firefly-class transport ship
he named "Serenity."
It would be revealed that he chose the name
because he took part in the final significant battle of the war, in the
Serenity Valley. Reynolds never lost his motivations for
fighting the Alliance, at one point telling an Alliance officer
"May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the
Mal, as he was known, was a man of singular
honor and intensely loyal, yet not above petty thievery when the moment called for
such. He smuggled, he robbed, he did what was necessary to survive
and stay away from the Alliance, and he
gathered about himself a crew.
ZoŽ Washburne (Gina Torres) had fought
beside him during the war, and she was now his
second-in-command. Zoe is unconditionally loyal to Reynolds,
except for her marriage to Serenity's pilot:
Hoban "Wash" Washburne (Alan Tudyk), to
whom flying was second-nature. His wife's loyalty to Reynolds
was something of a sore spot for Wash - until the episode "War
Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite) kept Serenity in
the sky. Her intuitive mechanical skills (she apparently had no formal
training) were constantly tested. She also carried a torch for
Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) was a mercenary,
a hired gun, and
did not have problem with killing for money. Or for much of any
Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin) was a
Companion who leased one of Serenity's lifeboats. As a fully
qualified and licensed Companion, she lent an air of credibility
to the ship. She and the Captain fought their mutual attraction,
and that usually created fights between them.
Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher), a brilliant
young doctor with a bright future, booked passage
for himself and his cargo aboard Serenity - many of the small
interplanetary cargo ships took passengers for the added profit - without informing
them he was a fugitive from the Alliance, because his cargo was:
River Tam (Summer Glau), his psychic/savant sister,
whom he had rescued from a secret Alliance laboratory where they
had conducted invasive experiments of a cruel and morally
reprehensible nature only slowly
revealed. The Alliance wanted her back at any cost.
Shepherd Derrial Book (Ron Glass) -
"Shepherd" a title equivalent to "Pastor" - was also a
passenger. A simple Christian preacher by outward appearances,
he seemed to know a great deal more of the seamier underside of
the Alliance and how the Alliance worked than a simple Christian
preacher had any right to know.
The passengers would quickly become part of
These brief character descriptions only
begin to hint at the complexity of the individual characters and
their relationships that would be developed. These people would
come to care for each other and become an extended family as
they took whatever job came their way - legal or otherwise.
Whedon mapped out a 7-year story line for
Firefly. He fleshed out his characters fully, giving them
quirks, foibles, and weaknesses. He presupposed that as the
"Earth-that-was" was dying, the two remaining superpowers - the
U.S. and China - joined together to find a new home for humanity
and would form the central government - the Alliance. So he
interspersed the dialogue with Mandarin Chinese phrases -
usually curses - which is exactly what happens when two
languages begin to merge.
Further, the universe he created was one of
stark contrasts and gray areas. The Central Planets held the intelligentsia,
the seat of government, the best universities and hospitals, the
best technology. The outer planets never got the attention,
beyond the most basic terraforming, and the people deposited on
those worlds were left to eke out subsistence living as best
Quite often, the only way to hold on to
that living was with
And then there were the Reavers...
They'd probably been human, once. But now -
"horror stories" told across campfires paled in comparison to the actuality of the Reavers.
The would suddenly appear out of the Black; everyone in the Outer
Planets lived in terror of them.
And I'm not going to tell you any more. I
want you to get your hands on the DVDs and watch this show.
It's that good.
And so, naturally, FOX-TV wasn't satisfied
with the 2-part pilot episode and ran another episode first.
They pre-empted Firefly for sports. Although they had
experience with quirky but successful sci-fi (X-Files), they
disregarded the careful character building and ran episodes out
of order. They marketed Firefly as action/adventure
rather than the character drama it was. In short, they did their
level best to kill it. They were successful, taking it off the
air after only 11 of the 14 completed episodes.
But Firefly wouldn't die.
The Browncoats (as Firefly fans
would quickly be called) began to rally around the repeats, and
once the DVD set for the series went on sale its popularity
exploded. So much so that Whedon took the story to Universal
Studios and they green-lit a feature film.
Released in 2005, the film was called
Serenity after the ship (and because the name "Firefly" is
owned by FOX). Whedon recapped the "story so far" with only a
few alterations so that moviegoers unfamiliar with the 'verse
could be quickly brought up to speed. He sprinkled the entire
film with "in-jokes" for long-time fans that didn't interfere
with the story, but probably left a few in the theater wondering
why others were laughing knowingly.
As with the TV series, the film was smartly
written, the portrayals solid, the special effects spot-on. The
crew of Serenity tackled the problems that Whedon would
have brought to the series had it continued. The Reavers figure
prominently - and by the end Captain Reynolds and his crew know
both great loss and redemption.
As might be expected by those of us who
study the history of sci-fi, though, Universal Studios lived up
to its reputation as being unable to properly handle potential
franchises. The marketing for Serenity was lackluster,
although Browncoat groups around the country did made a great
effort to hold special screenings and build events around the
film. Despite their best efforts, the film's receipts did not
But Firefly still wouldn't die.
In 2012, at the San Deigo Comic Con, there
was a 10th Anniversary reunion of most of the Firefly
cast. It was mobbed, even by SDCC standards. Nathan Fillion
commented, there and elsewhere, that Firefly was the best
acting experience he'd ever had, and he is on record as saying
that if Firefly is ever resurrected he'll be there in a
So will the Browncoats.
You can't stop the signal.
by John Pickard