If there is one thing near and dear to speculative fiction readers, it’s speculative fiction films. This fall marks ten years since the show Firefly debuted on the Fox network. On November 11, 2012 the Science Channel (part of NewsCorp, along with Fox) aired the 10th anniversary special, which included footage from this year’s San Diego Comic Con Firefly panel. Just what is it that makes people geek out about a show that aired for less than a season and has been off the air for the better part of ten years?
Well, let’s start with the obvious: Joss Whedon. Whedon, who has now shot to international fame thanks to his work on The Avengers, has had a rabid fan following since he began his directing/producing career in film with Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1997. Before that, his major credit was as the screenwriter on several animated films. To say his scripts are witty is just the beginning. As a writer, I sit and watch hours of Whedon’s work just to study the dialogue. Every character speaks differently from everyone else, and this is particularly noticeable in Firefly. You’ll never mistake something River said for something Mal said. There’s also always underlying subtext to most of the exchanges between the characters, making re-watches just as interesting as the first time you saw it. I dream of being able to write like Whedon does.
Let’s also not forget America’s enduring love affair for rugged individualism. To join the Alliance in Firefly is to become a cog in the machine, your life constantly curtailed by the government and defined by your role in society. To be a Browncoat like Mal is to live free, to go where you want when you want and do as you wish when you get there. The outer planets of the Firefly ‘verse appeal to American nostalgia about simpler times, when you could pack up your things and test your will against nature on an outpost in the wilderness. There is also an overarching theme in Firefly that there are things that can never be taken from you, that there are things more important than money. It’s our humanity that ultimately decides if we are good or not.
Firefly combines two beloved film genres: western and space opera. For decades in American film, both silver and small screen, western was the dominant genre. Cowboys roamed the southwest, encountering gamblers, robbers, prostitutes, and Indians. The good guys always won, moving on to their next adventure in the next town with a happy song on their lips. Space operas started on the small screen with Star Trek, The Original Series, and again featured goods guys always winning before moving on to the next adventure on the next planet. Star Trek came to epitomize our hopes for the eventual future of the Space Age, from changes in social policies to advances in technology.
In the end, Firefly neatly encapsulates our hopes and fears for the future: that we will destroy our planet, but that technology will improve, that our governments will become too powerful, but that there will still be a way to fight against a system, that economic inequalities will get worse as time goes on, but that old prejudices will fade away. Most of all, it captures our imagination in a way few other TV shows have ever done. After all, how many TV shows get spin-off movies? And how many of them were cancelled first?
What do you love most about the Firefly ‘verse?