We all know the story of Firefly, the sci-fi/western that went unappreciated for 10 episodes and was unceremoniously cancelled before even a full season run.
Over the ensuing years, the series developed a loyal following, and after amazing DVD sales of the 13-episode series (3 of the episodes hadn’t made it to air, though they were finished – that’s how bad the ratings were), 20th Century Fox was even convinced to produce a film that tied up some of the loose ends. The film did not do well, however, and since then all we’ve seen of the franchise is a few comic books which develop the lore.
This television season marks ten years since Firefly’s initial run, and fans still clamor at every mention of the show’s possible return. Reporters ask Firefly creator Joss Whedon, in nearly every interview if he’s still willing to sign on the show if it comes back. Where does all this come from?
Mostly, it starts and ends with Nathan Fillion, the actor who played Captain Mal, the protagonist of the story. He frequently discusses his love for the show along with his role.
“It was my favorite job ever,” he told Entertainment Weekly in an interview last year. “What wasn’t great about it? I got to wear a low-slung holster. I got to ride horses. I got to have a spaceship. I got to act mean and curmudgeonly.” The actor has expressed this opinion on many occasions, and a lot of his fans still think of him quintessentially as Captain Mal, probably party due to the fact that he manages to squeeze some of that character’s traits into every role he plays.
The most provocative thing he says, however, is not just how much he loved the show, but how willing he is to go back to it, occasionally even saying that if he only had the funds, he would purchase and produce the show himself. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Fox has never stated an intention to sell the series rights to anyone else, and they are unlikely to. If the show is ever to get renewed, Fox will be doing it themselves.
The desire in the community to have Firefly back on television is strong, but I think it’s time we take a close look at what we’ve been asking for all these years, and whether that’s really something we want. Imagine what a real return to a Firefly series would look like if it were announced today.
First, there’s the matter of the film. Serenity was written as a conclusion to the episodes. The tale therein doesn’t answer every question and tie up every string, but it resolved the major sub-plot of River’s origin and powers, and it kills off a couple of the major characters. It would be difficult for the story to continue in any way that resembles the original series without those two characters, and bringing them back, either through some type of resurrection or midquel would be less than successful as a plot device.
Whedon seemingly points to that issue specifically in a recent interview when he answers a reporter’s question about where the Firefly story would go if it came back to television, saying, “The opening sequence [would be] a conversation between Wash & Book,” referencing the two characters who perished in the film. Typically, when asked if he would be willing to work on the show again, his answer is a simple “Yes” with no further details. When pressed, he usually only comments on how unlikely it is, and seems to want to talk about something else. “I would never rule it out, I love those people. But I can’t just wait by the phone,” he said in a another interview.
The missing characters aren’t the only problem, however. The actors from the show have all moved on with their lives, they’ve all aged ten years, most of them have moved on to more successful shows, and all of them except for Fillion stopped talking about Firefly years ago.
The likelihood that all of the actors would be willing to reprise their roles at this point is incredibly low, and I wouldn’t count on any of them except for Fillion. Do we really want a new Firefly in which Captain Mal has a new crew?
Then again, if everyone else is new, does it even make sense for Fillion to come back? Surely he wants to, but would we even want him to? Would Fox and Whedon want him to? He’s a different actor now. He would play the role differently. Better to do it Star Trek style, and get a new ship and a new crew in the same universe.
Finally, and most importantly, it would not be possible for any new Firefly show to live up to our memories of the original. Star Trek is a good example of this, and is a very similar situation. A sci-fi show went underappreciated and underrated when it had its first run, and was given a second chance much later with all new actors, sets, and plots, but with the same creator.
Gene Roddenberry, the genius behind Star Trek, in the same way Whedon sits behind Firefly, returned to the show he left behind so long ago. Did every fan of the original Star Trek immediately jump on board? Did the show turn up the same themes and appeals of the original? Not even close. Still today, nearly 20 years after the end of The Next Generation’s seven year run, fans fight over whether the original was better than TNG.
Battlestar Galactica is another good example, though to a lesser extent. That show kept the same basic characters and plot line, but got all new creators. This is what it would be like if Fox decided to ‘reboot’ Firefly. Battlestar Galactica fans are even less likely to agree on the merits of each version than Star Trek Fans.
Of course, TNG and the new Battlestar Galactica are great shows in their own right, but that’s not the point. They are not the same show as the original, and there is really no way they could have been. It perhaps hasn’t been as long for Firefly, but the same forces are in effect. A new Firefly would not be the old Firefly; it would be something else. Whedon and Fox both seem to understand that.
Perhaps in another 20 years, it will make sense to revisit the Firefly universe for a new generation, but for now, we’ve got 13 great episodes and a feature length film, and that will have to be enough. Firefly isn’t coming back. It can’t come back, not the way we really want it to. It’s therefore time to stop living in the past, and start checking out what’s being done in today’s new science fiction serials.