"I never considered the show a failure," creator/director Joss Whedon said of "Firefly," the ambitious but largely ignored television show upon which "Serenity" is based and that he oversaw for a mere 11 episodes in the fall of 2002. "I considered it something that had been taken away from me. The reason I felt so strongly about making a movie was I thought that it did succeed — and the way I pitched the movie was simply to give the executives the DVDs."
The discs, which finally went on sale a year after the show's ardent fans began lobbying tirelessly for their release, far exceeded sales expectations. The ranks of the "Browncoats" (fans named after the show's freedom fighters) exploded, with hundreds of fan-club chapters and web sites basking in the "Firefly" afterglow. And this past July, more than 6,000 Browncoats packed a standing-room-only conference at the comic-book Mecca, Comic-Con, in San Diego.
Now, with the release of "Serenity," this still-growing subsection of genre geek has won its own underdog-like triumph.
"It said something like, 'We'll keep you flying, we believe in you,' " series regular Jewel Staite (Kaylee Frye) remembered of the stunning advertisement the fans took out in an entertainment publication to help the actors recover from the supposed failure of the show. "It was really incredible. Our hearts were a little broken when the show got canceled, so that was nice to see."
"At these conventions we do in England, they have a costume contest," Nathan Fillion (Capt. Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds) said of the kind of fan support that has kept him going. "There's this girl who is so talented — and nuts — and she does prosthetic makeup and whatnot. She made a mask that made her look like [series star and spaceship pilot Wash] Alan Tudyk. But the legs were fake, and her legs were actually the legs of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a 'Jurassic Park'-quality Tyrannosaurus Rex, giving Alan a piggyback ride. It was ridiculous."
If such fanaticism sounds familiar, it should: early Trekkies and "Star Wars" fanatics evinced a similar level of enthusiasm for their respective fantasy worlds, until their marginalized obsessions eventually gained enough adherents to grow into widely recognized subcultures. Now, with the "Trek" franchise stalled and Lucas supposedly finished making new "Wars" movies, Whedon and his cast and crew have invited "Firefly" loyalists to enjoy the Roddenberry-like intelligence and Lucas-tinged irreverence of "Serenity."
"Yes, I want all the 'Star Trek' fans and all the 'Star Wars' fans, and the 'Driving Miss Daisy' fans," smiled Whedon. "I don't care — I want everybody to see it. Obviously, we're not going to get the kind of base that 'Star Wars' has. That's just unprecedented; I don't think it'll happen again. But ours is an entire sci-fi universe, filled with extremely compelling characters. So if people feel like they need that, this is where they're gonna find it."
And for anyone afraid that they may have already missed too much, "Serenity" was designed to be enjoyed by both beginners and Browncoats, alike.
"Fans of the show recognize the name 'Serenity' because that's the name of the ship," Whedon said. "People who haven't seen the show don't need to hear the word 'Firefly.' They don't need to see the show. They can walk into 'Serenity' and have a great time."
After being given a rare second chance, Whedon went to great lengths to not only include everyone he possibly could from the series, but also to sidestep the mistakes of the few rare cases of precedence.
"With 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,' it felt so much like an episode of the show. And I feel the same way about the 'X Files' ['Fight the Future'] movie. Those films really felt like you needed to watch the show to enjoy them, or that they were just what could've been on television had they shot for a little bit longer.
"With 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture,' it had such a huge fan base by the time they made the movie that it was a giant event
movie," Whedon continued. "They lavished a bunch of money on it, and it was big and pretentious and wicked dull. A lot of people have come up to me [after seeing 'Serenity'] and said, 'Wow, you didn't make "Star Trek," you went right to [the beloved 1982 sequel] "Wrath of Khan." ' "
In "Serenity," the crew finds itself transporting the mysterious, butt-kicking psychic, River Tam (played by Summer Glau), and her possibly devastating insider's knowledge around a universe full of loyal-to-the-Alliance archenemies. By the time the film's blend of action, comedy and sci-fi is finished having its way with you, you might just want to sing a few verses of the theme song alongside those previously silly-seeming Browncoats.
"... Have no place I can be, since I found Serenity/
But you can't take the sky from me."
"It's pretty freakin' amazing," Fillion laughed when asked about being present at a screening full of moviegoers cheering his presence onscreen. "It's pretty sweet. It doesn't suck."