Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

Firefly: Can Science Fiction Reimagined As The Wild West Work?

I strongly recommend the original 2002–2003 series for its careful development of the culture that grows up around world-building (terraforming)

I recently read an article in Screen Rant which claimed that Disney+ was planning a Firefly series remake.

A trailer for the original:

Five hundred years in the future, a renegade crew aboard a small spacecraft tries to survive as they travel the unknown parts of the galaxy and evade warring factions as well as authority agents out to get them. (2002-2003)

When I heard this rumor, I felt like Darth Vader screaming No! into the void and wanting to choke something. Since Disney+ has a reputation for producing films which are nothing short of family-friendly abominations, it isn’t surprising that the fandom mobbed Twitter, demanding that the Mouse stay away from their beloved sci-fi franchise.

So far, there has been no release date — and hopefully, there never will be. Hollywood lives by the saying, “If it’s not broke, break it.” Still, I thought this would be a good opportunity to review the original series and (later) the subsequent movie, Serenity (2005). So, on the off chance the Mouse gets his cheese-ridden fingers on this series, we can, at least, remember what good screenwriting looked like.

Firefly follows Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a former Lieutenant in a Civil War were his side lost. He now leads a small crew of scavengers barely scraping enough money to get by while keeping one step ahead of the victorious enemy Alliance which Malcolm despises. In the first episode, their deal for stolen cargo goes south and they must scramble to find another buyer. During the stop, they pick up a few passengers including, a preacher, whom they call “Shepherd,” a doctor and his mysterious cargo, an Ambassador who often travels with them, and a rather bland man about whom the viewer honestly forgets after about five minutes.

While the crew is searching for a new buyer for their cargo, it turns out the forgettable man is a government agent. He calls the Alliance and threatens to arrest the entire crew. They quickly subdue him. At first, they believe the reason this agent called the Alliance was the stolen cargo. However, they quickly discover that the target was really the doctor and his mysterious crate — which turns out to be a hidden compartment for his sister. The government has experimented on her and she isn’t entirely aware of her situation.

The rest of the show revolves around the crew struggling to sell their cargo and deciding what to do about the doctor and his sister. In the end, they sell their stolen goods, but not without shooting something, and the doctor and sister join the crew.

What makes Firefly unique is its subtle worldbuilding. It’s not uncommon for sci-fi worlds to be something of a dystopian nightmare but Firefly makes a direct comparison to life in the Wild West and explains why the characters’ universe is the way it is.

The answer is quite simple and sparks all sorts of ideas. It turns out that humans had used up Earth’s resources, so they went out and explored other planets, and developed terraforming technology. Every time they transformed a planet, making it livable for humans, they would drop off a handful of settlers and those settlers would be expected to build a civilization.

Granted, Cowboy Bebop (1998–1999) made the same comparison but that series, classic that it is, didn’t go into nearly as much detail when merging the two styles. It’s neat to see the varying weapons, clothing, and food hitting all the classic sci-fi tropes and western tropes in the same series. And what amazes me is that everything matches.

The concept in general makes sense. Space travel would be the new form of exploration and, because these humans are pioneers, their civilizations would develop in a similar manner. Firefly is an impressive blend of the future and the past.

I can’t recommend the first episode and the series in general highly enough. The acting, writing, and world-building are all excellent. Even the graphics hold up by today’s standards. I’ll pick up with the second episode next time.

You may also wish to read: Aliens as both angels — and bugs? Superior but sociopathic? A look at the puzzling 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) — environment doom replaces the Cold War. The end result of the suits’ decision to improve on the 1951 classic is a movie with the twice the budget and half the clarity.

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Firefly: Can Science Fiction Reimagined As The Wild West Work?