Book Review: Firefly: A Celebration

(Titan Books)

IN a just world, Joss Whedon’s sci-fi Western Firefly should have run to at least seven seasons and various spin-off movies, but instead became a victim of network interference which resulted in it being cancelled after just 11 episodes were aired.

Riding high on the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Whedon had been looking for an alternative to the supernatural themes of his other shows, and pitched a series looking at the aftermath of a civil war between human colonists in a distant star system, where the main cast had fought on the losing side and paying the price...

Firefly drew on themes and images from 19th century Frontier America, with the renegade crew of the Serenity spaceship living on the outskirts of society, trying to make a living on the dustbowl worlds which make up the system’s pioneer culture.

There is no faster-than-light travel, aliens are non-existent, and central government interference is minimal, meaning these outlying settlements are forced to fend for themselves, trying to survive the hostilities of their environment as well as sporadic raids by the cannibalistic Reavers…

Whedon wanted to create a gritty, character-driven sci-fi show where life wasn’t all shiny starships and teleports, but showed the real pressures of trying to survive in a bleak, frontier environment. His cast weren’t black and white, with levels of depth often lacking in mainstream sci-fi television, and the show was filmed in a rough-and-ready documentary style aimed at immersing the audience in the action.

Television network Fox hated it, a crime for which they should never be forgiven. The demands for change began immediately, with a new pilot episode written over the course of a weekend and the introduction of new elements which completely went against Whedon’s original vision. It was the beginning of what would be a fraught and short-lived production for the show.

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Fox eventually pulled the series less than three months into broadcast, leaving three episodes unaired which eventually appeared on the DVD, although a massive fan campaign afterwards eventually persuaded Universal Studios to produce a feature film, Serenity, which wrapped up many of the outstanding plot threads from the TV show.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Firefly the television series, and to celebrate Titan Books have released a luxurious hardback collection of their three paperback companion books, plus a host of bonus material, offering perhaps the most comprehensive and lavish look at the show and spin-off movie you’re ever likely to find.

With new stories from writers of the original TV episodes, hundreds of photos and pieces of production art, full shooting scripts for the whole run, and in-depth interviews with Joss Whedon and the cast and crew, it’s a remarkable piece of work which probably will never be surpassed as the must-have book for Firefly fans.

And just when you thought you’d been spoiled enough, there are also nine frameable portrait photos of the cast, featuring rare and previously unpublished images, and a facsimile of one of the bank notes featured in the show, ensuring this really is an indispensible collection.

We might never see the likes of Firefly again, as Whedon’s star is in the ascendant now and his destiny seems to lie with movies, but without question it is a series which will never be forgotten, and is justifiably celebrated here for its originality and vision.