Part of the sting of the recent “Star Wars” films, aside from the lackluster acting, subpar special effects and overall air of laziness surrounding the screenwriting and direction, was the feeling that a piece of our collective pasts had been taken advantage of in a weak attempt to sell some toys. Despite a strong outcry from fans over the direction of the series, George Lucas stated in interviews that the recent movies turned out exactly as planned, after all he made the films to his liking, not the fans. Now while on a certain level a director making their own film and not giving a damn about fan outcry is commendable, showing a willingness to pursue your own artistic vision without caving in to the wishes of others, George Lucas is not your average director and the “Star Wars” films are not your usual prequels. What Lucas seemed to miss was that unlike other cult phenomena such as “Twin Peaks” or even “Harry Potter” it wasn’t so much the material that made it so special as much as the fan response. If there ever was an instance where in fact a director should have listened to the people it was this one and the “Star Wars” prequels will forever stand as a missed opportunity.
There is another science fiction series out there that never received a quarter of exposure of the “Star Wars” films and yet whose fanbase grows larger by the day. After only airing several episodes on Fox, the cult show “Firefly” inexplicably became a runaway hit on DVD and a popular Amazon.com bestseller. What may explain the strange draw of the little show that could is that its mastermind is fanboy wunderkind Joss Whedon who stamped the show with his own brand of wit, humor and suspense, giving us a sci-fi Western hybrid that was as endearing as it was quirky. The show concerned the exploits of the misfit crew of the spaceship Serenity who took on various odd jobs (many of which were illegal) as they tried to stay one step ahead of the Alliance, the massive governing force of the universe, and out of the hands of the Reavers, vile marauding killers who use ships for scrap. What made the show click was the engaging characters such as the crusty but honorable Captain Malcolm “Mal” Renyolds (Nathan Fillion), high class lady of the evening Inara (Morena Baccarin) and the young, naive Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) who is hiding his psychically gifted but unstable sister River (Summer Glau) aboard the ship and out of the hands of the Alliance. Just as the hunt for River was just starting to heat up, the show was canceled, leaving “Firefly” fans in limbo regarding the fate of the crew. While it would have been easy to add “Firefly” to the list of shows that died before their time the cult of Joss Whedon took hold and the battle began to finish the series as a feature film, tying up the loose ends and providing some semblance of closure. Miraculously Universal Studios recognized the potential of such a loyal fanbase and gave Whedon the money he needed to make his first feature film.
Does the gamble pay off? In spades.
Knowing exactly who this film is for, but providing enough exposition for those who have stumbled in off the street, “Serentity” is one of the all time best series finales. The key to a project such as this working is in its ability to answer the questions raised in the show within a two hour running time and somehow against all odds Whedon is up to the task. Stepping up the hunt for River, the Alliance employs the services of a ruthless assassin known only as the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who is willing to do whatever it takes to bring the Serenity crew down. As the Operative hunts them, relationships are newly defined, the secret behind the Reavers is finally uncovered and the series is given a darker edge. Not everyone of the beloved crew is left standing by the time the end credits roll and it is this willingness to provide true closure for the series that makes the film so effective. Its been stated that if this film is a success, other such installments could follow (here’s hoping) but even if they never materialize the series went out on a high.
In a nutshell, if you are a fan of the show, you’ll love the film. It has everything the TV series possessed, but also manages to elevate the tension to the next level. If you’ve never caught “Firefly” before then I recommend doing so before watching “Serenity”, even though those who watch it cold will most likely be entertained by the strange universe that Whedon has crafted. Given that this year we’ve all ready seen one classic science fiction series end with a fizzle, it is nice to see one end with a bang. This is a film that exists because of fans, was written for the fans and yet can be enjoyed by just about anyone willing to have a good time.