Cool Ships!

God, what an obvious extension of the whole conceptual sci-fi thing, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner! After all, what is a sci-fi franchise without some cool spacefaring vessels? Sometimes, these come in the form of exploratory ships that chart the unknown regions of the galaxy. Sometimes they are battleships which kick ass and don’t do much else. And sometimes they are generational ships, spending decades, centuries or even millennia cruising through space, ferrying people to new star systems and new galaxies.

But whatever their purpose, futuristic vessels are a constant source of enjoyment and interest. A lot of imagination and creativity goes into creating them, and what comes out is often a testament to the allure of speculative sci-fi. Anyway, today I thought I’d explore some choice examples of sci-fi ships and what makes them so cool. Here goes…

Defiant:
Making its debut in Star Trek: DS9, the Defiant became the workhorse of the station and the first line of defense against it’s enemies. Originally designed for combat with the Borg, the Defiant was a prototype for an entire generation of warship. Smaller than most starships, but also faster and boasting very powerful weaponry, the Defiant quickly gained a reputation for being the most dangerous vessel in the quadrant!

Yep, when this ship made its debut, I started watching the show. Every episode that featured space battles with the Defiant were worth watching, in my estimation. Blasting those rapid-fire cannons, firing those quantum torpedoes, blowing up anyone stupid enough to cross it; the Defiant did it all!

It’s prototype version even boasted a cloaking device, something the Federation borrowed from the Romulans so they could slit into Dominion territory once they found out about them. In time, the Defiant was lost, but more of its kind appeared to take up its role. The Valiant, the Sao Paolo, and a host of others were pressed into service as the series went on and the Dominion War became the focal point of the show. Much like their predecessor, these new Defiant-class ships kicked plenty of asses and never went down without a fight. A big, brutal, hard-slogging fight!

Galactica:
This ship is the namesake of the original movie and series and got a makeover for the re-imagining which was released back in 2005. And though her appearance has changed somewhat since the 1970’s when the original movie came out, the Galactica’s role and importance has remained the same. The last surviving Battlestar of the Twelve Colonies, she is the sole protector of the human fleet as it flees the Cylon onslaught and makes its way to an elusive world called Earth… and salvation!

One thing that did change between the old and new series was the sophistication of the design. Whereas in the 1970’s version, the Galactica was a state of the art, modern warship with laser cannons and a full crew, the newer version was an older, outdated vessel with projectile cannons and flak guns that had been retired from active service. As the series opens, we see that the Galactica was being converted into a museum ship that was meant to commemorate the last war against the Cylons which had ended over twenty years ago. It’s crew was skeletal and its senior officers were also due for retirement.

However, all of that changed when the Cylons launched their surprise attack on the Colonies. Being an obsolete vessel which used outdated computers and had no wireless networks, the Galactica was the only ship that wasn’t crippled by the virus the Cylon’s used to disable the Colonial fleet. After hastily equipping themselves with ammunition and some equally outdated Vipers from their showroom, the Galactica was forced into service. But by this time, the war was effectively over, and the Captain and crew dedicated themselves to a new mission: to find the only other human colony in existence (Earth) and begin repopulating their species.

Despite her age, the Galactica could still surprise her enemies when she needed to. Unlike her more modern companions, including the Pegasus which she met in season two, she had a habit of getting out of some rather tight spots. You could say that in the new series, this ship was a metaphor for humanity; aging and endangered, but a survivor nonetheless!

Millennium Falcon:
Here she is, the centerpiece of this list! For what ship is more cool than the Millennium Falcon? I mean really! Sure, she’s not the biggest or the most heavily armed ship on this list, but she is the fastest, nimblest, and she’s definitely got the most character. In some ways, she was almost part of the cast of the original Star Wars series, and I’m sure everyone felt bad for her when she got scuffed up during that last battle in Return of the Jedi ;).

Officially, the Falcon is a modified Corellian transport. Corellia, the planet Han calls home, is renowned for producing good ships in addition to good spacers. They’re fast, sleek, and infinitely modifiable. It’s little wonder then why they are a favorite amongst smugglers. And Corellian spacers especially are known for being very monogamous and loyal when it comes to their ship selection.

Prior to joining the Rebellion, the Falcon was primarily used to smuggle spice from Kessel to other regions of the Galaxy, usually at the behest of Jabba the Hutt. In spite of its speed, the Falcon would occasionally get boarded by Imperial patrols. When this happened, Han and Chewi relied on a secret compartment to stash their goods. However, on one of his final runs, Han was boarded by an Imperial patrol and was forced to ditch his manifest.

Shortly thereafter, Han and Chewi joined the Rebellion and the role of the Falcon changed considerably. Now, it was involved in attack missions, the most notable of which were the assaults on the first and second Death Star. At other times, it continued to do what it did best – fly fast and elude Imperial ships!

Nostalgia for Infinity:
Here we have an interesting ship, which comes to us from the mind of Alastair Reynolds and the Revelation Space universe. Known as a “Lighthugger”, this class of vessel was one which could travel close to the speed of light thanks to its massive “Conjoiner Drives”. These engines, which were attached to the outsides of the ships, relied on a controlled singularity to generate the necessary inertia to push the ship as close to light speed as was physically possible for a vessel of its size.

The crews of these ships were known as “Ultranauts”, or Ultras for short. Typically, these were the kinds of cybernetically enhanced human beings who were capable of interfacing with the ship’s advanced machinery, prolonged space travel and withstanding the inertial stresses caused by near-light speed travel.

In the case of the Nostalgia, the ship was commanded by a Triumvir, three Captains who took turns commanding the ship while it was in deep space and the others were in reefersleep (i.e. cryogenic suspension). This included Ilia Volyova, Sajaki and Hegazi, three Ultras who had taken over after the Captain and ship had succumbed to what was known as the “Melding Plague”. This virus is a key element to the story of RS, being alien in origin and which infects and perverts nanotechnological matter.

In the course of running their various missions to and from the many worlds of the RS universe, the crew came into possession of a series of “Cache Weapons”, missiles and gun platforms which were apparently of Conjoiner design, and were officially known as Hell-class weapons.  As the series progressed, both the Nostalgia, its crew, and these weapons played an increasingly important role in defending the human race from the alien threat of the “Inhibitors” (see Planet Killers, The Inhibitors, for more detail).

Red Dwarf:
The eponymous spaceship from the BBC series, the Red Dwarf – otherwise known as the “giant red trashcan” – was a huge mining vessel measuring 10 km in length, 6.5 km in height, and 5 km in width. Built for mining and owned by the Jupiter Mining Corporation, the ship is immense, largely self-sufficient, and run by an AI named Holly. And for some reason, it has an asteroid embedded in its hull (this is never explained).

In the beginning of the series, a radiation leak killed the entire crew, except for the protagonist Dave Lister, a technician who was apparently in suspended animation at the time. In order to ensure his survival, Lister is kept in suspension by Holly until all the background radiation dissipates, a process which takes over three million years. As a result, Lister wakes up to find that he’s the last living human in existence. His only companions are the hologram of his former bunk-mate Rimmer, and a humanoid feline named Cat who evolved from Lister’s cat (Frankenstein) over three million years that he was asleep.

Over the course of the show, the crew encounters new planets, species and time distortions aboard the Red Dwarf, all the while trying to make their back to Earth. The largely self-sufficient ship takes care of their every need, though it has begun to run out of certain supplies after three million years (including Shake n Vac and all but one After Eight mint!).

Serenity:
I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about Firefly as of late, but the list says cool ships so I don’t see how the Serenity can possibly be left off this list! As the centerpiece of the single-season series and the movie, the ship has a long story and a lot of character, much like her crew! Originally designed as a class of cargo freighter, the Firefly is apparently an older model of ship that is no longer in use with the Alliance but remains popular out on the rim.

All references to it in the early episodes indicate that the series is essentially obsolete, but due to their ruggedness, shelf-life and the presence of secret compartments, they remain a popular item amongst smugglers. Hmmm, echoes of the Millennium Falcon there. Nevertheless, as the series progresses, this reputation is illustrated in how Mal and the crew are able to stow illegal goods and how Kaylee is able to keep the ship running under tight conditions with all kinds of improvised repairs. And despite the fact that it is no longer being constructed, most of its parts are still available and easily attainable on the open and black market.

Much like all ships in the Firefly/Serenity universe, the Firefly is apparently a sub-light vessel, incapable of traveling faster than the speed of light. Though unarmed, it is fast and maneuverable in both space and planetary atmospheres. This is made possible by the addition of two external multi-directional thrusters which allow for takeoff, landing, and the occasional crazy Ivan (which the crew pulled in the pilot episode). It also boasts two shuttle pods, which can be used as escape vessels or as secondary transports. Inara, the Companion crewwoman, uses one such pod as her quarters and transport for personal away missions.

The ship also has its own medbay and crew quarters, which is another feature that makes it popular amongst spacers. In fact, the availability of a private room was intrinsic in Mal’s offer to “recruit” Jayne Cobb from another gang, which was illustrated in a flashback sequence during the episode “Out of Gas”. There was even room enough to accommodate River and Simon and Book, which would indicate that the ship contains eight bunks in total. A communal dining area and food processors also see to their needs while not sleeping, gun-slinging, or generally doing something illegal!

USS Sulaco:
After barely surviving her first encounter with the xenomorph in Alien, Ellen Ripley and a crew of Colonial Marines returned to LV-426 in Aliens to settle the score! The ship that brought them there was none other than the USS Sulaco – a big, bad, military vessel boasting big-ass guns and enough Marine firepower to level an entire colony. Much like the Nostromo, the Sulaco is a reference to the work of Joseph Conrad, writer of Heart of Darkness (significant? Oh, I think so!).

Apparently, the Sulaco is a Conestoga-class warship designed for ferrying Marines to and from conflict areas in the future. While it was only carrying one platoon of Marines and two dropships in the second movie, this class of ship is capable of carrying 20,000 tons of cargo, eight UD4L Cheyenne-class dropships and a crew of 90 personnel (according to other franchise reference material). Hmm, too bad they didn’t pack the Sulaco to capacity, otherwise Ripley would have never had to take matters into her own hands to kill the Queen Alien!

Much like everything else in the Alien franchise, the Sulaco and all other Conestoga-class vessels are built by the Weyland-Yutani corporation, military division. Clearly, their purpose is to enforce the law, hunt down (and capture) xenomorphs, and maintain the peace aboard its many, many colonies. All part of their commitment to “Building Better Worlds” I guess 😉

White Star:
My personal favorite of this list, the coolest and most badass ship to come from the Babylon 5 universe! Fast, small, and boasting incredible firepower, the White Star was the workhorse of the Shadow War, Sheridan’s campaign to liberate Earth, and the early military campaigns of the Interstellar Alliance. In a lot of ways, it is much like the Defiant from the DS9 universe… I do believe they stole the idea from Straczynski!

As a collaboration between the Mimbari and the Vorlons, the White Star ships were partially based on organic technology. This meant that the ship was essentially alive and could heal itself when damaged. In addition, its organic armor was capable of deflecting energy, giving it a sort of shielding which could protect it from anything other than a physical impact.

The ship’s main weapons consisted of pulse cannons and a single beam cannon mounted in the nose. This gave it the ability to pepper targets with rapid fire shots while conducting high-speed maneuvers, and slicing them with focused bursts while on an attack vector.  All of this came in handy when dealing with Shadow vessels, which are notoriously hard to kill! It also proved useful when up against larger, heavier ships like Earth Force cruisers, Drakh vessels, and anything else the known universe could throw at them.

From the initial prototype, the Mimbari would go on to construct thousands of White Star-class vessels which were crewed by the Rangers and members of the Religious Caste. After the formation of the Alliance, Sheridan proposed the creation of a heavier version which culminated in the design of two White Star Destroyers, the Victory and Excalibur. This latter ship was the centerpiece of the spinoff series, Crusade.

Final Thoughts:
Well, that was fun! No final thoughts today, as I really have none to offer. I just really like cool ships! And much like most toys for grown ups, they are made cool by the fact that they are used for some fun purposes – like smuggling, fighting or exploration – and generally boast one or more of the following factors: speed, firepower, special abilities, visual appeal, and maybe some secret compartments. Any or all of these will do, thank you very much. Until next time!

Firefly Best Lines (cont’d)

Last time, I dedicated an entire post to the best lines out of the Firefly series, and only got halfway through its first and only season! I can’t imagine how many posts I’ve going to have to divide this into to make them all fit and not be totally overwhelming to read! Best estimates put it at three…

Jaynestown:
The crew pull a job on a backwater planet where apparently, Jayne is worshiped as a popular hero. When the local people realize he’s returned, things get real interesting real fast!

Simon: I swear… when it’s appropriate.
Kaylee
: Simon, the whole point of swearing is that it ain’t appropriate.

Simon: What… happened in here?
Jayne
: Needed to find some tape.
Simon
: So you had to tear my infirmary apart?
Jayne
: Apparently.
Simon
: My God. You’re like a trained ape… without the training!

Mal: You wanna tell me how come there’s a statue of you here, looking at me like I owe him something?
Jayne:
Wishin’ I could, Captain.
Mal:
No, seriously, Jayne, you want to tell me–?
Jayne:
Look, Mal, I got no ruttin’ idea. I was here a few years back, like I said. Pulled a second-story, stole a lot of scratch from the magistrate up on the hill. But things went way south. I had to hightail it. They don’t…put you on a pedestal in town square for that.
Mal:
Yeah, but I’m looking at some fair compelling evidence says they do.
Simon:
[staring at the statue] This must be what going mad feels like.

Book: What are we up to, sweetheart?
River:
Fixing your Bible.
Book: I, um…what?
River: Bible’s broken. Contradictions, false logistics – doesn’t make sense.
Book: It’s not about… making sense. It’s about believing in something. And letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith, River. It fixes you.

River: They say the snow on the roof is too heavy. They say the ceiling will cave in. His brains are in terrible danger.
Book
: River? Please, why don’t you come on out?
River
: No! Can’t. Too much hair.
Book
: Is— is that it?
Zoe
: Hell, yes, preacher. If I didn’t have stuff to get done, I’d be in there with her.

Mal: So, that’s where the little ‘Jayne Day Celebration’ we got planned comes in. Should give us enough time to get the goods back onto Serenity.
Jayne:
I don’t know. You think we should be using my fame to hoodwink folks?
Mal:
You better laugh when you say that.
Jayne:
  No really, Mal, I mean, maybe there’s something to this. The Mudders? I think I really made a difference in their lives. You know — me, Jayne Cobb.
Mal:
I know your name, jackass.

Simon: I mean, my way of being… polite, or however it’s… Well, it’s the only way I have of… showing you… that I like you… of showing respect.
Kaylee: So, when… we made love last night—
Simon: When we what?!
Kaylee: You really are such an easy mark.

Jayne: Hell, there weren’t a-one of them understood what happened out there; they’re… probably stickin’ that statue right back up.
Mal: Most like.
Jayne: I don’t know why that eats at me so.
Mal: It’s my estimation that… every man ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sumbitch or another. Ain’t about you, Jayne. It’s about what they need.

Out of Gas:
A malfunction in the engine forces the crew of the Serenity to abandon ship. Mal stays behind, but is wounded when the crew of another ship try to take him for all he has!

Zoe: You paid money for this, sir? On purpose?
Mal: What? Come on, seriously, Zoe. Whaddya think?
Zoe: Honestly, sir? I think you got robbed.
Mal: Robbed? What? No. What do you mean?
Zoe: It’s a piece of fei-oo.
Mal: Fei-oo? Okay, she won’t be winning any beauty contests anytime soon. But she’s solid. Ship like this, be with ya ’til the day you die.
Zoe:Cause it’s a deathtrap.

Mal: Try to see past what she is, and on to what she can be.
Zoe
: What’s that, sir?
Mal
: Freedom, is what.
Zoe
: [pointing] I meant, what’s that?
Mal
: Oh. Yeah, just step around that. I think somethin’ must’ve been livin’ in here.

Mal: Which one do you figured tracked us?
Zoe: The ugly one, sir.
Mal: Could you be more specific?

al: Looks can be deceiving.
Jayne: Not as deceiving as a lowdown, dirty… deceiver.

Wash: What do you expect me to do, Mal?
Mal
: Whatever you have to! And if you can’t do it from here, then get a suit on and go outside on the side of the boat—
Wash
: And what?! Wave my arms around?
Mal
: Wave your arms around, jump up and down, divert the navsats to the transmitter – whatever.
Wash
: Divert the— Right! Because teenage pranks are fun when you’re about to die!
Mal
: Give the beacon a boost, wouldn’t it?
Wash
: Yes, Mal! It would boost the signal. But even if some passerby did happen to receive, all it would do is muck up their navigation!
Mal
: Could be that’s true.
Wash
: Damn right, it’s true! They’d be forced to stop and dig out our signal before they could even go anyplace.
Wash
: Well, maybe I should do that then!
Mal
: Maybe you should!
Wash
: Ok!
Mal
: Good!
Wash
: Fine!

Kaylee: You offerin’ me a job?
Bester: W-w-w—what?
Mal: Believe I just did.
Kaylee: I just gotta ask my folks. Don’t leave without me!
Bester: Mal! What do you need two mechanics for?
Mal: I really don’t.

Ariel:
The crew agrees to pull a job for Simon on the core planet of Ariel. In exchange for getting him and his sister into a hospital, so he can examine her and determine what Alliance scientists did to her, they will get to a chance to steal some lucrative medical supplies.

[Jayne spits on his sharpening stone and sharpens his big knife]
Simon
: Could you not do that while we’re… ever?
Wash
: So, two days in a hospital? That’s awful! Don’t you just hate doctors?
Simon
: Hey!
Wash
: I mean, present company excluded.
Jayne
: Let’s not be excludin’ people. That’d be rude.

[River slashes Jayne’s chest.]
River
: He looks better in red.

[Practicing their cover story]
Mal:
Patients were cynical and not responding and we couldn’t bring ’em back-
Simon:
They were cyanotic and not responsive.

Simon: What about cortical electrodes?
Jayne
: Oh! …We forget ’em.
Simon
: Let’s try that again.

Mal: Pupils were fixed and dilapitated—
Simon
: Dilated.
Mal
: Dilated. Dilated! Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng! Shiny.

[At the hospital]
Emergency Nurse
: What do you got?
Mal
: Got a couple DOAs. By the time we got there—
Emergency Nurse
: Take them down to the morgue.
Jayne
: We applied the cortical electrodes, but we were unable to get a neural reaction from either patient!

Mal: Now all we need is a coupla patients.
Simon:
Corpses, actually.  For this plan to work, River and I will have to be dead.
Jayne:
I’m starting to like this plan.

Mal: You know, I hear tell they used to keelhaul traitors back in the day. I don’t have a keel to haul you on, so…
Jayne: What’re you takin’ it so personal for? It ain’t like I ratted you out to the feds!
Mal: Oh, but you did! You turn on any of my crew, you turn on me! But since that’s a concept you can’t seem to wrap your head around, then you got no place here. You did it to me, Jayne. And that’s a fact.

Simon: I brought some medicine. Do you remember why we went to hospital?
River: It’s time to go to sleep again.
Simon: No, mei-mei. It’s time to wake up.

War Stories:
Mal and Wash are abducted by their old client and crimelord, Niska. In the course of being tortured, they get to work out some of their issues regarding his and Zoe’s relationship.

Book: [quoting Xiang Yu] He said, “Live with a man forty years. Share his house, his meals… speak on every subject… then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.”
Simon: What if you don’t live near a volcano?
Book: I expect he was being poetical.
Simon: Sadistic crap legitimized by florid prose. Tell me you’re not a fan.
Book: I’m just wondering if they were. The people who did this to your sister.

Mal: Ah, the pitter-patter of tiny feet in huge combat boots… SHUT UP! …One of you is gonna fall and die, and I’m not cleaning it up!

Kaylee: Zoe, how come you always cut your apples?
Wash
: You do?
Kaylee
: Her and Cap’n both. Whenever we get fresh fruit, they never just munch on ’em.
Zoe
: You know what a griswald is?
Jayne
: It’s a grenade.
Zoe
: About the size of a battery, responds to pressure. Our platoon was stuck in a trench outside of New Casmir during the winter campaign. More than a week, completely cut off, and the Alliance entrenched not ten yards away. We even got to talkin’ to ’em, yelling across insults and jokes and such, ’cause [there was] no ammo to speak of, no orders, so what’re you gonna do? We mentioned that we were out of rations and ten minutes later, a bunch of apples rained into the trench.
Wash
: And they grew into a big tree, and they all climbed up the tree to a magical land with unicorns and a harp!
Kaylee
: Blew off their heads, huh?
Zoe
: Cap’n said wait, but they were so hungry…Don’t make much noise, just little pops and there’s three guys that kinda just…end at the rib cage.
Wash
: But these apples are healthsome, and good.
Jayne
: Yeah, grenades cost extra.

Wash: And then came the lying to me about it, which for me is sort of the highlight of this little adventure.
Zoe
: Is there any way I’m gonna get out of this with honor and dignity?
Wash
: You’re pretty much down to ritual suicide, lamby-toes.

Zoe: I thought your plan was too risky! I thought.
Wash
: Then tell me. I am a large, semi-muscular man. I can take it. Don’t hide behind Mal ’cause you know he’ll shoot it down for you. Tell me.
Zoe
: Right. ‘Cause what this marriage needs is one more shouting match!
Wash
: No, what this marriage needs is one less husband.

[Inara’s client, a woman, walks in]
Mal:…Huh.
Book: Oh, my.
Kaylee: Oh, gosh, I-I knew she took female clients, I just, uh- They look so glamorous together.
Jayne:…I’ll be in my bunk.

Wash: Didn’t want you taking off without me. In fact, didn’t want you taking off at all. Thought I might take this run instead. Me and the Captain.
Mal: The Captain who’s standing right here telling you that’s not gonna happen?
Wash: Well, it’s a dangerous mission, sir. I can’t stand the thought of something happening that might cause you two to come back with another thrilling tale of bonding and adventure. I just can’t take that right now.
Mal: Okay, um, I’m lost. Uh, I’m angry, and I’m armed, so if you two have something that you need to work out –

Wash: Hey, I’ve been in a firefight before. Well, I was in a fire. Actually, I was fired, from a fry cook opportunity. I can handle myself.

Wash: I don’t want you to spare me, Mal. If you think you know what’s happening then you tell me. You wouldn’t spare Zoe if she were in this situation with you, would you? You would be planning, and plotting, and possibly scheming. So, whatever Zoe would do in this instance is what I wanna do. And you know why? Because no matter how ugly it gets, you two always come back. With the stories. So… I’m Zoe. Now… what do I do?
Mal
: Probably not talk quite so much.
Wash
: Right. Less talking. She’s terse. I can be terse. Once in flight school, I was laconic... If I’m not gonna talk, then you have to!

Zoe: Preacher, don’t the Bible have some pretty specific things to say about killin’?
Book
: Quite specific. It is, however, somewhat fuzzier on the subject of kneecaps.

Zoe: Jayne. This somethin’ the Captain has to do for himself.
Mal
: No! No, it’s not!
Zoe
: Oh. [shoots the henchman.]

Mal: So— I hear you all took up arms in that little piece of action back there. How you farin’ with that, Doctor?
Simon
: I don’t know. I, uh, I never— never shot anyone before.
Book
: I was there, son. I’m fair sure you haven’t shot anyone… yet.

Mal: I know it’s a…  difficult mission, but you and I… have to get it on.
Zoe
: I understand. We have no choice. [deadpan] Take me, sir. Take me hard.
Jayne
: Well, somethin’ about that is just downright unsettlin’.
Wash
: We’ll be in our bunk.
Jayne
: Oh, hey— [smacks Mal in the chest where he’s injured] free soup!

And I’m still not done! But I already predicted this would take at least three posts. So stay tuned for what is likely to be (presumably) the final installment in the Firefly/Serenity series!

Firefly & Serenity or “How I Realized Fox Sucks!”

fireflyYeah, I know I’m hardly alone in loving the cult-hit Firefly, nor am I alone in censuring Fox for its inept and inexplicable decision to cancel it after its first season. But then again, that seems to be their thing. What is more lamentable is the fact that after years of maintaining a following worldwide, producing a movie, an RPG, novelizations, comic books, and countless fan sites, Firefly still hasn’t been renewed or picked up by another network! What gives??? C’mon Wedon! Futurama did it, why can’t you?

Well, comeback or not, Firefly and its movie adaptation Serenity were still kick-ass. In addition to its memorable characters, smart writing, and classic sci-fi elements, there was also the heartfelt themes of conquest, resistance, and “manifest destiny”. That above all else made the show a hit, in my humble opinion. In adapting the history of the closing of the frontier, Wedon tapped into a very familiar American narrative and showed just how timeless history and human nature are.

Premise:
To break the show’s background down succinctly, the story takes place roughly 500 years in the future, when humanity left Earth and began to explore the cosmos for a new place to call home. They eventually landed in the Blue Star system, a star with “dozens of planets and hundreds of moons” and began terraforming as many of them as possible. The inner worlds boasted the highest degree of technology and development and formed the Alliance, whereas the outer planets were sparsely populated and underdeveloped by comparison.

In time, the Alliance chose to expand and incorporate the outer worlds, prompting a coalition of Independents (or “Browncoats” because of the uniforms they sported) to resist. After a crushing defeat at the battle of Serenity Valley, the Independents were essentially finished. Thereafter, those “browncoats” who wanted to retain their independence took to a life of piracy, smuggling and spacing to make ends meet, pulling jobs in the outer-outer regions of space and staying clear of Alliance ships and “Reavers”, cannibalistic raiders who raid along the outer rim.

The Cast:
serenity-1One such group is the crew of the Serenity, a Firefly-class ship captained by former “Browncoat” Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (played by Nathan Fillion). His second in command, Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres), was with him in the war and served in his platoon. As a result, they have a relationship that goes deeper than most, which has been known to make her husband and ships pilot Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk) a little jealous.

There’s also Kaywinnet Lee “Kaylee” Frye (Jewel Staite), the spunky and ever-cheery ship’s mechanic who seems to be talk to machines and make them work. Then there’s Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), a mercenary who they poached from another gang and who serves as hired muscle on the ship. And last, there’s Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin), a travelling “Companion”, or professional courtesan, who acts as a sort of ambassador for the ship.

As the show opens, the crew of the Serenity pick up some new passengers. The first is Derrial Brook (Ron Glass), a Shepherd (pastor) who is seeking passage away from the inner worlds to preach aboard. He quickly becomes part of the crew and acts as Mal conscience, though it becomes abundantly clear that he is more than what he appears. In addition, there is the strange duo of Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his sister River Tam (Summer Glau). Summer is apparently a gifted young psychic who was experimented on by Alliance doctors, and her brother risked everything in order to free her. Now fugitives from the law, they remain aboard the Firefly as part of the crew, hoping to avoid capture.

The Ship:
serenityThe namesake of the show and the movie, the crew’s vessel of choice is the Firefly-class transport. A n older model, this vessel is apparently favored by privateers and smugglers because of its complex design and the presence of secret compartments. Although it boasts no armaments and is outdated by most inner-world standards, those who use it tend to get pretty attached to it and remain very monogamous. Echoes of the Millenium Falcon there…

Season One:

an Alliance Cruiser

The story opens with the extended crew coming together and getting to know each other. Mal, having realized that Simon and his sister were fugitives, decided to take them in after he shot and killed an alliance agent who had infiltrated their ship. Thereafter, the crew set out to continue on their ongoing adventure, taking whatever jobs they could find and staying one step ahead of the authorities.

Reaver Ship

The constant threat of the Reavers is also a recurring element in the first season. Existing on the fringes of known space and coming from parts unknown, the Reavers appear to be expanding inward towards the core, becoming more brash and brazen with their assaults on shipping and colony worlds. Aside from their obvious brutality and insanity, not much is known about this menace, other than the fact that they look like orcs and their ships like spiky sharks!

In addition, River’s condition, the result of endless experimentation, becomes the source of growing concern by her brother. Though she was always gifted, it’s becoming apparent to him and the other members of the crew that she might indeed be a psychic. Given that his resources are limited, they eventually have to break into a medical city on his old homeworld of Persephone so he can do a more thorough examination. His conclusions are that they physically tampered with her brain in order to enhance her abilities. Fractured and suffering from bouts of schizophrenia, she is eventually accepted by the other crew members and begins to feel whole again.

This, more than anything, is a guiding theme of the show, which is the growth of the Serenity family. Already, there is a strong sense of comradery between Mal and Zoe, which grows to include Wash when he and Mal confront and ultimately resolve the issue of his jealousy. There is also the growing bond between Mal and Inara. Initially, the two appear to be mutually hostile, but it soon becomes clear that this merely conceals their mutual attraction. Kaylee, as always, is the cheery epicenter of things, making her role as the ship’s engineer seem like a double-entendre. In addition to making sure the machinery keeps running, she’s also responsible for ensuring that everyone gets along.

Accepting Jayne proves more difficult, given his questionable loyalties; but in time, the crew comes to realize they can trust him since he values his friends more than money. And even though there are aspects of his past that are still unclear, Book proves that he too can be trusted and will endanger himself to keep the others safe. Hence, he too comes to be accepted as a permanent fixture aboard the ship. As the season ends, it becomes clear that even though the crew still faces a number of threats – the Alliance, Reavers, mercenaries and ruthless criminal lords – that they will be facing them together.

The Movie:
firefly-serenity-art-dvdbash-1The film adaptation opens with themes that were well-established in the show. We have the crew of the Serenity still trying to make ends meet, still having to take jobs out of desperation, and still fearing for their safety as hostile elements close in. However, the movie version chose to what was slowly developing with the show and tweak them to bring some serious tension and resolution to the storyline.

These include the ongoing search for River Tam, and the revelation of where the Reavers come from. In an intriguing twist, Wedon melds the two story lines together, showing how River’s condition and her exposure to members of the Alliance government put in her in possession of certain secrets which they would prefer to keep a secret! It is for this reason that an elite agent named only the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is sent out to find her, and is given blanket authority to do whatever it takes to achieve this goal.

The theme of family also gets kicked up a notch, with Inara having left the crew because of her incurably difficult relationship with Mal. Book has also left the crew in order to become the preacher to a community of settlers in the outer rim as well. Simon and River also seemed poised to leave when the job at the beginning of the movie comes dangerously close to going wrong and he decides that they would be better off on their own. However, this is cut short when during a payout, River is “triggered” by some sort of hidden transmission and begins kicking the ass of everyone in a seedy establishment. This, for obvious reasons, leads Mal to realize that there’s more going on with her than previously thought.

Reaver2(Spoiler alert!) Eventually, the crew realizes that the key secret which River gleamed from the minds of the Alliance bureaucrats was the existence of a place known as “Miranda”. The secret is also important enough that they’ve sent the Operative to find them, a man who’s talents and methods far outstrip those of the agents and mercenaries they usually send! After an incident where Inara is used as bait, Mal and the rest are determined to know what’s so important that they are willing to kill for.

With the help of their friend, Mr. Universe, they eventually discover that Miranda is a colony located in the outermost ring of the system. This world was apparently settled generations ago by over 30 million people, but things went terribly wrong after an experiment failed and killed almost everyone there. After braving the Reavers to find the planet, the crew stumbles onto the answer in a form of a recording from a scientist’s journal.

It seems that the planet was subjected to a drug known as Pax, which was a chemical agent designed to make people docile and non-violent. However, the drug worked too well, and most people became so passive and withdrawn that they eventually ceased all activity and died of starvation. The remainder, however, became extremely violent and uncontrollable and killed off all remaining survivors, including the scientists. They then took what ships they could find and began preying on shipping in the outer rim. The Reavers were born!

Having learned that the Operative has overrun every last known hideout of theirs and even killed Brooks, Mal decides that its time to fight! With the information of what happened on Miranda firmly in their hands, they make their way back to the reclusive moon where their hacker friend Mr. Universe lives. The Operative has it blockaded, but the Serenity managed to break past them by luring the Reavers into following them.

A huge firefight in space ensues and is followed by an equally tense firefight on the planet between the Serenity crew and the Reavers. In the course of the fight, Wash is killed and Kaylee and Simon are wounded, but River risks her life to save them all and give Mal the time he needs to reach Mr.Universe’s central hub. There, he confronts the Operative one last time, overcomes him, and sends out the broadcast.

Having seen the truth, the Operative orders his men to stand down. Mal and his crew are allowed to leave, mainly because he now knows he no longer has the grounds to hunt them. The Alliance has been dealt a blow from which it may not recover, and for the first time in years, the future seems uncertain. But at least there is hope. There is also much regret since the crew has lost two of its own, Wash and Book. But in the end, they set course for their next destination, carrying on in the only way they know how.

Final Thoughts:
I’ll just say it, this show rocked! It was loaded with great lines, great acting, great characters and lots of relateable material. And, like its theme song, it was pretty touching and emotionally involved. The show began with a pervasive sense of sadness, where people who were fighting for their freedom are overrun, beaten and forced into lives of running and criminality. But also, there is the redeeming sense of family and closeness that develops between the main characters. Though they are kind of a motley bunch, coming from vastly different backgrounds and having their own personal secrets, they eventually come together and realize they share a similar fate.

That is another thing that this show captured so well, which was the pervasive sense of alienation that takes place in a universe which is fast changing. Much like the frontier that inspired it, that process was very painful. Those who did not fit in with the dream of “manifest destiny”, i.e. Native Americans and settlers who preferred the freedom of the frontier, the question of what to do remained a terribly difficult one. The option of fighting seemed hopeless, but the alternative of surrendering seemed just as hopeless: a slow death replacing a swift one.

As Mal expressed in Serenity, “So me and mine gotta lay down and die… so you can live in your better world?” Another key line he said was “Half of writing history is hiding the truth”. Many a time I felt that Wedon was making a point about our own, how we often miss the fact that changes we’ve come to think of as natural and inevitable were in fact the result of decisions, and that they came with a lot of pain and suffering as well. Part of what makes this show emotionally appealing is that fact that we get to see good guys fighting against terrible odds, and eventually achieving a victory of sorts.

And of course there was the cool mix of cultures that gave the show a truly international feel. Whereas the planets appear to boast names taken predominantly from western mythology and culture, there is a hefty smattering of Mandarin Chinese in the spoken dialogue and written signs. Aspects of Southern, Arabic and other Asian cultures make appearances as well, both in the series and the expanded universe. Basically, Wedon seemed to be going with the plausible sci-fi premise that cultures would mix in the era of colonization to produce new and interesting cultural mosaics.

I for one would like to see where it goes from here. Would the Alliance fall? Would it become even more tyrannical in its pursuit of a “better world” and a unified system? And how would they get around the fact that Watt ggand Book exited stage left (Apparently due to money and the desire to not get typecast. Actors! Pfft!) But, we’ll never know unless someone gets off their duff and starts making new episodes now will we? So Mr. Wedon and/or the Fox Network, get off your duffs and bring back this show gorram it! We’ve waited ten bloody years and we’re growing in strength! Don’t make us come after you!

Oh, and to Mr. Nathan Phillion, whom I hear is trying to ressurect the show himself, tell us what its going to take to get this done and we’ll do our best to help. Please tell us it involves taking the Fox Network down, or at least the crop of execs who keep cancelling shows that are in their prime. Is it not enough that you give TV spots to the most pig-ignorant excuse for journalists and right-wing ideologues, you gotta kill anything with a soul before it grows too? Why don’t you just call yourself the Evil Empire Network and be done with it? I tell ya, the metaphor is too perfect here!

In the meantime, check out this kick-ass trailer from the Serenity movie. I plan to watch it again and would like to think others are too. Rock on Firefly!