FIREFLY! New Stitching Sci-Fi Episode
If you’re a fan of sci-fi, I’ve added a new video to my Stitching Sci-Fi YouTube series. This week, I chat about the short lived series with an epic fandom, FIREFLY, while I stitch Jayne’s cunning beanie 😁
I hope you like it!
If you prefer to read, the transcript is included below:
Welcome, folks and friendly friends, to my cozy little corner in the Common. In today’s episode of Stitching Sc-Fi, I’m going share with you my Top 3 Favorite Story Elements for the short lived TV series with an epic fandom, Firefly. While I prattle on, I’m also going to slap a little thread onto some fabric in a design inspired by Firefly episode number 12 “The Message,” where Jayne receives a lovely knit hat from his mother.
But before we begin, I’m going to take a moment to briefly review the rules and objectives of this little YouTube series. Rule #1 of Stitching Sci-Fi: Be kind. No bitching, no gossip, no hate. Just love. Rule #2: Practice Imperfection. It’s okay if this embroidery turns out a little janky, the point is to make an effort, be gentle with myself, and practice a little imperfection. Rule #3: Have Fun.
For those of you who are unacquainted with Firefly, you might be more familiar with the 2005 movie Serenity. You see, Firefly was broadcast in 2002 and was cancelled after only eleven of its fourteen episodes aired. There’s no doubt that the series was mismanaged and lacked studio support. However, it had such a devoted fanbase and strong DVD sales that Fox Studios decided to bring the cast back for a feature film.
Firefly was created by the Buffy The Vampire Slayer writer and director Joss Whedon, and starred a spectacular ensemble cast lead by Nathan Fillion.
The series revolves around a motley band of rebels, thieves, fugitives, and companions who make their home on Serenity, a firefly-class spaceship, and who are scraping together a meager living among the outer planets of a new star system in the year 2517, after humanity used up “the earth that was.”
If you are a sci-fi fan who has not binged these amazing fourteen episodes at least twice a year, let me attempt to explain why you should.
Beginning with the first of my Top 3 Favorite Story Elements…CONFLICT!
Like any successful story, Firefly is riddled with luscious conflict on multiple fronts. The first and most obvious is the Alliance, the governing parliamentary system portrayed as an authoritarian regime. The Unification War was fought between the Alliance of core planets and the Independents, aka the Browncoats, represented the outer planets who wanted the freedom to control their own destinies. Upon their defeat, the outer planets were forced into unionization with the Alliance core planets, and although each planet and moon has its own local government, everyone is subject to the policing and rules of the Alliance. Firefly focuses on the struggles of a ship and its crew of former Browncoats, now living between the lines of morality and trying to make an independent living in the outer planets, and who are plagued by Alliance interference at every turn.
Which brings us to our second point of conflict - the rough and tumble life of pioneers. The people living among the outer planets don’t have the medical, food, and transportation luxuries of those living in the core planets. The opening lines for the series describes the challenges of living on the edge of civilized space: “Out here, people struggle to get by with the most basic technologies. A ship would bring you work. A gun would help you keep it. A captain's goal was simple: Find a crew. Find a job. Keep flying.” Firefly brilliantly uses the drama of a pioneer lifestyle and gritty lawless frontier as well as the isolation and vacuum of space as a natural source of conflict, where just trying to survive and keep flying is a constant battle.
Our third point of conflict is the crew themselves. When you’re stuck on a small spaceship with nowhere to escape, no one to rescue you, and only the people standing to the right and left of you to get the job done, finding the right crew to stand at your back is the difference between life and death. Firefly doesn’t shy away from these dilemmas. What if you can’t trust your own crew? What if the people you bring on board will betray you? What happens if you don’t see eye-to-eye? What happens if there’s unrequited attraction? Conflict isn’t just the big battles and villains, it’s often most powerful in the little interactions between crew mates. Firefly does a beautiful job at giving subtle hints to the potential for conflict and the day-to-day micro aggressions that happen when people are forced to live in close quarters and virtual isolation. After the big C of 2020 and 2021, I think most of us can relate.
And the last point of conflict, which was more deeply explored in the Serenity feature film, are the Reavers. Believed to be men and women who saw the edge of space and went mad, the Reavers are mostly ghost stories to the people living in the core planets. But to those who live on the outer rim, the Reavers are the primal evil that knows no mercy. They are madness and rage that goes beyond rabid animalistic behavior and straight into the brutal realms of sadistic insanity. The first DVD and digital episode titled Serenity does a great job of illustrating the fear a crew faces when a Reaver ship comes near. With silence and bated breath they wait to see what their fates will be, even going so far as to consider ending their own lives before the Reavers get the chance.
Firefly implements layers of conflict through the pressures of an imposing government, the struggles of man against nature, the interpersonal connections, as well as the stereotypical ultimate battle against evil. This complexity of conflict is often offset by humor and silly storylines, but the fact that we get both sides of the coin without one side overwhelming the other is what makes Firefly—a series of only fourteen little episodes—the enduring fan favorite that it is today.
My second favorite story element of Firefly is…SETTING!
As a writer of niche science fiction myself, I have a deep soft spot for this franchise. Firefly lands squarely in the science fiction genre, there is no arguing that point. Firefly is a Space Opera. But its cross genre is a western, and probably the most literal definition of a space western there is.
There’s a long history of westerns influencing science fiction stories. Sci-Fi pulp magazines from the 1930’s, comic heroes like Buck Rogers, and even superheroes such as Flash Gordon, all featured western elements, styles, and themes. Roddenberry described Star Trek as the “Wagon Train” to the stars. Han Solo is clearly a space cowboy and Boba Fett was inspired by “The Man With No Name” Clint Eastwood character from a series of 1960’s western films. Even Japanese manga and anime, such as Cowboy Bebop, have become great examples of the space western niche.
One might even classify Firefly to be an Asian Space Western? Because the two civilizations that survived to populate this pioneer society were the United States and China, blending their cultures and language into a thoroughly unique environment. Cantinas with dirt floors and brass heavy bars are contrasted by bright Chinese lanterns, serving girls in full headdress and painted face, and patrons are playing Chinese checkers instead of card games. Honestly, one of the best bits is the characters cursing under their breath in mandarin, who can resist curse words in a different language?
These little nuances make the world building fun and different, with a definite cheese factor, but it’s this playfully magnetic kind of cheese that was so popular in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
But at the center of this unique setting is the ship. Similar to the way Star Wars made a character out of the Millennium Falcon, Firefly made Serenity a main character in the series and a symbol of rebellion and independence. Serenity was named after the Battle of Serenity Valley, where our heroes Mal and Zoe fought in their last battle against the Alliance, commemorating their commitment to independence. Serenity is a mirror of who Mal and Zoe are; a little beat up and in need of care, but with good bones and an iron will to survive.
I love the fact that the “firefly-class” of ship resembles the bioluminescent bug in shape and the way that it lights up when accelerating. It makes what could have been just a generic spaceship kind of cute and endearing, but also a little badass in the way the engines flip and its quick maneuverability makes it super agile. The inside is a mix of transport ship with smuggling compartments and a well lived-in home. The lounge looks like a 1970’s basement for teenagers and the kitchen and dining area could have come straight out of any 1990’s home, with bright yellow paint and stenciled vines everywhere. The ship smartly maximizes space by tucking the crew quarters beneath the central walkway to the cockpit, with ladders leading down into the small cabins. And the engine room looks like a steampunk hot mess, held together by cobbled parts of ingenuity and hope.
Each episode may travel to new planets and moons, but a good portion of the show takes place right on Serenity, making it a pivotal elements to the show’s story.
And, the last of my Top 3 Favorite Story Elements is…CHARACTERS!
Whether your entry point was the first episode that broadcast on TV, which was the “Train Job,” or the feature film Serenity, this franchise begins with a heist, telling us right up front what to expect from our cast of characters. Even the first episode of the DVD or digital set begins with a battle, and then a heist. We are warned right up front that these characters aim to misbehave.
In literature, film, and television, an ensemble cast can sometimes be a challenge to create enough differentiation between characters so that each one has a unique voice and purpose. But this is where this series shines. Firefly has nine different regular characters, each with distinctive personalities. There are shows with smaller casts that don’t come anywhere near Firefly’s character creation. The writers of Firefly really leaned into making this a character rich series, especially with one of my favorite episode’s titled “Out of Gas,” where we get memorable flashbacks to how each of the crew members found their way to Serenity.
Our two primary leads are Mal and Zoe, battle buddies from the war. Though their backstories are similar, their personalities are not. Mal is the slightly uncouth but adorably snarky captain with an abundance of one-liners and who would die for his crew and cause. While Zoe is the calm and in-control second-in-command “warrior woman” with an unconditional loyalty to her captain.
Wash is a playful and light-hearted pilot that is impossible not to love. Kaylee is a mechanic from a backwater planet but has a natural talent for engines. Jayne is the muscle you can never truly trust. Inara is the cultured prostitute who also happens to be the only one making an honest and legal living. Shepherd Book is the moral and spiritual core of the ship. And Simon, the uptight doctor, and River Tam, the child prodigy with an uncanny ability to sense things before they happen, are on the run from the Alliance.
Each of the nine characters are expertly designed to drive either the comedy or the conflict in the series, and sometimes both at the same time. Every single one of them is an essential ingredient to the yumminess that is Firefly. Together they create the perfect example of what a chosen family looks like, something that would be a delicate task to create living on the edge of civilization and isolated in space. Every crew member fulfills not only a skill, but also a familial role. They have to, or the whole endeavor could fall apart.
From a franchise and writing perspective, not only does this diverse cast of personalities provide a favorite character for everyone, they are also a rich source of subplots and b-stories. From Book’s mysterious background of crime and law, to Kaylee’s obsession with a frilly pink dress, and Jayne’s unheroic robin hood adventure, the balance of these characters keeps the storytelling fresh and interesting for what could have been countless seasons.
If for nothing else, Firefly is an excellent source for studying an expertly designed ensemble cast of characters.
So, those are my top three favorite story elements of Firefly, the spectacularly short lived series that continues to delight its original fans as well as acquire new fans twenty years later. If you haven’t already watched Firefly, I hope that I made a little dent in urging you to binge the series as soon as possible.
For those of you who are already fans of the series, I would love to hear about your favorite thing about Firefly. Or, let me know what your favorite Firefly episode is in the comments below. Honestly, I can’t decide which episode I love the most. I think it is a tie between “War Stories,” “Jaynestown,” and “Out Of Gas.” Although I do love Christina Hendricks in “Our Mrs. Reynolds” as well as “Trash.” See, I can’t pick just one, I love them all for different reasons.
And can I gloat for a quick minute? I love my Jayne beanie hat embroidery. In fact, I really want to stitch this onto the back of a jean jacket someday. If anyone does that pleeeeease send me a photo! What do you think? Boop the like button if you think I did a perfectly imperfect job on this stitching.
If you enjoyed this little episode of geeky silliness, be sure to subscribe and catch the next episode Stitching Sci-Fi. Also, don’t forget to check out my free reading of Uncommon, book one in the Chronicles of the Common paranormal science fiction adventure series right here, exclusively on YouTube. Until next time, folks and friendly fiends, thank you for watching, take care, and have a cozy Common day.