Me, my friend, and a theater packed with nerds were treated to Joss Whedon's genius in the form of Serenity, the movie sequel to the ill-fated cult-favorite television series Firefly.
But as the credits were rolling, I couldn't help but think about what could have been. NOT for Serenity, which I enjoyed quite a lot. NOT for Firefly which was cancelled because of network morons grossly mishandling the show. NOT for Joss Whedon, who abandoned the "Buffyverse" to try something new. But for Star Wars.
Yes, Star Wars.
Star Wars started out as total brilliance, and then escalated into one of the greatest science fiction films of all-time (and best sequels ever) with The Empire Strikes Back. It remains my undisputed favorite sci-fi film, and a total masterwork in the canon of filmmaking. But then George Lucas found out how much money there was to be made in toys and merchandising rights (of which he maintains 100% control), and Star Wars was flushed down the toilet.
No longer were the Star Wars sequels about the story. It was about everything except the story. It was about selling action figures and stuffed Ewok dolls (case in point: everybody knows what an Ewok is, even though they were never named in the film). By the time Return of the Jedi came along, serious sci-fi was shoved aside for burp and fart jokes to appeal to the kiddies. The prequels gave us even more fart jokes, and then descended into untold levels of suckage with cardboard characters so boring and annoying that they were the least interesting thing on the screen.
Star Wars became a joke of cosmic proportions, and only partially redeemed itself with Revenge of the Sith.
So this is what a sequel looks like when the creator resists the temptation to sell out.
Whedon didn't introduce cutesy characters to sell toys. Whedon didn't dumb down the show to the lowest denominator so two-year-olds would be entertained. Whedon didn't destroy what he created for the sake of special effects. Everything that made the original Firefly series so compelling is right here in spades.
Unlike dumbass characters that typify the "new" Star Wars universe (exemplified by Jar Jar Binks) who you wish dead every minute they're on-screen, you actually care about the people whose story you are watching. You feel their pain and share in their triumphs. You relate. Serenity is all about the characters, and everything else takes a back seat... just as it should be. Sure it makes for a slower pace, but by the end of the film you're totally absorbed in a world that's not your own.
That's not to say that there aren't problems. The film is unevenly balanced in parts, clumsily shifting between action and drama that accentuates its television heritage, but it never self-destructs as it so easily could. Trademark Whedon humor and witty dialogue drive the story forward through the rough patches, and easily make up for any shortcomings.
The story revolves around killing-machine savant River Tam, and the mystery of why "The Alliance" is so desperate to reclaim her. Along the way there are kick-ass fight scenes, stellar special effects, and more than a little dose of tragedy. I enjoyed it all, even if my favorite character had to suffer for it (proving once again that Whedon knows just what buttons to push to involve the viewer).
I'm not convinced that a 2-hour movie is the best format for Whedon's talent... he needs time to develop his stories that he just doesn't get here. But he did the best he could with what he was given and wraps things up in a way that won't disappoint the fans. I can only hope that between the box office and DVD sales, Serenity makes enough money that the dumbass network execs second-guess their decision to cancel Firefly.
And if there were any justice, the show would return in a new television series in better hands than those at Fox who worked so hard to make it fail the last time.