Fans of “Firefly” keep the imagined sci-fi Western universe alive, Joss Whedon told more than 4,000 people (many of whom camped in line overnight) in the jam-packed Ballroom 20 at Comic-Con International on Friday afternoon.
Whedon also talked about an upcoming comic book series from Dark Horse, which will pick up some time after “Firefly” and “Serenity” left off.
The emotional panel, which started and ended with tears and standing ovations, reunited most the main cast of the short-lived but much-loved series. Creator (and “The Avengers” director) Whedon; actors Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, Adam Baldwin and Sean Maher; and writers Tim Minear and Jose Molina took photos of one another and the crowd as they entered the stage, greeted by deafening applause.
“Firefly,” which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, chronicles the misadventures of Capt. Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion) and his ragtag crew as they scavenge and steal to keep their bucket-of-bolts spaceship Serenity afloat. In creating the series, Whedon rejected typical sci-fi tropes like “purple lights” and “aliens with big green heads” and aimed instead for “something that felt real, like a piece of history,” he said. “I wanted to tell an immigrant’s story.”
Fox canceled the show short of a full-season run, but the feature-length sequel “Serenity” hit theaters in 2005, largely because of relentless support from singularly devoted fans who call themselves “Browncoats” after the former resistance soldiers in the series.
When asked at the end of the panel, hosted by Science Channel, how he felt about those fans, Whedon found himself at a rare loss for words. The audience filled his silence with cheers, and the teary cast members joined fans in a standing ovation as Whedon, overcome by emotion, struggled to speak.
“When you come from a great movie, you feel like you’re in that world,” Whedon finally said. “You come out of certain things, and the world has become that. When you’re telling a story, you are trying to connect to people in a particular way. It’s not just about what you want to say, it’s about inviting them into a world. And the way in which you guys have inhabited this world, this universe, has made you part of it, part of the story. You are living in ‘Firefly.’ When I see you guys, I don’t think the show’s off the air. I don’t think there’s a show. I think that’s what the world is like. I think there’s spaceships. I think there’s horses. The story is alive.”
It’s a rare, intimate relationship the show’s creators and stars share with their viewers, born out of the breath of second life the online fan community gave the franchise years after the show was canceled. “Firefly” alumni frequently interact with Browncoat groups around the country; even Thursday night, Whedon, Baldwin and others paid a late-night surprise visit, waking up sleeping fans who camped outside the convention center for the reunion panel.
During the panel, Whedon talked about how differently the series would have ended had he known the show would be cut short, or had the show continued. He said “Firefly” would have delved more deeply into the Blue Sun conspiracy and revealed more about mysterious characters Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) and Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin), both fan favorites.
And had the story ended as a TV show, not a feature film, he would not have killed off Wash or Book. The audience erupted in applause, and Tudyk threw victorious fists in the air.
“A film is a different animal, and it has different needs,” Whedon said.
Whedon said the new Dark Horse comics will explore what happened to the crew after “Serenity,” as opposed to the existing comics, which are prequels. He also hinted that an upcoming project will delve more into Inara’s story but did not share any specifics.
Fillion said he feels grateful that the series has enjoyed such success instead of feeling greedy for more.
“When ‘Firefly’ died, I thought it was the worst thing that could possibly happen,” Fillion said. “And what I realize now, 10 years later, looking out over this room, is that the worst thing that could have happened is if it had stayed dead.”
Cast members reminisced fondly about specific episodes, and Tudyk recalled being approached by Fillion his first day on set. Fillion immediately challenged him to a name-learning contest — the beginning of an unusually intimate camaraderie among the cast and crew, he said.
Whedon also praised Fillion, crediting him for leading and uniting the actors as well as his character led and united his crew.
“Nathan is the captain,” he said. “He is there to make sure everybody is having the best time, doing their best work…. The captain of the ship and the star of the show have a responsibility that most actors are not up to, or ignore.” Whedon also praised Glau’s “vulnerability and strength” and Jewel Staite’s ability to make him cry and called Gina Torres “the most bad-ass woman” he’d ever seen.
“We always knew from the very beginning that everything we were doing, we were doing for the right reasons, in the right way, with the right people, that we were making something that was more than the sum of its parts, and that we had the best cast I’ll ever work with,” Whedon said, surveying the thousands of cheering fans.
“It goes beyond vindication,” he said. “Vindication came along time ago. It goes to a place of transcendence that I can’t even describe without turning into a girly man, more of a girly man than I already am.”
— Noelene Clark
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