I suppose that once I became familiar with the Firefly series that it was inevitable that I would end up being a serious and reflective fan of the series. As it happens, though, I was not a fan of the series at all when it first came out. In fact, I never even heard of it in more than shadows and rumors while the series was still active. Given that I am in general a fairly open fan of space opera (I’m at least a moderate fan of both Star Wars and Star Trek, to the extent that I have played games for both and written fanfic for both universes), the fact that I was not aware of Firefly and its show suggests some level of a failure to market a given show to what would be a fairly natural demographic.
To be fair, what happened with Firefly is almost a textbook example of what can go wrong with a series. When there is insufficient marketing, drastic changes in scheduling that would confuse most of those who wanted to see the series, and putting episodes with a particular story arc (one that makes an eminent amount of sense) drastically out of order ended up confusing those who did manage to watch. As far as the network is concerned, the series was grossly mismanaged and bungled for reasons that do not appear to be clearly understood. In retrospect, one of the greatest strengths of Firefly, its intricate storyline and immense importance of sensible character development as well as a large operatic story arc, ended up being a grave weakness given the way that it was treated by its network, leading to an early and vastly premature cancellation and the rather epic efforts of its fans to keep the series and its memory alive with the hope of restoration.
I did not become familiar with the series myself until about the time that the movie was due to come out. A friend of mine at the time had purchased the entire series on dvd, and not being familiar with it, but being interested in the premise and its genre as a whole, I watched the series in its proper order in short order and found it very fascinating and worthwhile. I had some questions, including wondering about the mysterious past of Book, as well as finding an ironic interpretation on Jayne as a hero and being able to relate to the frustrated longings of Kaylee (for I have always had a soft spot in my own heart for tender and sweet people) for love and adventure. Being thus intrigued by the complexity and design of the series and its plot and character development, I watched the movie and shared in the pathos of its attempt to continue the series on, greatly appreciating its effort.
Sadly, however, the film only managed to break even in its theatrical run, despite the passionate support of its fans as well as the presence of those latecomers like myself who had a great deal of appreciation for the skill of the craft of the actors and crew and the obvious love they had for the material. In retrospect, it appears as if the passionate devotion of the fans of the series may at times have led to such overheated claims of superiority to those who did not “get it” that the series failed to attract a much larger base of more casual fans who instead were put off by the defensiveness and passion of those fans whose passion may not have served their cause’s ultimate benefit. Especially when we are dealing with genre work, it would appear as if the passion of fans tends to work best when it is quirky and loveable and least when it ascribes to fans a degree of cultural sophistication and taste and intelligence that tends to look down on outsiders. This is especially true when we recognize that Westerns are traditionally not viewed as sophisticated or cultured films within the American cultural tradition .
That said, for those of us that did manage to overcome our suspicions of the over-enthusiasm of its fan base and appreciate the series (and its movie) on its own terms, the effort was richly rewarded. It is a shame that more did not take the effort, since even if one thinks the concerns about the fine line between order and freedom and the extremes presented by the immoral and savage Reavers and the bureaucratic officiousness of the Alliance and the uncomfortable and often corrupt and backwards middle ground between these two extremes are a bit philosophical or a bit simplistic (depending on one’s worldview). Putting together disparate and intriguing characters with a variety of different backgrounds who have also chosen to be with each other for their own reasons and with their own plans is a recipe for wonderful art. Such art is worthy of being appreciated, even now.