For many sci-fi fans, this question was answered before it was ever asked; The Empire Strikes Back is the definitive sci-fi movie. For the mainstream viewer, it solidified a genre that it’s predecessor jump-started. It appealed to even the most casual of sci-fi viewers, and it’s characters and themes quickly permeated pop-culture. It spawned books, cartoons, toy lines, prequels, board games, video games, and clothing lines. Whether referring to profitability, or cultural impact, Star Wars is undoubtedly an empire. Despite all this, it was Serenity that emerged victorious, and it left many of us wondering, how did this happen? The answer it seems, may have a lot to do with how Serenity came to be.
Both franchises – Firefly and Star Wars - tell the tale of an oppressed rebel cause struggling against the authoritarian grasp of an evil empire. Star Wars with its Rebel Alliance, and Firefly with its Browncoats. However, where Star Wars went on to become an empire of it’s own, Firefly was abruptly canceled by one. Fox, a distributor notorious for its autocratic rule over the airwaves, pulled the plug on Firefly before it had completed its first season. But, rather than surrender, Firefly fans rose up.
Rumors of cancellation surfaced almost before the show debuted. Inspired by the first fifteen minutes of the show, the fledgling Firefly fan base stepped forward as self-styled Browncoats. They organized a letter-writing campaign in search of a network that would harbor the embattled show, and even raised enough money to fund an ad promoting the show in Variety magazine. Alas, in what seemed like an echo of the fate that befell the fictional Browncoat rebels, Fox pulled out and the show was canceled. The Browncoats, it seemed, were to lay down arms.
Having lost the battle to keep Firefly on the air and left with little ground to call their own – the DVD release of a half finished series – the Browncoats regrouped to continue their struggle for recognition. They created online communities where fans could spread the word and support the show they loved. Together, they raised enough money to purchase several hundred copies of the show to be donated. The Browncoats believed that if enough people expressed support, the studios would have no choice but to listen. In 2005, that passion was heard, and in an unprecedented move by the studios, the show was given a feature length movie.
Even after the release of Serenity, the Browncoats remained ever engaged. The following year, they organized worldwide charity screenings of the movie. Under the banner Can’t Stop The Serenity, or CSTS, the Browncoats raised more than $500,000 for Equality Now. Since its inception, the fan film project Browncoat: Redemption has raised over $50,000 in pursuit of their goal of $500,000 for charity, and introduces new fan-made content to the Firefly ‘verse. Today, the Browncoats continue to promote awareness of the show through a variety of projects, and are constantly discovering and inventing new ways to appreciate it.
So if you’re wondering how Serenity could nudge out The Empire Strikes Back in a head-to-head vote, you need look no further than the fans who voted it there. Because, for Browncoats, The Empire Strikes Back may be a great movie – but Serenity is our movie.
*A joint collaboration between Thor Kuhn & Jay Ashland