In the role of David is Serenity, the story of swashbuckling space cowboys running afoul of the tyrannical Alliance, set in the future after humans leave Earth that was. As for Goliath, it is The Empire Strikes Back, perhaps the best sequel in cinematic history, following the familiar story of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and the droids in their attempt to keep the rebellion alive against the cruel and dictatorial Galactic Empire a long time ago in a far-off galaxy.
On April 6, fans will get to decide which is their favorite science fiction movie of all time on io9.com’s March Movie Madness at http://io9.com/#!5789509/io9-march-movie-madness-the-final-showdown-empire-vs-serenity .
Both movies have their place in the sci-fi genre, as well as cinematic history. Back in 1980, the Empire Strikes Back, along with the Star Wars franchise as a whole, gave birth to a new generation of science fiction-themed movies. There is no question that Joss Whedon & Company were inspired greatly by Star Wars, and in particular, The Empire Strikes Back. In many ways, there would not be Serenity, and the television show that inspired it, Firefly, without Star Wars, and in particular, without The Empire Strikes Back.
Really, Empire is Serenity’s father.
The similarities are too obvious to ignore. Malcolm Reynolds appears as a cross between Han Solo and Indiana Jones (minus the archaeology). And there is no question that without Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Captain Solo, there never would be Nathan Fillion’s depiction of Captain Reynolds. So revered was Solo in Firefly, that a miniature Han encased in carbonite statuette appears numerous times in scenes from the show.
Also, there clearly would be no Firefly-class spaceship, and Serenity the ship, without the Millennium Falcon. The exterior and interior of the ships have a similar feel. Although, while the Falcon would be suited for a space battle, Serenity had to have a cannon mounted on it to give the crew a chance of getting the Reavers to follow them to Mr. Universe’s home planet. Therefore, the Firefly was more of a freighter for trading, smuggling, and the like, while the Falcon could lead a fleet.
Both movies have an evil empire to fight against. One has a Princess as the main love interest, the other an “Ambassador,” who really is a registered prostitute. River Tam has certain powers, including telepathy, that could be the Verse’s equivalent of the telekinetic Force-like powers in Empire.
Of course, the differences are numerous too. There’s the first mates on each ship. In Empire, it’s a walking carpet. But in Serenity, it’s a sexy warrior woman. There are no droids, no aliens in Serenity. Empire is populated with all sorts of different races. And of course, in Serenity there’s Jayne; there is no equivalent for Jayne in all of the Star Wars mythos — or anywhere in the known universe, for that matter.
Both movies are very much sequels, and provide a transition for the heroes involved. In Solo’s case, he starts out as a mercenary ready to abandon the rebellion after his heroics at the Death Star, but quickly becomes the hero again to protect the Princess he loves. He sacrifices himself to save her. And only when she is about to lose him forever can she tell him she loves him, too. “I know,” was his reply, ad-libbed as only Harrison Ford can deliver.
Reynolds, too, transforms from mere mercenary to his roots of fighting the Alliance. Right after he dumps River and Simon Tam, when he sees what the Alliance had programmed her to do, he takes her back in. When they imprison his beloved Inara, he swoops in to rescue her. When they slay his friends, including his mentor figure, Shepherd Book, he goes back to war. He asks more of his crew than before, and they rise to the occasion.
He rises up again as a hero, fighting for something in which he believes. He restores his faith; not necessarily in God or religion. But in himself, and in his belief that an unjust government must be opposed, even at great sacrifice, losing his close friends, Wash, Book, and Mr. Universe.
Overall, Serenity had profound things to say about the world we live in today. Empire does, too, but in different ways. My favorite dichotomy in Empire is between Yoda and Darth Vader’s teaching styles. While Yoda teaches Skywalker patience, Vader punishes his subordinates with death, if necessary, to achieve his objectives. Yoda uses understanding, compassion, and wisdom to motivate Skywalker, while Vader uses fear to keep his men in line.
Whereas Star Wars and Empire is more about archetypes and of course, fathers and sons, and the lessons we teach our children, Serenity is about love, faith, fighting for what you believe in, and the power of the individual over the collective. It goes deep into the flaws and blemishes of humankind, but it also provides an opportunity for redemption, even for the cold-hearted assassin only known as the Operative, who spares the crew’s lives in the end — and sets them free.
Both movies show man’s capacity for good and evil, as any epic should. And while Empire shows us what a far-off galaxy might be like, Serenity offers fans a peek into mankind’s very future when it finds its way to the stars.
So, which is it? The Goliath of all sci-fi films, The Empire Strikes Back? Or the David of the genre, Serenity, that will not be broken, no matter how often cancelled or discontinued? On April 6, you, the fans of science fiction and epic space fantasy will get to decide on io9.com.