The Unusual Mix of Technology And ‘Wild West’

The classic American Sci-fi TV series Firefly was a short-lived 14-episode show that gained a lot of fan base, but the show was suddenly halted. There was never really any closure for many fans, until the movie Serenity came out.

Despite the number of fans who followed the show, there are still those who think it was an insult to many sci-fi series in many levels. For instance, Firefly was into the ‘space cowboy’ motif wherein characters were dressed in cowboy clothing. Many people found this very odd and out of place because the setting was supposed to be the future – the year 2517, in fact. The timeline was so fast forward that space cowboys just didn’t seem realistic. Ironically, it may be one of the factors why many fans were drawn to it. But whether the space cowboy theme was an effective audience-drawer or not, it surely wasn’t enough to make the show stay on for longer seasons.

The year 2002, which is the time when the Firefly Classic TV Show was released, was a time for sci-fi fad in the movie industry. For about a decade since the year 2000, many movies came out around this time that had a sci-fi theme. These included Battlefield Earth, Mission to Mars, Space Cowboys, Supernova, Steven Spielberg’s A.I., K-Pax and dozens of other sci-fi movies which continues up until the year 2012. It was a fad, much the same way that vampire movies with a romantic theme are a fad today. So it is no surprise that it will gain a lot of followers as there were already a lot of sci-fi fanatics since Star Wars came out.

What Firefly gave the viewers however, that not a lot of sci-fi shows were able to give, was the situational scenario when people are migrated from one planet to another and start life over again. It made people think, never mind the numerous contradictions in the setting and characters. It gave people the sense of what it would be like to start a new life away from the planet they once knew. It wasn’t just about space wars and confrontations. There was a lot of drama going on and that’s what probably pulled in a lot of audiences.

But despite the many contradictions in the show, many followers were saddened when the series suddenly ended. And ironically, the series still sells until now. When a behind-the-scenes book came out several years after the show ended, fans were eager to get a hold of the copy. It only seems to prove that sci-fi fans will neither grow old nor get tired of the things that they love.


  1. Dawn says:

    I LOVE the space cowboy contradiction. It made sense for people to start over with old fashioned and simple clothing. What did people expect, Calvin Klein or Vera Wang? The only quirk I didn’t care fore was the Chinese mixture. Supposedly it was a way of representing China’s increasing influence in our society today. But the Chinese mixture was so small in Firefly that it really didn’t stand out enough other than to be odd.

  2. I don’t think the cowboy themes are contradictions at all. Look at people in, say, the US who live off the grid. They might have solar power for lights, but heat and cook with wood. They might have plumbing, but a composting toilet (not so different from an outhouse). They’ll have sturdy, easily repairable clothing; tools and weapons will be as simple as possible so they are less likely to break and easy to repair if they do. They’ll grow most of their own food, plant and animal. Animals might be used for transportation because they can get to places machinery can’t and their fuel grows everywhere–free. Makes sense to me that a sparsely settled, pioneer planet would be similar.

  3. Brian says:

    One of the things that made Star Wars so incredibly popular was the “realism”. Unlike Star trek, where everything was spotless – and worked – every thing in Star Wars was rusty and dented and held together with whatever the future uses for duct tape. One of the best moments from the entire series was from the first movie when Han Solo stood up and banged on the control panel to get everything in the cockpit to turn on again.

    Firefly/Serenity went even beyond that, and in a VERY realistic way. Not everyone dresses like space cowboys – not on the Alliance Worlds. But when the time comes that we start reaching out to the stars, the colonies aren’t going to be shining bastions of high technology, they’re going to be grubby and messy and eternal seas of duct tape.

  4. Suzanne Rath says:

    I understand why many sci-fi fans would (and did) hate the cowboy elements. I totally disagree with it, but there’s a large set of what I think of as “hard science” sci-fi fans, who more interested in the spiffy science than the people based stories. I don’t think they could even comprehend “sci-fi + cowboy.” Take a look at Serenity’s Amazon reviews; mostly 5 star raves with the occasional, but consistent, 1 star full on hate-rants… all because Firefly flew in the face of their sci-fi conventions. But, of course, its the very unorthodoxy of the show that made Firefly so great.

    Joss Whedon, a man who’s always ahead of his time.

  5. Christopher B says:

    The writer obviously has no idea what he’s talking about

  6. Tom Gillies says:

    The Space/Cowboy theme was not a surprise to me as it has been a recurring theme in a lot of hard sci-if novels from Robert Heinlein to Ray Bradbury. Think about it. There is only so much gear one can bring on a transport ship to a new colony; first wave is going to have a much harder time than 2nd, 3rd, etc. You are going to have some high tech gear but the rest is going to be: start plowing, start digging, start surviving. Loved Firefly! They at least tried to get it right!

  7. Bueford S. says:

    This article is terrible. It reads as if it were written by a fourteen-year-old. The author clearly lacks any semblance of understanding of the subject material. The article seems to be, at best, a form of nerd-bait: basically, it’s a troll. I’m sorry I wasted my time reading this tripe, and even sorrier that I wasted time commenting on it.

  8. Don Jones says:

    Quite frankly, it is my belief that the cause and effect listed in this article is nonsense. It’s not that complicated. The reasons that Firefly failed fall directly on the shoulders of Fox. They moved the broadcast days and times so that is was difficult difficult for fans to get into the habit of watching. Fox also mixed the order of the episodes disrupting the flow. First and foremost, Fox simply did not promote Firefly enough. I never even heard of Firefly until Serenity came out. I admit that I do not watch a lot of television, but I watch enough that I should have been aware of the existence of this show.

  9. Tony Sanchez says:

    Seriously?! Old West and Sci-Fi mix perfectly together. Space is the final frontier afterall. The real reason the show was cancelled was POLITICAL! The show glorified many right-wing ideologies. Freedom, capitalism, self-defense, and rugged individualism define the show and America’s founding. Hollywood wants only to glorify left-wing ideologies such as: equality of status regardless of work input, environmentalism, redistribution of wealth, and government dependence.

  10. larrouxgirl says:

    It was business. Fox was clueless as to how to market it, and the executives paid no heed to Joss Whedon’s suggestions/directions in that regard. Numbers were unsatisfactory not because people didn’t like the show, but because, over it’s 14 episode exposure, it changed days of the week and times at least of couple of times each. I for one looked high and low for it back when it first appeared and couldn’t find it in prime time. It was on, just hardly ever in the same place twice. As for whoever wrote this bit of — what? I don’t know what to call it. Do some homework, should you ever attempt this again.

    • KayWestwood says:

      This is precisely the problem!! FOX not only didn’t market it, or listen to Joss Whedon’s suggestions, they didn’t even play the episodes in the correct order. So even if that hadn’t moved the day multiple times, the story didn’t make sense to be viewed starting in the middle and jumping around. There was a Pilot episode for a reason… and if you watch the DVD set in the way it was intended… the story is told, the characters are loved (or hated, depending), and the viewer is hooked.

      As for the writer… I can only be somewhat sad that people provide their viewpoints without a bit of reasearch. But, I suppose that’s why it’s opinion. :)

  11. Matt says:

    It wasn’t cancelled because people were confused about cowboys in the future (which actually makes sense seeing as they were settling new worlds – why wouldn’t they revert to how we were when settling the New World?). It was cancelled because Fox inconsistently broadcast the series in the wrong order!

  12. michael schlabig says:

    It wasn’t such a contradiction, people today still reach back to the ancient times when designing armor and weapons to make them more elegant, and fashion always looks to the past to include pieces that make that industry more successful.

    So to me them dressing up in these clothes weren’t really out of place because it was based on the acestors of earth.

    Fox has always been stupid when it comes to great shows they cancel because they have no clue on what to do next or where they should place a well placed budget. They canceled a large number of shows including family guy and family guy had the best joke ever about how Fox is by reciting the names of every show Fox tried to air before they renewed Family Guy back on the air. Futurama was bought by comedy central because all of us geeks knew full well what kind of show that was and how well it was put together it should have never been cancelled by Fox it’s doing better then ever on comedy central now.

  13. Kady says:

    Firefly was a good show and i thought the cancellation was just not right i didnt notice the little things i liked it. the characters were great, the drama the love and hate oh yea thats what made it not the little minut things about it and i think one day they should bring it back for a reunion.

  14. I agree with those who don’t see any contradictions between the spaceman and cowboy scenarios, the show was much more realistic that way. In Science Fiction class (yes, my high school kicked ass!), I learned that science-fiction is taking something from the here-and-now and putting into a different time frame, either future or past, and Firefly did that expertly, smartly and most importantly, in a REALLY entertaining way. Wasn’t the first time that Fox totally blew it by cancelling an incredible show, and probably not the last either.

  15. Brian Bennett says:

    If you really understood the show then you would realize that it was only the outer rim planets that were technologically backwards. The Alliance (central) planets had as much technology as you could want. The folks on the Firefly ship rejected Alliance control each for their own reasons. It was the story of how each person came to be on that ship and what they had to do to survive while being fugitives from the Alliance.

  16. Devon Birdsall says:

    I saw part of one Firefly episode when it was an active series and thought the old west syntax & costuming was too ridiculous for sci fi. Then, later, I watched reruns (way before Serenity) & I loved it! The problem for me was at first glance I thought the premise was like some sort of gimmick but then I came to know the characters and once I was invested with them (about two episodes) then the cowboy twist was just a part of the whole scenario and acceptable.

  17. thorschariot says:

    it failed because Fox did everything it could to sabotage it, including running the episodes OUT OF ORDER, as well as randomly changing days and times of broadcast. it had nothing, repeat NOTHING to do with the show itself.

  18. Blaidd says:

    I think it’s a little sad that people didn’t understand the concept of how the “Space Cowboy” theme made sense. High technology and fancy clothes were only available to those who could afford it. Why is it so hard to understand this? The people were still in a colonization phase. In the outer colonies, people were basically just dropped off with the few supplies they had and were suppose to figure out how to survive. Only the rich had the best equipment and tech. Look at the Alliance. It was the Government, so of course they’ll always have the best tech and the nice shiny uniforms.

  19. Lynn says:

    There is no contradiction at all. Colonists left on distant planets to fend for themselves would, out of necessity, revert to earlier technologies to survive. Firefly was the MOST realistic sci-fi show ever. No, not perfect but a lot more real than most.

  20. Wimpy says:

    Great initghs. Relieved I’m on the same side as you.

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