News came out last week sparking interest from nerds all over the world. They’re talking about bringing Firefly – the best space western in the universe- back to life. No, I’m serious. They’re really doing it this time. According to this article, “Fox’s president of entertainment is open to the idea – if they can find a way to do it right.” So, time for some thrilling heroics. Minear might use his leverage as supreme overlord of good TV to revive the Little Show that Could. All good fortune to the man, it gives me an opportunity to talk about space westerns since they make up a large part of science fiction.
The real question I want to talk about is whether Firefly is the last space western, since that subgenre of scifi is more or less done to death. Star Trek and Star Wars are both space westerns, heck Star Trek was originally described as ‘Wagon Train to the Stars’ by Gene Roddenberry. TvTropes has more information on what this type of story is and other common themes to watch for. The main thing is, that space westerns are more or less done to death. Firefly simultaneously disrupted and celebrated space westerns, thanks in no small part to some great writing by Tim “The guy who exec produces 9-1-1 right now” Minear. How would you improve on Space Westerns after Firefly came/comes to an end?
Cowboys and Indians but the Indians are aliens? That’s Star Trek. The Union versus the Johnny Rebs? That’s Firefly. Cowboys and Indians but the Indians aren’t aliens they’re robot aliens? It’s been done. It’s been done. Lonely settlers surviving against the elements on the frontier? It’s been done. Sheriff cleans up a lawless town in space? It’s been done. I could go on but I think you get the point. The Western genre has been carefully mined, re-mined, and now we’re down to the mine tailings.
Moreover, in this day and age, most of the tropes of Western stories fall flat when viewed through the 21st Century lens. Plucky cowboys aren’t so heroic when you consider the vast, shameful history of exploitation, victimization, and genocide suffered by Native Americans. We’re decades away from the cheerful jingoism of John Wayne movies and cringeworthy pulp Western stories.
The interesting aspects of the Wild West often fell to the wayside, in favor of sanitized versions of revised history. If you don’t believe me, go look up Bass Reeves. They couldn’t bring themselves to celebrate a black law enforcement officer, so they invented the Lone Ranger instead. Shameful.
So all that being said, is Firefly the last space western? I’ll let you decide. Firefly proves you can still make something valuable out of those tailings, but you’d better be prepared to work for it. I’ve taken a crack at the genre myself. In ‘The Battle of Victoria Crater,‘ I took a page from Firefly and some notes from the boring dystopia we’re living in. What if people moved to Mars, only to find out that corporate greed was even worse there than it is here? How would they fight the big bad guy, and how would they win?
Space Westerns are fun stories to tell, but I don’t plan on making a living off of them. Maybe someone else with the motivation and resources can, but I’m still figuring out what modes and methods work for me. I think this is a natural process; look at Bob Ross. Took him years to figure out what his favorite painting style was. Developing a talent takes patience and faith. You’re digging through the mountains , hoping and believing that you’ll find treasure that you can bring to the surface. Hey, that makes me think of miners in the Gold Rush. Maybe there’s more to the Space Westerns after all!