Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Firefly/Serenity Expanded Universe

Late last week I ordered the four volumes of Serenity graphic novels, which constitute the entirety of that setting's "expanded universe". Over the weekend I read through these, and my opinion was... mixed.

A couple of the stories ("Better Days" and "A Shepherd's Tale") either feel very much like an episode of the show or they serve to fill in some of the gaps in the show, while also adding something new to the setting. Those were definitely the more worthwhile of the stories.

Some of the stories ("Downtime", "The Other Half") were fine, but they were too short to really be of too much interest - just stuff that happened. Similarly, one of the bigger stories ("Float Out") was largely inconsequential.

But some of the stories ("Those Left Behind", "Leaves on the Wind") just didn't quite sit right. There are two reasons for this, both of which have been issues with either the Star Wars prequels or its expanded universe.

The first issue is the repeated use of recurring characters: Dobson, Jubal Early, the Operative (confusingly, the same actor with a different character). Badger is also reused, but he's a somewhat different case as he wasn't a one-off in the first place.

The problem here is that continued reuse of the same characters actually shrinks the universe rather than expanding it. If the same half dozen heroes keep bouncing around the same half dozen villains, that suggests that the 'Verse, rather than being populated by billions, actually only houses a dozen or so people of any interest. It's actually better only to reuse characters very sparingly, and even then only when that most definitely is the right character to use - no other will do.

The second issue is that Serenity and Mal Reynolds seem to be undergoing the same sort of legendary ascension as the Millennium Falcon and Han Solo have undergone in Star Wars. Where the Falcon was once just a stock light freighter that Han had made some "special modifications" to, it became the result of a freakishly good build in the plant, then passed through the hands of several legendary owners, before coming to Han as the most wonderfully unique ship in the galaxy... not the "piece of junk" it started out. And where Han started out as a somewhat amoral smuggler who happens to get caught up in great events despite himself, he instead becomes the outstanding Imperial pilot of his generation who dropped out in a grand statement of moral outrage, before proceeding to become the greatest of military geniuses, and...

Serenity and Mal Reynolds are very much the image of the Falcon and its owner before Star Wars started out, only perhaps moreso - Mal was a soldier in the war who had a certain competence but a general lack of respect for his officers, who lost his faith as a result of that war, and was thus generally pretty embittered. Nowhere in there is he a legend. And Serenity is pretty much a Ford Transit. No, seriously.

So when the comics show Serenity blowing up a reaver ship simply by flying near it, and when Mal is described somehow as being the foremost military genius of his age, it really doesn't sit right.

(Incidentally, my latest Star Wars thought: you know that saying the some people are born great, others achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them? Anakin is the first, Luke is the second, and Han is the third.)

Still, there's some interesting material in here, and the stories that are good are pretty good. So, I'll keep tabs on whatever comes next and give it a read. Though for my RPG exploits, my intention is to ignore it almost completely.

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