Inspired by Michael Shaara's American Civil War novel The Killer Angels, Buffy creator Joss Whedon decided that his next project would effectively be a Western in space. A dark take on the Star Wars franchise, Firefly explores what would happen if the rag-tag gang of rebels failed to defeat the evil Empire.
Firefly: Originally broadcast from September 20, 2002 to December 20, 2002
Picking up several years after rebel group the Independents suffered a crippling defeat at the hands of the sinister Alliance, the show follows Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his crew aboard the good ship Serenity. It's such an obvious observation that it barely needs making, but we're going to make it anyway - the long-lasting appeal of Firefly should primarily be credited to Joss Whedon.
Riding high on the success of Buffy and its spinoff Angel, Whedon created a universe that was complex and yet relatable, populated by vividly drawn, expertly fleshed-out characters. No mean feat given Firefly's truncated run.
Whedon's well-known for his distinctive style of dialogue and the 14 episodes of Firefly are certainly jam-packed with 'Whedon-isms' - Mal's quips, the sarcastic observations of pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk) and the simple-minded musings of the brutish Jayne (Adam Baldwin).
But there's more to Whedon's work than just pithy dialogue. There's always an emotional backbone to his scripts, and Firefly is no different. You care about these characters - even Jayne - and become caught up in their evolving relationships. Whedon's also a master of the slow-burn story arc, and though many of the show's central mysteries would go unresolved - we'll get onto that later - he nevertheless lays the groundwork for something spectacular.
Of course, a good script is nothing without good actors to bring it to life, and Whedon struck gold when casting Serenity's nine-member crew. Nathan Fillion is perfect in the role of the Han Solo-inspired space pirate Mal, while Gina Torres and Alan Tudyk make for an unlikely but charming couple as the tough Zoe and clownish Wash.
Adam Baldwin has perhaps the hardest job out of the cast, tasked with making the violent and ignorant Jayne Cobb likeable, but the actor's natural charisma wins through. Veteran actor Ron Glass is dignified as the noble but mysterious Shepherd Book, and Jewel Staite is almost unbearably loveable as the mechanic Kaylee.
But it's time to address the blood-thirsty Reaver in the room. For all the critical acclaim and fan love it's attracted since, let's face it - Firefly was not a success when it first aired. But it's hard to imagine any show flourishing under such conditions as Firefly suffered - Fox rejected the show's original pilot for being too dark, forcing Joss Whedon and his team to write a new introductory episode.
This secondary pilot - 'The Train Job' - gave viewers their first taste of the show, but Fox, in their wisdom, later decided to air the original pilot halfway through the first season. The episodes that followed were also aired out of order, rendering character arcs and developing plot threads nonsensical. Is it any wonder that viewers were put off in droves?
It thus came as little surprise when Firefly was given the chop after just eleven episodes, leaving three instalments unaired. The missing episodes were eventually broadcast by the Sci-Fi Channel and the show's entire run was released to DVD, but ultimately, it seemed that the series had been a missed opportunity - a promising project botched by a wary network.
The film proved controversial with some fans - killing off two much-loved characters - but generally received a thumbs-up from critics. However, Serenity's box-office was far from "shiny" - it scraped a worldwide total of $38.9 million, under the film's $39 million budget.
Given the poor financial returns, it seemed that the Firefly franchise had stalled once again. Sure enough, Joss Whedon later declared that there would be "no sequel" and likely no continuation of Firefly in any form - bar the odd comic book spinoff. However, Whedon made it clear that, should the opportunity arise, he would be more than keen to revive the series. "There is no news," he said. "Not never, just now."
Six years since Serenity was released, and we're still waiting. With Nathan Fillion busy wowing new fans on ABC's Castle and other cast members also busy elsewhere - see Adam Baldwin on NBC's Chuck and Morena Baccarin in Showtime's new drama Homeland - it seems like Firefly really is gone for good.
But we still have the DVD box-set - all 14 episodes, complete and untampered with, ready to enjoy! So maybe we should stop thinking about might have been and instead appreciate what we've got. Appropriately enough, Firefly burnt briefly, but it burnt bright.
Do you still miss Firefly? Let us know below!