In 2002, a show called Firefly was aired on television. Created by Joss Whedon, it did poorly in ratings, was mismanaged by Fox when it came to (not) airing episodes, or airing them out of order, and was eventually cancelled after one season. But fans don’t shut up, and thanks to a lot of fanfare and very strong DVD sales, Serenity, a feature-length film follow-up to Firefly, has been created.

There’s a lot that Serenity had to do in order to work as a conclusion to a much-beloved television show. It had to answer a bunch of questions, it had to show us where these characters wound up, and it had to also tell a bigger, more complicated story than any individual episode of Firefly. Oh, and it had to do that all on a budget smaller than other feature-length films, because if your TV show is cancelled due to poor ratings, you’re not going to be given a huge budget. That’s a lot on the plate of writer-director Whedon, here making his feature-length directing debut, but it’s been handled wonderful. Serenity does pretty much everything that one could realistically hope it would.

Unlike the show, which seemed to have plans for the character of River (Summer Glau) but often put her in the background, Serenity places her front and center, making her a central character and also the one who drives the plot. For those unfamiliar, she was experimented on by the Alliance — evil government, because the government is always evil — before she was rescued by her brother, a doctor named Simon (Sean Maher), and stowed aboard a spaceship named Serenity, captained by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). Did I mention we’re in the future and most of the film takes place in space? Well you should know that.

The Alliance wants River back, and while we never knew why, we’ll find out here. She has information that could harm the Alliance, and that’s not okay. To retrieve her, The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is sent. He’s a well-spoken assassin. The film primarily involves the crew of Serenity trying to both escape from The Operative and also release the secret River’s been harboring into the ‘verse, because that’s what heroes do.

If you haven’t seen Firefly — and you should — this might all sound confusing. The film does a decent enough job relaying the necessary information to you about this universe and its inhabitants, but you’ll be missing a lot if you haven’t seen the show. The characters will also come across as one-dimensional, and you’ll likely not get a lot out of it. This is a movie for the fans of the television show, and while you’ll still likely have fun without having seen Firefly, you won’t get as much out of it as someone who has seen it.

For everyone, though, there are some great action scenes, snappy dialogue, and decent special effects on display. Anyone can enjoy these, and they’re the elements that make this type of film work. Serenity is enjoyable just as a standalone science fiction film. Its individual elements work well, even if they’re a little shallow — the film does expect you’ve done your homework.

I have a feeling fans of Firefly will still hope for more. More answers, more universe exploration, more more more. Of course you want more. This is good material set in an interesting universe that has been created by smart people and starring a great cast. I want more. But as a finale to a television series that in all honesty had little right to get a feature film, it’s about as good as one could hope. It’s something to be applauded and thankful for. Lots of shows don’t get this type of conclusion.

Serenity is a joy to watch. As a fan of Firefly, it’s a better conclusion than one could hope for, and does as much as it can to tie up loose ends, answer questions, and also deliver a big-budget episode of the television show. It does all of that and more. Non-fans can still appreciate the visuals, snappy dialogue, and enjoyable action. Fans will get so much more out of it, and after watching will be very pleased with what they’ve just seen. Serenity is a really good movie in its own right, and the best Firefly episode you’ll be able to see.

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