I have been a Trekkie all my life. My first impression of the Star Trek universe was not from the free-spirited Captain Kirk though. I opened my eyes into the Enterprise when it was being captained by Jean luc Picard. There was order and cleanliness and things never really went completely out of control. People didn’t bleed, and rarely ever died gruesome deaths. The universe that the Enterprise floated in was populated by diverse worlds — Federation planets — that obeyed a sort of common law when interacting with each other. There was lawbreaking to be sure, but it was always occasional and the crew of the enterprise quickly brought things under control. In short, Star Trek (or at least my experience of it), was all about order.
More recently, I have been watching episodes of Firefly and the movie that came off the franchise — Serenity. It’s nothing like Star Trek. Quite the opposte in fact. It is about how the world works in the absence of civilisation and governing laws. Firefly is, in every possible way, a more dangerous story than Star Trek. Order comes up occasionally, but it never lasts, and things promptly go back to being utterly chaotic.
Firefly brings into sharp contrast the universalism of Star Trek. It points out the ridiculousness of the belief that the world would be a better place after we have put all our eggs in one basket. It shouts out loud that diversity — funky, bewildering, wild diversity — is something worth fighting for. Firefly makes the case that a homogenous civilisation with a single core may not be the best of ideas if universal well-being is what you are looking to establish. The ‘verse is both chaos and order, in equal measure (or was that too orderly?).
This deliberate irreverence for order shows all over Firefly. While the Starship Enterprise is well-lit, clean, and has an amazing amount of automation built into it, the Firefly is more of a truck. It’s chief engineer works with a spanner and every single member of the crew is a wanted fugitive. The cargo, when it is not stolen medicines or corpses, can consist of cows who defecate all over the ship and no sci-fi magic happens to make it go away.
Firefly has a distinct cowboyish survivalism at its foundation. That is what makes it worth watching. Malcolm Reynolds is nobody’s saviour. He is only barely surviving himself. And in him, survives a way of life that is always at odds with the establishment. While Star Trek represents the forces that bring order, Firefly represents those who seek to escape it, just to be free.