Firefly: The Official Companion Books
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted October 3, 2006, with addendum on May 27, 2007
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Normally I would wait until the end of a review to note any negatives or reservations I have about a book, but this time I thought I would dispense with those first. One, this is just Volume One, and we will have to wait approximately six months for the follow-up. The worst part of that is the interview with Joss Whedon here is truncated, with the conclusion not available until Volume Two. Second, the captions for the photo credits are in an extremely small font and in "sort of a brownish color," making them hard to read, for me a least. Other than that, this book is incredible, with beautiful color printing and an attractive design. Whether you are a Browncoat tried and true, or just now discovering the wonders of the Firefly 'Verse, this is a book to treasure.
Newly published from Titan Books, this is a large format trade paperback, a bit wider in comparison to height than the typical book, which is why some of the cover image is cropped in the photo to the right. Shepherd Book is just barely visable on the left, underneath Jayne's gun, and the same for River on the right, but missing is Simon, who is behind and to the right of River. Not quite big enough to be called a coffee table book, still this would look magnificent on that coffee table (if I only had one).
Each of the nine main actors gets a full page photo, with another page full of their personal reminiscences of how they learned of the show, their audition, personal thoughts about their character, etc. Most of the actors also get shorter sidebar comments throughout, along with some from co-producer Tim Minear and guest performers like Mark Sheppard (Badger), Michael Fairmain (Niska) and Christina Hendricks (Yolanda/Saffron/Bridget). If you've been following Firefly for any length of time, I am sure you have heard or read comments from these people about how much the production meant to them, not only in their careers, but also in the personal relationships they have cultivated with the rest of the cast and crew. This seems to apply to the guest actors as well, as all three of them express similar sentiments. For instance, here's a quote from Christina:
"There's usually a difference between coming onto a series as a first time guest actor and coming back, but less so on Firefly than on any other show
they showed respect for me as an actress immediately, so that was really, really nice."
Also included are the full scripts to the first six episodes, not just transcripts of the finished product. These include full scenes and bits of dialog cut from the broadcasts, most likely for reasons of time or pacing. I have not read all of them yet (although I have previously read several of them online) but I have looked at every other feature of this book, and I'm sure I will be returning to it many more times in the future. There are sections devoted to costumes and props as well, including a few that either never actually made it on screen or were just briefly glimpsed, a testament to the creators meticulous attention to detail in their world-building.
One example is a folder that Inara must have carried in her travels, containing her Companion credentials, that she probably had to present to the sheriff's deputy in "The Train Job." When she comes into the room and slaps Mal she is not carrying it but she does have it in her left hand as they are leaving, so it seems obvious the deputy had just handed it back to her. In this book we see two views of it; the first one is of it closed, and on the cover is a plastic pocket containing a memory chip, similar to today's digital camera media cards. The other photo is of it opened up, showing a pocket containing two data discs, along with a paper titled "Companion Privileges and Principals." It identifies her simply as Inara (without the surname of Serra) and gives her PIN number as 5304747. Most of the print on the page is too small for me to read with the puny magnifying glass I have, but there is a section titled "The Trust," which states she is assigned to the Independent ship Serenity. This makes it seem she was still officially a part of the Companion Guild rather than running away from any of her responsibilites with that group as some have guessed, although it could be postulated that these credentials are forged.
Others shown are papers for the ship itself, as well as identification for Shepherd Book. This is simply a paper certificate, not the card that the Alliance officer read with his electronic device in "Safe," and no details are given as to his mysterious past. Several weapons are featured too, including Mal's pistol, Zoe's rifle (with just a brief glimpse of Vera, Jayne's very favorite gun), along with paper and coin currency, and many conceptual drawings for the sets and costumes. There are also behind the scenes photos, and judging by the quality of some of them, I would guess they were private photos taken by cast or crew and not something originally intended for publication in a book of this type.
I thought I was very knowledgeable about all things Firefly, but I was surprised by something in Joss' interview. He states that it had a lower budget than either Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel. I think almost everyone had assumed it had to have been higher, not only because it was on a larger network than his previous shows, but also because it looked so much better, production-wise. In fact, I don't think it would be wrong to say that most of the episodes looked more like mini-movies than they did the typical television fare. I suppose one factor that might have contributed to that is the amount of money spent on the pilot, especially the templates for all the special effects and the Serenity set itself.
At 175 pages, this book is even longer than the previously published Serenity Visual Companion, and it thrills me that there will be even more treasures to be viewed next year when Volume Two is released. I'll be sure to let you know when that is available.
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I didn't think it was possible for me to be any more of a Firefly fan than I already was, but this book proved differently. It brought back all the memories of the past five years, the thrill of watching the series as it originally aired, the heartbreak of cancellation, the anticipation of the DVD release, watching and rewatching the DVDs multiple times, and finally the relaunch of the story in the movie Serenity.
If possible, this edition is even better than Volume One, including a wider range of interviews with cast and crew, and deeper insight into why it is a show that continues to captivate audiences years after it was dumped by the FOX network. Some may feel that the major feature of these companion books is the original shooting scripts, but I have gotten more satisfaction out of the interstitial materials, including full page photos of all nine cast members and their thoughts on the show and their character, along with interviews with creator Joss Whedon and others. This third volume in Titan Books continued exploration of the 'Verse (they also published Serenity: The Official Visual Companion) includes interview pages (and sidebar comments throughout) with co-producer/writer Tim Minear, editor Lisa Lassek, director of photography David Boyd, production designer Carey Meyer, visual effects guru Loni Peristere, soundtrack composer Greg Edmonson, and writers Ben Edlund, Jose Molina, Cheryl Cain and Brett Matthews.
A big shout out is also given to the Firefly fans, including those who have attended various conventions and charity screenings or else just campaigned effectively over the internet, as well as a group that resurrected the "Ariel" ambulance prop (found in a Mojave Desert junkyard and restored for trips to conventions, the latest being last year's Worldcon in Los Angeles).
It has been no secret that Joss and his cast were (and are) as much in love with this show as any of its fans. This sentiment is echoed time and time again throughout this book, from everyone involved. Not only that, all of them also mention at least one other person's work that they felt was as good as anything they have ever experienced in their careers, with no one leaving out the fact that it was Joss' creativity and passion that drove everyone to care so much and excel beyond their wildest dreams. One of them I have met and I heard him express these feelings personally, and one of his quotes applies to both the creators and the fans.
"I've got to tell you, of all the things I have ever done in my life, nothing has ever lived on like this show has. I've never worked on a project that I've cared as desperately about as this one. It's amazing to me that it's still alive; it's amazing to me that people love something that I loved, and that's given me an even greater love for it." - Greg Edmonson
How can we not love such craftsmen and the magnificent creation they have given us? Just as with Greg, everytime I read or hear about their passion for this project, it makes me love it even more, and I know it is going to be a long time before I fall so deeply for another television show.
My review of Firefly, the show
My review of Serenity
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