Thinking about seeing Serenity this weekend? (of course you are!) But not sure if you'll be lost? Then read this handy-dandy little guide! Complete with pictures!
The Alliance: Firefly is set 500 years in the future. The last great superpowers are America and China, so they decide it will be fun to merge and form the Anglo-Sino Alliance (The Alliance for short) and combine all of their colonies, etc. Well, there's one problem with that. The colonies don't want to be part of the fascist Alliance...
The Browncoats: This is the term that the Independents are known by, because of the brown coats in their uniform. The defining battle for the war of independence was the Battle of Serenity, which was the battle Mal and Zoe fought in. There was much loss on both sides. The Independents would have won had not their officials abondoned them on the battlefield to negotiate a treaty with the Alliance, in which both armies were left behind on Serenity for a week befor people remembered they were there.
Blue Sun: The ubiquitous corporation. Their officials run around in blue gloves (weeeeeeird). They most likely have something to do with River, the Reavers, and terraforming the planets.
Reavers: Perhaps a Blue Sun experiment run amock? These are humans living on the edge of space who have gone crazy. They tail and board random spaceships killing its crew in various nasty ways. And they seem to be coming closer and closer to the planets... At least, Mal and co. sure run into them a lot.
The planets: Each planet has been terraformed (possibly by Blue Sun). There are NO aliens in Firefly... just people. Pretend that each planet is like the United States before we became the U.S. (i.e., states). Each terraformed planet has a problem with them, due to the fact that they've been manmade.
Major characters: refer to the picture above
Mal Reynolds (guy in shiny red shirt in center): Malcolm Reynolds was a sergeant in the Browncoat army in the battle of Serenity. Having been abandoned by his army, his people, his government, and God (he was very religious before the battle), he has become a bitter person, only trusting his crew (more specifically Zoe and Wash) and he has a bit of a crush on the elegant and unattainable Inara. Mal continues to undermine the Alliance by running a smuggling operation on his "boat" the Serenity (a firefly class spaceship).
Zoe (serious-looking dark Hispanic lady behind Mal): Zoe is tough and extremely, extremely cool. She is second in command and fought in Mal's regiment. She is married to Wash and is very loyal to him. Often, her interests are divided between the two of them.
Wash: (blond guy behind Zoe): Wash is the pilot of the ship. He's also the funny guy and quite reasonable. He is somewhat jealous of Mal, since Zoe is still extremely loyal to him and always follows his command.
Jayne: (bearded guy in lower left corner): Jayne is gun-happy and all-action and a very good foil for Mal. He joined the crew because Mal payed better, and ultimately his loyalties lie with whoever gives him the most cash. Jayne is actually quite smart, though his utter impulsiveness makes him come across as stupid. And, according to the actor who plays him, Jayne has a crush on Inara. WHAT?! Oh, Jayne, hero of Canton...
Kaylee (girl in the top row with blue jacket): Kaylee is the ship's mechanic, and, not coincednetally, fixes the problems that people have with each other on the ship. She is extremely sweet and hates violence. She also has a huuuuuuge crush on Simon (who wouldn't?).
Inara (tall lady in purple): Inara is a companion (read: geisha). She stays on the ship to lend it more credibility (making it look like a normal passenger ship), and, by travelling with the crew she broadens her client base. Inara is, ironically, the only honest businessperson on the ship. She also has the hots for Mal. In the pilot episode, she mentioned that she wanted to leave, but it depended on Mal. In "Heart of Gold", Mal sleeps with an old friend of Inara's--who belonged to Inara's companion guild. So... this is the first person that Mal sleeps with in years, finally beginning to become a real person again, but Inara is upset because, well, it wasn't her. Inara then announces she wants to leave. By the time of Serenity, she is already gone from the ship.
Simon (guy in the blue vest): Simon was a young, rich doctor in the Central planets (the richest planets). He is a genius and loves his sister River very much. But when he figures out that the school River goes to is run by the Alliance and Blue Sun, and that they're hurting her, he uses all of his money and resources to rescue her. They are now fugitives and on the run, and the crew takes them in. Simon has a crush on Kaylee (who wouldn't) but is extremely prim and proper (unlike Kaylee, who is a country bumpkin) and inadvertantly does things to insult Kaylee. By the time of "Objects and Space" (the last episode filmed) they're starting to become an Item. Simon will do anything to save his sitser's life. Awww.
River (girl in the yellow robe): River's story is the main plot of Serenity and Firefly. River is a supergenius who wanted to go the school the Alliance was running because it offered the most challenging program. However, by the time she gets there, she realizes what they are doing. They perform experiments on her brain. Simon later is able to diognose her and sees that, because of what they did, River is like an animal, unable to control any emotions that come to her. She is also a psychic and a killing machine and all sorts of assasins are after her head.
Book (old guy in upper right corner): Book is a shepherd (preacher) with a mysterious past. He comes aboard Serenity and ends up staying there. He comes at odds with Mal and makes friends with Inara and at first feels he has no place on the ship. He eventually comes to be the grandpa of the family. :) Rachel and I think that he had some sort of connection with the Alliance, though, and became a preacher to repent. I also think that he had something to do with helping Simon get River out of the academy and is staying on board to moniter them and see that they're okay.
So, yes, Firefly is a space western. Yes, it's about running away from assasins and dealing with River's weirdness. Yes, it's about the Alliance's poopiness. But when people ask me what Firefly is about, I can't say those things because that's not what it's about. It's really about several broken, lonely people becoming a family and, by doing so, becoming whole again.