If "Firefly" isn't the most beloved Comic-Con TV show of the 21st century, it's easily in the top 2 or 3. Joss Whedon's space cowboy drama (which I revisited a couple of summers ago) had a short run, but has lived on in the hearts and minds of the fans, to the point where some shows featuring "Firefly" alums might as well not have brought any other actors to their panels. Even another Comic-Con institution like "Chuck" annually received one or two "Who'd win in a fight: John Casey or Jayne Cobb?" questions for Adam Baldwin.
So I'm guessing the Ballroom 20 crowd will be going nuts as Baldwin, Nathan Fillion, most of the show's cast and Whedon himself reunite for a 10th anniversary panel, and I'll be live-blogging the whole thing. Remember that the Convention Center wifi is iffy at best, and just because you haven't seen an update in a while doesn't mean I'm not still typing. I will update this thing as often as I can during the hour.
12:25 p.m.: We had a "The Legend of Korra" panel in between the "Community"panel and this one, and while there was definitely enthusiasm for the show, the producers knew what was up with the crowd. Towards the end of the panel, director Andrea Romano tried getting different segments of the audience to perform crowd noise they'll use in upcoming episodes: first women, then men, then anyone under 16. They got virtually no response from the under-16s, and one of the producers quipped, "Of course not. They would've been 4 years old when 'Firefly' was on."
12:37 p.m.: The two previous panels in this room started right on the dot, but we're still waiting for the hero of Canton, the man they call Jayne, and the rest of the panel. Hopefully this won't cut into Q&A time (both among the panel and from the audience) too much.
12:40 p.m.: The lights dim, snippets of the show's score play, and the audience starts clapping loudly and rhythmically, faster and faster, like they're trying to will the show — or, at least, this panel — back to life.
12:42 p.m.: The crowd gets all excited for footage on the monitors, but it turns out it's a more general plug for Science Channel, which is sponsoring this panel because they air "Firefly" repeats. There are audible groans at the realization, then cheers whenever we see a second of "Firefly" footage in the montage of Science programming.
12:43 p.m.: And now there's a "Firefly"-specific clip reel, and hundreds of people are singing along with the theme song, and everyone cheers at familiar moments and characters, like Wash playing with dinosaurs, or glimpses of a naked Nathan Fillion or Christina Hendricks. (Who wouldn't?)
12:48 p.m.: Moderator Jeff Jensen emerges to introduce the panel, admits they're running late, "So let's get on with the thrilling heroics." "Firefly" writer Jose Molina is the first to emerge, is greeted warmly as he photographs us. Tim Minear is also photographing the audience. "This actor wanted to be introduced as bounty hunter and sandwich maker," says Jensen. "You know him better as a leaf on the wind," and the audience explodes for Alan Tudyk, including a standing ovation from a good chunk of the crowd. Tudyk and Minear hug. The audience drowns out Jensens's introduction of Nathan Fillion after the phrase "Captain Tightpants," and now 80 percent of the ballroom is on its feet as Fillion raises his arms in triumph. My eardrums come close to bursting at the shrieks when summer Glau emerges. She mouths a bashful "Thank you" as Molina takes her picture. Sean Maher enters acting like he's just arrived at the greatest surprise party ever, mouths "OH MY GOD" at Glau. Adam Baldwin enters in triumph to the room he came to know well during his "Chuck" days. The audience also drowns out Jensen's introduction of Joss Whedon, and now everyone is on their feet as Whedon has a smile on his face that doesn't look like it will go away anytime soon.
12:49 p.m.: Jensen asks Whedon what it means for him to be here on the 10th anniversary of "Firefly." "Means I'm running on fumes, let's face it," Whedon cracks, before saying they always knew "everything we were doing was for the right reasons, with the right people, that we were making something that was more than the sum of its parts, that I had the best cast I will ever work with," then quickly adds, "We also had Alan." Says this isn't about vindication, but about transcendence.
12:51 p.m.: What does Mal Reynolds mean to Fillion? Fillion: "If I can get through this without crying, then I'm gonna look a lot cooler." He notes that pre-"Firefly," no one would give him a chance to be anything but "The number five guy." No one thought he could carry a show. Joss gave him that chance, and "the best character I've ever played."
12:52 p.m.: What kind of show did Joss want to create 10 years ago. Joss says "I just wanted to make something that felt real, like a piece of history. I wanted to buck the system of all science fiction is lit with purple lights, has big green heads. I wanted to tell an American immigrant story, a Western story, but I need spaceships or I get cranky."
12:54 p.m.: Minear wasn't supposed to work on "Firefly" because he was busy on "Angel," but "My best friend had me come down to this set on Paramount and let me play with his space ship." Minear was a geeky kid growing up, who attended cons himself, "And Joss Whedon, the coolest guy in geekland said 'Come be on my spaceship.'" Whedon admits that recruiting Minear involved "betraying David Greenwalt, which is always funny, because I promised him I would never take Tim Minear off of 'Angel.'" But Marti Noxon told him, "Joss, you need Tim Minear on 'Firefly,' or you will never leave that set, and the other shows will die." He says Marti was so right, "and it was the best move I ever made."
12:57 p.m.: Molina had been a writing assistant for a long time, and "Firefly" was his first real writing gig. His tendencies were more traditional "Star Trek"-style sci-fi, and Whedon made the writers watch classic Westerns as homework. And ultimately he wound up writing "Ariel," which was one of the show's most overtly sci-fi kind of shows (albeit also with a heist).
12:58 p.m.: Jensen asks Maher what it was like to be dropped into this strange world when the series began. "My first introduction to the world of 'Firefly' actually came out of Joss' mouth," Maher recalls. He had no script but many questions, and Whedon gave him a personal pitch on the show. "I never once viewed it as science fiction," and prefers the "post-apocalyptic Western" description of the show. "Ariel" was one of his favorites. He admits he's lost his train of thought because he can't believe how big and happy the crowd is.
1:00 p.m.: Fillion is asked how the cast's obvious chemistry came to be, but he's also distracted by the crowd, so Tudyk picks up. Tudyk recalls that Fillion created a game for the cast to learn the name of everyone in the crew, "And that brought everybody together."
1:03 p.m.: Jensen introduces a clip, and the crowd goes nuts when they realize it's the one where Jayne gets a new hat from his mom. (They roar a second time at the first image of the hat. They love the hat.) Then the lights come up and Baldwin has placed the actual hat on top of his microphone. Jensen asks him for the story of the hat. Baldwin says one of the women in the office loved to knit, and he asked Minear if he could wear it through the whole episode. "I always liked to have doings. Jayne was a man of few words, but he always had a lot of props. This hat is a goldmine. It's like a birthday cake in a wasteland."
1:06 p.m.: Hoo-boy, potential riot time. Baldwin has a trivia question to give away what he reveals is actually a replica of the Jayne hat. (The original was sold for $5,000 charity.) "On which planet did Tracy wish to be buried." Girl at the front of the line dressed as Kaylee looks on the verge of tears, realizing she doesn't know the answer. Now we're having technical difficulties with the mic. Baldwin: "I want you to know this gag was not my idea!" Jensen decides to move on, and open up the Q&A. Whedon admits even he doesn't know what the answer is.
1:09 p.m.: Now it's a clip of the climax of "War Stories," with Zoe and Jayne coming to rescue Mal and Wash, Kaylee freezing up and River first demonstrating her warrior woman side. The crowd is pleased. What was the key for Glau in playing the character? "I had to play myself at 17, which was, like, two years before. That's pretty much it."
1:11 p.m.: Why was Glau perfect for River? Glau jokes that Whedon better not change his mind, since he can't replace her. Whedon: "George Lucas could! He could digitally replace her..." He says he remembers the auditions of other actors for these parts, it was a long and ghastly process, and then suddenly, "These were the people before I wrote it." He brings up the familiar story of how he was inspired to write the series by reading "The Killer Angels." "They didn't know it yet, but they were those people before they met me... Summer is so crazy! The amount of vulnerability and strength that she can convey is beyond magnetic. I look at her and I think, 'I will come with her if I want to live.'"
1:15 p.m.: And why was Fillion the perfect captain for Serenity? Joss: "You have to make compromises at some point." He hasn't watched that particular scene in a while, but "Jewel makes me cry, and Gina is the most badass woman I've ever seen. People who are not here, my heart is breaking that they're not here, not just so they could experience it, but because I miss them so much." He's so greedy that he even wants the whole set. Getting back to Fillion, Whedon knows no matter what he says, Fillion will make a face that changes the context of what he's saying. Fillion quickly proves him right with some expert mugging. More seriously, Whedon says there was never a moment from the time they met that Fillion didn't seem like the captain. Fillion took on a leadership role with both the cast and crew in the same way that Mal had on the ship, and the responsibility he took on is one that most actors aren't up for, "Or they can't convey the enormous gravitas that this clown can. When he looks at you, and he's not happy with you, you know." Whedon recalls a guest star who was disrespectful to the actresses, and Fillion made his displeasure known in no uncertain terms. "He gets very Canadian."
1:16 p.m.: What has the fan experience for this show meant to Baldwin? He recalls being introduced to the online community and how inspirational it was. "One of the most heartwarming and wonderful times in my life was watching that show be resurrected as a major motion picture, and we couldn't have done it without you.
1:17 p.m.: Whedon says the experience of making "Serenity" changed the way he worked. "There was no way, there was no reality, where I would not get these people back together."
1:18 p.m.: The Kaylee cosplayer is back, and she Googled the trivia answer (St. Alban's) while waiting, and wins the hat. She asks them for their favorite fan encounter story, then dons the hat and begins to cry again, this time joyfully. On crazy fan stories, Fillion once saw a woman break down crying in front of Whedon. Whedon: "I kicked her." Fillion says it always warms his heart when people admit to being touched by the show.
1:21 p.m.: Will Inara's missing storyline ever be put in a graphic novel, and if not, can they say what it was? Whedon says that Dark Horse, which publishes the "Firefly" and "Serenity" books, "they're their biggest-selling books of all time." The biggest hardcover Dark Horse ever sold was the one "The Shepherd's Tale," which Whedon wrote with his brother Zak. They will continue with those comics, and he and Zak have figured out how to tell post-"Serenity" stories rather than just flashbacks. "I didn't think of it as a comic, but apparently, I was the only one."
1:25 p.m.: Does anyone have a favorite piece of fan art, tribute or fiction? Tudyk's sister is an artist, and when they were canceled, he asked her to make a painting of Joss protecting a firefly in a jar "from some evil FOX executives!" (The crowd loves FOX-bashing, of course.) Whedon still has the painting hanging in his home. "It's a beautiful painting. It has me in it!" Says it's the exact story of what happened. Fillion brings up a fan named Jason Palmer who draws pictures: "It looks just like me, only better-looking."
1:26 p.m.: What about a "Firefly" animated series? Joss: "I get it, but for some reason, I would be more interested in doing it as a radio show." Fillion and Tudyk proceed to act out the radio show, complete with fake sound effects. The scene concludes with Mal hitting on Zoe while Wash is out of the room.
1:27 p.m.: Whedon keeps the bit going, asks Maher to say something intelligent and Simon-sounding. Maher: "I think you have a fever?" Fillion: "And the only cure is more 'Firefly'!"
1:30 p.m.: Fillion says "When 'Firefly' died, I thought it was the worst thing that could have happened." Looking at the room, he realizes that "The worst thing that could have happened was that it stayed dead," and the people in this room are proof that it didn't. Whedon: "Can everybody tweet that I said that? I don't want him to have the best!"
1:31 p.m.: Much applause for next questioner wearing a Captain Hammer t-shirt. Have any of them ever camped out all night long for something, and if so, what? Whedon: "Camping."
1:32 p.m.: Last question: if Joss had known that season 1 would be the only season, how would the finale have differed from "Serenity"? The crowd like this one. Whedon: "It would've been littler. Most of the Reavers would've been off-screen." He notes that "Firefly" was the cheapest of the three shows he was making at the time. Even if they had canceled the show and he absolutely knew that was the end of the show, "I don't think I would have killed anybody." Tudyk pumps his arms in triumph. Whedon: "A film is a different animal and has different needs. And I think we would've delved more into the Blue Sun conspiracy, which we had to drop. And we would've learned about Book and about Inara. For some reason, that's the question that's going to make me cry." And Fillion massages his boss's shoulder as Whedon takes a moment to compose himself.
1:35 p.m.: Time for one more clip and one more question. The clip is Mal talking to Simon at the end of the pilot. Mal notes that they're still flying. Simon: "That's not much." Mal: "It's enough." Jensen asks Whedon about how "We're still flying" has become a big mantra for the fan community, asks him again what the fans mean to him. Whedon's struggling here. He's overcome, and the fans call out, "We love you, Joss!" Fillion is crying for real, has very red eyes, and now there's a standing ovation, again, and Glau is crying, and now the actors are all giving Whedon a standing ovation as well. Maher and Glau hug, Baldwin pats his heart to show how touched he is. Whedon: "Only an idiot would actually try to follow that with a sentence. When you come out of a great movie, you feel like you're in that world. You come out of 'Brazil,' and suddenly everything is duct piping and everything's weird and too much. You come out of certain things, and the world has become that. when you're telling a story, you're trying to connect to people in a particular way... The way in which you guys have inhabited this world, this universe, have made you part of it, part of the story. You are living in 'Firefly.' When I see you guys, I don't think the show is off the air. I don't think there's a show. I think, that's what the world is like. I think there are spaceships, there are horses, and our story is alive." More applause, and then another round follows as the actors wave to the crowd one more time.
1:39 p.m.: That's all, folks. I've been to a lot of emotional Comic-Con panels in the last few years, but this one was pretty special.
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