Next Step: Straight To Video
If you haven't seen the show, please do. It's nice. But this recap doesn't assume that you have -- and in that, we're being a touch nicer than the movie. And meaner, considering the best characters get routinely shit on. If you have seen the show...I hope I've done justice. You deserve it.
The Universal logo globe becomes Earth-That-Was as we hear the prologue once again. This time, though, it's from the Alliance side. See if you can decode the propaganda: "Earth-That-Was could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many." We see ships bound out from what is left of Earth-That-Was. "We found a new solar system: Dozens of planets and hundreds of moons. Each one terraformed, a process taking decades to support human life. To be new Earths. The central planets formed the Alliance." We see these new Earths, all different, all interesting. One looks a lot like Naboo. "Ruled by an interplanetary parliament, the Alliance was a beacon of civilization. The savage outer planets were not so enlightened, and refused Alliance control." One looks a lot like Tatooine. "The war was devastating. But the Alliance's victory over the Independents ensured a safer universe." We pull back to reveal a screen, diagrammed with a visual representation. "And now, everyone can enjoy the comfort and enlightenment of true civilization." The teacher speaking is Tamara Taylor, a wonderful Toronto actor who is maybe best known here for her role as Michael's ex on Lost, and she's speaking to kids in various kinds of dress, Asian dresses and Mormon shirt-and-tie, kneeling at desks with styluses in an open tent. Outside them is a beautiful garden.
This is smart because it's always been easier to explain the show in terms of a physical spectrum: toward the center, the Alliance, absolute control. Spinning out into the prairie, absolute chaos. Chaos, control. You like? And at the extremity, in the black, the Reavers: just as bad as the Alliance, but in a completely different way. (If you fall on the Farscape side of the argument: compare the cold, rational energy of the Sebaceans with the brainless inner fire of the Scarrans.) And this is the point of the show, and the film: petty criminals or not, the men and women of Serenity, of all the worlds outside the Core Planets, are people, not extremes, not symbols, and they have to live somewhere on that spectrum, which means they're fucked either way.
"Why were the Independents even fighting us? Why wouldn't they look to be more civilized?" History is written by the victors. Another child speaks, only to be interrupted: "I hear they're cannibals." "That's only Reavers!" The children fight over whether Reavers exist -- it's a standard point that the Alliance planets have a vested interest in not believing in Reavers, and I always thought that was because of the chaos/control stuff, but as we'll see in this movie, it's a bit more involved than that. Same war, different battle. "Full well they are. I heard they attack settlers from space and kill them, and wear their skins, and rape them for hours and hours." Succinct, you creepy little kid. The teacher shouts in Mandarin, asking them to button it. "It's true that there are dangers on the outer planets..." Toward the back of the class, a cute but severely baggy-eyed little girl is doing amazing things with her desk, tapping it like a hummingbird, making it dance and bleep. "So with so many social and medical advancements we can bring to the Independents, why would they fight so hard against us?" And the spooky, funny little girl, genius River Tam, gives the child's answer, no less right for being blunt: "We meddle. People don't like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think. Don't run, don't walk. We're in their homes, and in their heads, and we haven't the right. We're meddlesome."