Joss Whedon's sci-fi western franchise may be unique in the world of television and film in that the storyline has not one, not two, but three disparate beginnings. Of course, the film is expected to have a different beginning from the series, but the series is interesting in and of itself due to the initial pilot being shown last rather than first — and the show ended up with a different starting moment altogether. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
Taking all of that into consideration, it's a wonder the characters aboard the Serenity managed to fly anywhere at all, much less into the hearts and minds of thousands of fans who rallied for a continuance of their stories.
By now, anyone who has followed the story of the film is familiar with the history of the show. Fox aired Firefly out of order, continually bumped episodes in favor of sports games, and aired the two hour pilot (one of the best episodes in the short-lived series, alas) last, as a farewell to the then-cancelled show. I myself, now a devoted fan, caught about five minutes of the show when it aired and changed the channel. I remember there being almost no press around the series, and unless you were a devoted fan of Whedon from his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a fandom that came later for me as well), it was unlikely that you would give up an hour a week to get to know the crew of Serenity.
But some people did. Some of them were Buffy fans, some simply liked what they saw, and others came later, forced to watch by friends and family members. It wasn't until the little show that could was released on video that the world realized what a hot property Fox had let go. And now here we are, three years later, with a film in the theatres, the prospect of massive DVD sales on the horizon, and the question of where the crew will fly next.
That question is dominating the minds of many. Will there be another series? More films? I think only time will tell. Since we don't know where the story will end, let's take some time to go back and look at the beginnings — all three of them.
The film Serenity opens with the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) watching a video of Simon Tam (Sean Maher) rescuing his sister, River (Summer Glau), from the Alliance doctors who were experimenting on her. This differs somewhat from the story told in the pilot episode, in which Simon said he paid for River's rescue. A rebel group, familiar with the experiments that were being conducted on hapless students, smuggled her out in a cryogenic sleep. Since that is how we first see River (when she emerges from the box), it seems somewhat at odds with the rescue we view in the film. However, these are small details, changed slightly to create more excitement in the film...and after all, in the pilot, we have only Simon's word to go on, and he might have been lying.