Totally moral outrage! Infamy, heresy, and blasphemy! The world has gone insane and I'm surrounded by heathens. How and when did this happen?
I was having a perfectly normal sci-fi conversation with a friend – who shall remain nameless – when this friend, whom I generally consider to be intelligent and well-informed, had the gaul to say that Firefly creator Joss Whedon "pioneered the whole cowboys in outer space thing."
Dude. This is someone I know. How is that possible?
I turned to another trusted compatriot in indignation. This also-unnamed person said, “Deep Space Nine was kinda a western.”
Star Trek? Are you serious?
Now I’m not arguing that Firefly was anything but an absolutely fantastic piece of programming and a most successful setting of a western in space. Nor do I deny that Deep Space Nine had very intentional similarities to a frontier town both in setting and character. These are givens. Accepted. Noted. Fine.
But Han Solo clearly predates and sets the bar for every space cowboy that came after him. The Millennium Falcon was already doing laps around the galaxy before either Captains Benjamin Sisko or Malcolm Reynolds were even a glimmer in their creators’ eyes and if Joss Whedon didn’t base Mal, at least in part, on the ground work George Lucas set down for him in 1977 with Han Solo, I’ll eat my entire science fiction collection.
Clearly, everybody’s lost but me.
Can we check the costume for just a second? Cross-slung holsters low over the hips, vest, blaster that looks more like an old six-shooter than anything else? You meet him a saloon, shortly followed by a gun fight, no less. (Han shoots first.) The man is a cowboy.
Amidst the tirade that flowed from my mouth directly at both these friends, one got a word in edgewise to note that Han Solo was more of a pirate. I’m not disregarding that. There are definitely pirate qualities to Han. I respect that. That point will be duly noted in my log.
But when it comes to space cowboys, Joss Whedon didn’t invent crap. And I’m a Joss fan. We know this. I’m wearing an “I Love Buffy” t-shirt as we speak and could probably recite every episode of Firefly verbatim. I would definitely say that Joss pushed the western-in-space genre to new levels, creating a very shiny verse rich in detail and some awesome characters that dwell within. A high contender for the best television series I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Certainly in the top five.
But I’m not budging on this point. And I think Mr. Whedon himself would bitch-slap you for the slight to the epic, society-changing, masterful storytelling that is Star Wars. (Episodes IV through VI, anyway.)
It is worth noting that both friends, to their credit, backpedaled and agreed with me once I made my very loud point, either because Han Solo had simply slipped their mind in the middle of a work day, or because they recognized the crazed emphasis in my yelling and feared for their safety. You decide. If you’ve got a contender that predates or out-cools Han Solo in the realms of film or television, leave a comment below and let me know. I’ll rail at you too.
As an aside, this whole debate was spurred by a conversation on the new James Marsters movie High Plains Invaders that is showing on the Sci-Fi Channel at the end of the month. I have no idea what that’s going to be like, but I might check it out. If I do, I’ll let you know what I think. As usual.