In a 2002 interview, Whedon explained that his inspiration for “Firefly” came from reading “The Killer Angels.” The 1974 novel by Michael Shaara centers on three days of the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, as well as some of the time leading up to it. Whedon said:
“I got obsessed with the minutiae of life way back then, early frontier life and when things were not as convenient as they are now. We wanted to do a show in the future that had a sense of history, that we don’t solve all our problems and have impeccably clean spaceships.”
“Firefly” follows the crew aboard the spaceship Serenity as they do their best to avoid trouble while traversing the ‘verse. Our heroes are a ragtag group of smugglers led by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). Reynolds’ time in the Unification War, as well as his right-hand woman Zoë’s (Gina Torres), greatly informs who both are as characters. They were on the losing side of the war and the Battle of Serenity Valley, which largely sealed their fate, is what Mal chose to name his spaceship after.
“Firefly” does indeed distinguish itself from other sci-fi shows and much of that is due to the way the world of this space Western is fleshed out. It’s true that despite the future setting, life in the ‘verse isn’t easy. This is especially true for those who would’ve given their lives to defeat the Alliance, which remains very much in control.