Somehow, in the wake of Lucas' CGI evisceration of his own work and overblown space operas like The Chronicles of Riddick, somebody still knows how to put together an outer-space romp that trades just as heavily on quips and character as it does on conflict and explosions. All the better, there's barely a movie star in sight. The film in question is Serenity, the by-product of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Joss Whedon's sci-fi series Firefly. Somehow, Whedon convinced Universal to pony up about $45 million to make and show Serenity to multiplex audiences, 95 percent of whom will have never seen the original series, which lasted on Fox for only 11 episodes back in 2002.

It's no matter, though, as Whedon gets the uninitiated up to speed quick: 500 years in the future, most of the human-colonized galaxy is controlled by the autocratic Alliance, who won a war some time ago against the rebel Independents, now roaming the fringes of explored space. This is where we find the rattletrap freighter Serenity, crewed by a loveable gaggle of rogues who want to be free to wander at will and maybe pull off the occasional crime. The unusually personable crew is led by Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a sarcastic loner with a not-so-secret heart of idealism. A shambling kind of hero, he's about the best thing to hit movie screens since Harrison Ford lost his sense of humor. Since every good hero needs sidekicks, Mal's backed up by badass Zoe (Gina Torres), her geeky husband Wash (Alan Tudyk), weapons-crazed lunkhead Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and wide-eyed girl mechanic Kaylee (Jewel State). There's also some new crewmates: a doctor, Simon (Sean Maher), who we've seen busting his teenaged sister River (Summer Glau) out of an Alliance research facility where she'd been being turned into a psychotic killing machine. Now River just mopes around the ship, occasionally having psychic flashes, while Simon ignores advances from lovestruck Kaylee.

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