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It must’ve happened like this: Firefly fandom looked at Portland and said “This is a fertile land, and we will thrive.” Because it rules over this land. And calls it This Land.

(I’m still learning the in-jokes. Bear with me.)

Portland Firefly fans gathered last night at the McMenamin’s Mission Theatre brewpub (NW 16th and Glisan) for a 10:00 p.m. screening of the series’s two-hour pilot, and kicked off – in we-salute-you-with-cheers-and-beer fashion – the weekly free showings of the entire series. Two episodes of the show will screen every Tuesday through the start of September. The McMenamin’s theatres have experience with this on such other cult shows as Twin Peaks, The Prisoner and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and while all these have their devoted followings, we can joke that none of those shows inspired a beer. Firefly…well, Firefly didn’t. But the McMenamin’s Firefly Kolsch could’ve been inspired by it, we can think…

Yes, many of us here (including me, in my budding way) are more than a little nuts about that show and the universe where it took place. It’s that nuts-ness that led to Portland fans spawning the worldwide “Can’t Stop the Serenity” charity screenings that raised over $65,000 for Equality Now last year…and which so far has raised over $106,000 for the same cause this year. It’s that same nuts-ness that brought 312 of us (by the tally of the guy checking all of our IDs from 9-ish to 10) into the former union hall, armed with drinks, movie snacks, pub food and our desire to enjoy the show. And enjoy we did. (For a show that tanked in its original airings, Firefly plays great to a crowd, much the way I’m sure 16mm screenings of Star Trek episodes played to convention audiences in the 1970s.)

Last night’s Master of Ceremonies Mike Russell (oh, if only he still went by M.E. Russell, so he could be M.C. M.E.!) got the audience’s attention a few minutes before 10, asking trivia questions and coordinating the delivery of prizes to correct guessers. He capped the asking with “What’s the best city to be a Firefly fan?” If any resident smartasses answered “Poughkeepsie!,” they were drowned out by the rest of us who said “Portland!” This segued into a taped introduction by KUFO radio guys Cort and Fatboy, who are among the hosts for these screenings (AM 970’s Rick Emerson is the other one). They recounted how the pilot was temporarily shelved and an emergency backup sort-of-pilot written really quickly (that’s “The Train Job,” airing next week, check the Mission Theatre, plug plug plug) because the Fox executives thought the pilot was too grim. (And they mentioned the counter-intuitive fact that the actual pilot, setting up Firefly’s very universe, was the last episode ever aired!)

And then Firefly’s pilot unspooled (I know it’s incorrect to say that something projected from a DVD “unspooled,” but I’m a former projectionist; I’ll allow myself to say it). We saw why future spaceship captain Mal Reynolds lost his faith (war can do that); we saw the crew of the Firefly-class freighter Serenity get themselves out of tight squeezes; we saw Wash playing with his dinosaur toys; we saw this “oh so very pretty” cast of characters scrape out their living on this frontier of the future. Where appropriate, we laughed, cheered, booed, held our breath, and even sang when the opening theme song played. We applauded more than once. It was happy communal enjoyment time. And people hung out afterward, discussing the show. I mentioned to Russell that Firefly practically inspires not just trivia questions, but essay questions: I suggested “What is the significance of Shepherd Book noticing the prostitutes?” Russell added, professorially, “Yeah: What is this show saying about the legalization of prostitution?” The show inspires thought that way. “And hey,” I added, “if thoughts like that inspire more Serenity Tales, that’s a good thing.” (Yep, another sign of the devotion people have for Firefly: several writers and artists have put up their own Firefly comics for free online.)

Three hundred twelve people made it last night. And that’s not all of us. Plenty more of us would likely enjoy this show. You’re invited.

P.S. Dawn Taylor has her own good thoughts on the evening. Read her, too!