To recap. Joss Whedon got me to watch a cowboys-in-space movie. Name of Serenity. And make me like it. I watched his cowboys-in-space TV series. Name of Firefly. Liked that, too. I even bought the damn thing. And I don't regret it.
Getting back to the original question: How the hell did he do it?
Let's start with the premise.
Assume humanity turns the earth into a dead fish tank. We have the tech to go to a nearby star system with shitloads of planets and moons, terraform those babies, and resettle there. So we do.
It's your pioneer situation. I.e.: it ain't fun.
Chances are, the pioneers would speak some garbled, rough-and-ready lingo.
M'luv, obaachan wen bungie jump dis ohio. Wat!?! Azfoo!
A mash-up of tongues a la Gaff's "Cityspeak" in Blade Runner.
Of course, nobody in the 21st century would understand a solitary slovo.
So, substituting some screenwriterish approximation of cowpie-kicking oldwesternese and Chinese stand for the future slang is the next best thing. That's what the man did.
OK, Joss. I'll buy it.
He gets away with it because -- making allowances for the fudge factor substituting comprehensible movie-type Old West talk for incomprehensible future space frontier jibberish -- his premise is believeable and self-consistent. Within that premise, he created gripping, universal human stories. The mofo's funny. Smart, too. You think he's going one way -- Pow! Zoom! He goes a different way. One surprise after another. And he can write dialog like a sumbitch.
All the clever writing in the world won't save you if your premise is shit.
The mother of all premises won't save you if your writing is shit.
His premise was golden. His writing was golden.
That's how he did it, OK.
But the rest of you.
For the love of God ... Joss Whedon is a freaking genius. Don't try to follow his example.
No more cowboys-in-space movies.