Joss Whedon – who is normally known for his quick witted sarcasm and hilarious one-liners – put aside his glib nature to give fans of the short-lived space western Firefly a truly sincere thank you for all their continuous support. Whedon, along with actors Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, Adam Baldwin and Sean Maher, plus writers Tim Minear and Jose Molina, gave more than 4,000 die-hard fans (many of whom camped in line overnight) a very emotional panel at this week’s San Diego Comic Con.

The panel, which was assembled to celebrate the much-beloved series’ 10th anniversary, reunited most the main cast and featured many tears and standing ovations from both fan and cast alike. The Avengers director also talked about his upcoming comic book series from Dark Horse, which will pick up some time after Firefly and Serenity. At the conclusion of the panel, when asked how he felt about the show’s fans (affectionately called “Browncoats”), Whedon found himself at a rare loss for words. Fans and cast members encouraged the overcome Whedon with an uproar of cheers, and teary-eyed applause.

When he was able to regain composure, a still slightly choked-up Whedon said “… When I see you guys, I don’t think the show’s off the air. I don’t think there’s a show. I think that’s what the world is like. I think there’s spaceships. I think there’s horses. The story is alive. “After his kind words, Whedon’s Firefly teammates joined the packed crowed in a standing ovation to the show’s creator. (For Whedon’s full thank you, see the clip below):

Captain Malcolm Reynolds himself, Nathan Fillion, added to Whedon’s heartfelt sentiment by saying:

“When Firefly died, I thought it was the worst thing that could possibly happen. And what I realize now, 10 years later, looking out over this room, is that the worst thing that could have happened is if it had stayed dead.”

For those unfamiliar with Firefly – (SHAME ON YOU!) the series effortlessly fused science fiction with old-style western elements. Set in the year 2517, Firefly chronicles the misadventures of the spaceship Serenity and her crew, which included Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion) and his ragtag gang of hired guns, as they hop from one bounty to another.

Fox canceled the show back in 2002 after just one season; this, however, did not stop the-little-show-that could from achieving cult status, as well as spawning a feature-length film called Serenity in 2005. Following the show’s abrupt cancellation, fans swiftly rallied to save it after star Nathan Fillion made a half-joke about buying the show’s rights if he won the lottery. Loyal “Browncoats” quickly formed www.helpnathanbuyfirefly.com – which was soon shot down by Joss Whedan and Co, who were less than comfortable with taking fans’ hard-earned money.

Beyond the upcoming Dark Horse comic book series, the fate of Firefly is still up in the air; but during the panel, Whedon talked about how the series would have explored more of the Blue Sun conspiracy and revealed more about the mysterious lives of fan-favorite Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) and Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin). Whedon also talked about how the series would have wrapped up much differently if he knew the end was near.

Check back with us for info on Firefly if any should ever arise.