Editor’s note: This article was finished early in July and has been scheduled to go live on July 24th for over two weeks. At the time of its completion, I and ScifiPulse had no knowledge of Stargate Origins being announced, which is why this new series isn’t mentioned below. You can learn more about Stargate Origins by visiting its homepage and checking out its trailer below.
Now to the article.
Sometime ago, I had the chance to interview Joseph Mallozzi and I asked him about his thoughts on Stargate’s legacy. Mallozzi stated, “The best thing about working on Stargate is hearing from fans, years later, who tell me the show was such a formative influence on them growing up, or in connecting with their fellow family members.”
An author and friend, Leonardo Ramirez (The Jupiter Chronicles, Haven of Dante), said about Stargate that “A story that thrives on itself also brings forth new lives just as we, as parents, raise our children to do the same. A well-fleshed out character will write him/her self in the way that they should go. Building a universe is no different. And every creator, must begin with a Stargate.”
Audiences were first introduced to the franchise in in Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich’s 1994 movie, Stargate. Stargate starred Kurt Russell as Colonel Jack O’Neil and James Spader as Dr. Daniel Jackson. Though there were discussions of creating a sequel to the movie, future films never came to be. Instead, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) decided to redevelop Stargate into a television show. To bring this show to life, MGM turned to Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner. Wright, Glassner, along with several other creatively talented people developed the concept of the movie into a show called, Stargate SG-1. O’Neill (this time with two Ls) and Jackson were brought in from the movie, re-casted with Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks, respectively. The two would be joined by astrophysicist and US Air Force Captain Samantha Carter and alien soldier Teal’c. While the movie centered on an ancient alien named Ra, the show expanded this premise so that the entire Egyptian pantheon, as well as various other pantheons, were alien overlords that posed a threat to Earth and humans across the galaxy.
(You can click here to get a more in depth synopsis.)
The first episode of Stargate SG-1 aired on July 27, 1997, and followed its main characters walking through the Stargate to encounter ancient human cultures, aliens, allies, and threats. The show would run for ten seasons and 214 episodes and led to the development of two spin-off shows (Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe), two movies based on the show, and several videogames, novels, and comic books. The last new episode from a Stargate TV show aired on May 9th, 2011. Called “Gauntlet,” it was part of the underrated Stargate Universe. Though there have been rumors of the Stargate franchise being brought back in some way, nothing has come to fruition.
With July 27, 2017 marking twenty years since SG1 first aired, I wanted to take a moment to document eleven reasons why I think Stargate’s television franchise was amazing and why its legacy matters.
(Now there are obviously more than eleven reasons to be a fan of Stargate SG-1, so feel free to add your own reasons down below.)
Television as Savior
When it was revealed that the final film of the Divergent series was going to be made for television, Shailene Woodley, star of the series, announced that she would not be continuing with the franchise, “I’m not going to be on the television show.”
It is a sentiment that stems from the belief that television is a step down from movies. And while many people now see television as an amazing platform that highlights great writing and quality acting, Stargate SG-1 was one of the first examples of a property not only finding a second life on TV, but became an entertainment juggernaut because of television.
If 1994’s Stargate had gotten a few sequels, these films would have only scratched the surface of stories that were told on the TV show. SG-1 provided the opportunity to use the Stargate to explore hundreds of worlds and encounter dozens of new cultures.
It was set in the present
Popular science fiction properties are frequently set in the distant future (like Star Trek) or the distant past (such as Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica). While setting stories in far off time periods allows writers creative freedom to do what they want, the narratives unintentionally distance the audience from the events on screen.
By setting SG-1 in the present, audiences were able to share the wonder the characters experienced as they encountered new technology, new peoples, and new aliens, because the stories were set in ‘our’ world. They may have been the best and brightest, but there was an underdog quality to battles presented in Stargate SG-1. For example, when the Goa’uld attacked with hundreds of spaceships and thousands of soldiers (called Jaffa in the show), SG-1’s heroes became the dark horses that the audience would cheer for and could relate to.
It valued smart people
The four main characters of SG-1’s run were Jack O’Neill, Daniel Jackson, Samantha Carter, and Teal’c. And while this show was a military action series, it frequently highlighted that Jackson had a Ph.D. and was an expert in archaeology and linguistics, and that Samantha Carter was not only a highly trained officer in the Air Force, but also possessed a Ph.D. in theoretical astrophysics. While many science fiction narratives sideline the smart people to create the devices that traditional action heroes use to save the day, SG-1 and its spin-offs frequently put the smart people in the middle of the action. While Daniel Jackson was more at home deciphering an ancient language and Carter relished the chance to work on new technology, both excelled in combat situations.
This thread continued to Stargate Atlantis, with Dr. Rodney McKay becoming a pillar of the show, and to Stargate Universe in which geniuses Dr. Nicholas Rush (played by the amazing Robert Carlyle) and Eli Wallace were foundational to the show. Even characters that fit into traditional action roles had moments that highlighted their intelligence. For example, the episode “Rite of Passage” has a character state that Jack O’Neill “always pretends he’s not as smart as he really is.”
Even Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson agreed to appear in an episode of Stargate Atlantis because they understood that brawn always needed brains to succeed in Stargate’s stories.
Science Fiction with great female characters
Science Fiction with great female characters
Science fiction has, like all genres, a complicated history of depicting women. For every positive female character, there is one that just exists to be sex appeal. (Pop Culture Detective recently produced an incredible video essay on a sexist trope unique to science fiction and fantasy genres called, “Born Sexy Yesterday.”) Stargate SG-1 and its spin-offs, however, were different starting with the very first episode.
Due to its foundation as a military based science fiction show, primary female characters were always presented as competent first and eye candy second. For instance, the uniform worn by Amanda Tapping’s Samantha Carter was just as utilitarian as the uniforms the men wore, and her character growth centered on her intelligence and development into a leader before romantic entanglements. Additionally, Teryl Rothery’s Dr. Janet Fraiser was the Chief Medical Officer of Stargate Command and the character was primarily defined by her expertise as a doctor and her experience as a member of the U.S. Military, not as a love interest for a random male character.
This thread continues in SG-1’s spin-offs, Atlantis and Universe. Stargate Atlantis is set in the lost city of Atlantis, which is based on a planet in another galaxy and is cut off from Earth for the first season. In charge of Atlantis for the first three seasons is Torri Higginson’s Elizabeth Weir. Weir has two Ph.D.s, was a professor of Political Science at Georgetown, and is seen as one of the best diplomats on Earth when she is introduced in the series. Joining her in the show was Rachel Luttrell’s Teyla Emmagan. A native to the Pegasus Galaxy, Teyla lacked a formal education, but her character was shown to be an expert on other cultures in her galaxy as well as a superb fighter and military strategist. In short, Atlantis’s female characters were presented as competent, well-rounded people from the beginning, instead of eye-candy.
While Stargate Universe also continues SG-1’s and Atlantis’s tradition of great female characters, there is a moment in Universe I want to focus on. The series presents Eli Wallace as a stand in for the stereotypical male geek, in that he is slightly out of shape, but funny and smart. From the moment he meets Elyse Levesque’s Chloe Armstrong, Eli is immediately attracted to her and disappointed when she pursues a romantic relationship with someone else. Eli reluctantly maintains a friendship with Chloe for the first season, and in a more traditional narrative, he would have won her over in the end.
In the first season finale of Universe, Chloe confronts Eli about his hollow acceptance of their friendship when she says, “Whenever I say stuff like that to you, you always react like I’ve just awarded you some runner-up prize. And it’s not.” It is a moment that works in the story and as a meta-commentary on women in science fiction: if you only approach female characters as objects, the audience misses out on a potentially compelling character. And if there is one thing that Stargate has succeeded at, it is creating amazing female characters.
It Grew With The Internet
When Stargate SG-1 first aired in 1997, only 21.7 million U.S. households had access to the internet. When the show ended its ten season run in 2007 – only two years after YouTube’s founding in 2005 – over 246 million American households had internet access. This gave the Stargate TV shows a unique opportunity to grow in concert with the internet.
David Hewlett, the actor behind Dr. Rodney McKay, once commented on the positive relationship between Stargate’s shows and the internet. “[Fans] are early adopters of technology and embrace a lot of the new stuff out there,” he said. “They are scientists or amateur scientists or people who are explorers and basically love this stuff. That’s why they like the show. So I think the popularity of the Internet at the same time as the show made a big part of this sort of groundswell of support for Stargate.” Additionally, with 34 webisodes to compliment its 40 episode run, Stargate Universe was one of the first shows to embrace the internet by producing content specifically for online platforms.
Even years after Stargate Universe ended, one can easily find vibrant fan communities on Reddit, GateWorld.net, large followings on Twitter and Instagram, an active Facebook page, and several dozen groups on Facebook.
354 episodes over 17 seasons to binge
When the idea was first pitched to bring Stargate to television, I don’t think anyone would have imagined that the first episode, “Children of the Gods,” would lead to a television franchise that spanned 17 seasons with 354 live action episodes. It is an amazing accomplishment that few other science fiction shows ever came close to, and that even less supersede.
This vast library lends itself to fans being able to re-watch the series again and again, as well as new fans being able to have hours upon hours of entertainment to binge watch.
Stargate made learning about Ancient Mythology cool
I loved learning about various mythologies while growing up, but even then it was apparent that the only people who studied myths were those interested in history or literature. Then Stargate SG-1 came along.
By turning to these stories from across the world, the Stargate franchise breathed new life into them, making them fun to learn. And while the movie centered on one Egyptian god, the series further explored the Egyptian pantheon, and even touched upon Nordic, Greek, Roman, Arthurian, Semitic, North American Indian, Mayan, and other cultures. By doing this, the show gave viewers permission to take a moment and indulge their curiosity by learning about ancient human belief systems.
Additionally, by harkening back to the unique mythologies Stargate SG-1 developed to mine for stories, the stories told by Stargate could only be told in its own universe.
Made Jason Momoa a Franchise Action Star
While Jason Momoa never appeared in an episode of Stargate SG-1, he did play a main character in Stargate Atlantis. Prior to Momoa becoming Ronon Dex of Atlantis, he was one of the many muscular men to appear in the Baywatch franchise. In contrast to that cheesecake work, his role as Ronon Dex was one of the first platforms to show his range as an action star. And it was the success of Atlantis that largely allowed Momoa to become Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones and, as of late, Aquaman in the DC’s cinematic universe.
It worked with the U.S. Military
Lots of science fiction/fantasy shows and films feature the U.S. military in some way. However, few have the positive relationship that the Stargate series had with the U.S. Air Force. It is well known that SG-1’s producers worked with the Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office to better represent the Air Force on the show. Additionally, the show even had Air Force generals appear in the series; these appearances occurred when General Michael E. Ryan was in SG-1’s season 4 episode, “Prodigy,” and when the season 7 episode, “Lost City,” included General John P. Jumper.
The series has not only been able to use exterior photos of the military’s Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, it was granted the opportunity by the Navy to film in the submarine, USS Alexandria.
It was Fun
In the 2008 movie Stargate: The Ark of Truth (which is a continuation of the SG-1 series), Ben Browder’s Cameron Mitchell is in a spaceship that is about to go through a giant Stargate called a Supergate. Before the ship enters the gateway, Mitchell turns to Carter and says, “Now that we’re actually here, it’s kind of cool.” It is a line that embodies the fun of Stargate’s television shows. There were episodes and ongoing story arcs that ended with an emotional punch to the gut, but the overall experience of these shows was about enjoying new worlds and new challenges with a great set of characters.
Left a void that has yet to be filled
There have been some great science fiction shows released since Stargate stopped airing. The Expanse premiered in late 2015 on Syfy and is brilliant, HBO is home to the thought provoking Westworld, The CW has The 100 – a great Young Adult science fiction series, and CBS’s All Access streaming network will soon be home to Star Trek: Discovery. However, none of them have the grounded yet fun narratives that were a trademark of Stargate’s family friendly and humorous stories. It is possible that another show will come out of nowhere and have a similar feeling to Stargate, but it’s more likely that there will never be another show quite like Stargate SG-1 and its spin-offs.
As I mentioned, there are obviously more than eleven reasons to be a fan of Stargate SG-1, so feel free to add your own reasons down below.