Last summer, in the hallowed halls of San Diego Comic-Con, MGM executive Sam Toles delivered a shocking announcement: Stargate would be returning with a brand new digital series, Stargate Origins. The crowd rose to their feet in a thunderous applause, and for just a moment we got a flashback to the glory days of Stargate SG-1 — and a glimpse of what the future might hold.
Now, over a year later — with the first Stargate Origins story starting to disappear into the rear view mirror — we must look to that future. And while I did address the live-action possibilities in a recent op-ed here at GateWorld (“Stargate’s Return: The Next Step”), I did not get to address one important thing.
Stargate, like all things in life, is fallible.
In 2009, Stargate was booming. Although Stargate Atlantis had recently been cancelled, Atlantis and SG-1 had direct-to-DVD movies on the fast track to production (with the promise of more, pending modest success). SyFy had given a two-season commitment to Stargate Universe, and an MMO-RPG (Stargate Worlds) was in active development.
The fan base had a healthy online presence, solid convention attendance record, and a hunger for all things Stargate. In short — they put their money where their mouths were, and that kept the Stargate machine churning. In what was becoming the golden age of franchises, surely Stargate would see continued success …
Yet the perfect storm of bad circumstances breached the hull of Stargate’s stability and the venerable, billion-dollar franchise went into stasis (quite literally in that final episode of SGU) for almost six years.
So if Stargate could stumble then, it can happen again now. But rather than living in a state of fear, I want to present a few ways in which I think Stargate could transcend the risk factors — not only succeeding in making a big comeback, but surpassing the glory days of the 2000s.
(1) Embrace Variety (But Avoid Over-Saturation)
So here’s the deal: as much as I love Stargate, an excess of Stargate could be its undoing. We don’t need two theatrical releases, three TV shows, a dozen comic series, fifteen books, and two different video games coming out every year in order to keep the franchise relevant and profitable. In fact, such a massive expansion could impact the creative integrity of the franchise.
Stargate has always been one of the best kept secrets of greater fandom. It’s the “speakeasy” of sci-fi franchises, and those who are let in on the secret rarely want to leave. But it’s also not for everyone. So while the franchise is a multi-billion dollar business — and I’m sure MGM aspires to have Stargate join the ranks of mega-franchises like Star Wars and Marvel — the studio needs to preserve the sanctity of that creative spark, and pick diverse (but realistically sized) Stargate endeavors.
(2) Respect the Older Shows and Characters
Stargate was successful because of its characters. Plain and simple.
In a time where there’s plenty of visually-dazzling content — yet frequently a startling lack of humanity therein — Stargate remains a shining beacon that struck an ideal mix of spectacle and story, keeping everything balanced on the characters and their unique journeys. Eventually Stargate will have to craft new, compelling characters that stand tall in their own right.
But I think it’s safe to say that fans aren’t done with the heroes of SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe.
And, if these legacy characters are utilized in new Stargate stories, they need to be portrayed with tonal accuracy and reverence — not just for the sake of soundbites and trailer shots. They’re living, breathing people whose footprint in the greater Stargate universe must be honored and preserved.
(3) Refine and Hone Canon
In order to ensure the ongoing success and consistency within the Stargate creative universe — Stargate needs a story group to manage its growing canon. If the term “story group” sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard of LucasFilm’s Star Wars story group (headed up by producer Kiri Hart).
Story groups are becoming an increasingly common and necessary element within shared-universe franchises. In regards to Stargate, there’s simply no way for new storytellers (especially freelancers) to track the expansive canon and mythos of the franchise while crafting their own Stargate stories.
Some of the best content creators might not be pre-existing Stargate fans — and that’s fine! We need fresh and diverse voices in future iterations of the franchise. They just need to be guided by steady hands who understand the inner workings of Stargate’s expansive legacy.
We also need to know what is canon. How many of the licensed novels, comic series, video games, etc. actually take place in the fictional world of Stargate (and affect the more central live-action properties)?
(4) Continue to Improve Fan Relations
While a franchise’s profitability is not rooted in the pocketbooks of 50,000 super fans, these individuals do set the tone and culture around an brand like Stargate’s. The fans are the heartbeat, emotional core, and ambassadors of the franchise. And because of their seminal influence on Stargate’s community, special care must be given to ensure they are acknowledged, valued, and heard.
Don’t get me wrong — the whims of fandom should not impact the general direction of the franchise. But their intelligence and aptitude must not be ignored.
My ultimate hope is that Stargate Command evolves into a platform that not only provides an extensive library of Stargate content, but also a sophisticated method for fans to have a greater impact on the franchise itself. This current iteration Stargate Command was an excellent start — but regional restrictions and technical difficulties have so far impaired its endless potential.
More meaningful fan involvement (along with a beefier product slate) could serve to satiate the existing fan base and convince new viewers to finally give Stargate a shot — all while solidifying Stargate as a franchise that leans into (and not away from) its fandom.
(5) Centralize Production and Distribution
One of the major benefits of a platform like Stargate Command (assuming it is adequately financed) is that content can be produced and distributed “in-house” — far quicker than through a more traditional studio-to-broadcaster system.
Major motion pictures are wickedly expensive and often require a lot of co-financing. They can take months or years to assemble, and are prone to falling apart at the eleventh hour (like Stargate: Revolution and Extinction did back in 2011). Long-form TV shows are also more expensive than ever before — and the upfront investment to launch a show could cause plenty of corporate hesitation.
Thanks to Stargate Command, the Stargate franchise now has to opportunity to develop a niche with peripheral properties like Stargate Origins — a way to deliver fans with consistent, hand-tailored content that’s both affordable and accessible. Whether or not Stargate Origins: Catherine was a creative success, it paved the way for an exciting new era of more direct and immediate Stargate content.
(6) Commit to Completion
I cannot adequately stress the importance of this point. When you commit to telling a story, enhancing the mythology, or embarking on a new adventure — you finish it. Period.
If that means taking financial hit, so be it. Lack of completion is a black mark on the résumé of Stargate (and a deterrent to future viewers). While the initial bottom line might not boast the rewards of such a decision, it’s a necessary sacrifice to maintain the integrity of a franchise that is meant to last for decades.
Disney and LucasFilm seemed to recognize this factor just last month — reviving Star Wars: The Clone Wars (originally cancelled in 2013) to satiate an ever-more divided and disgruntled fandom. The (presumably expensive) decision was a much-needed infusion of energy — and it restored many fans’ faith in Disney’s stewardship of the Star Wars franchise.
While MGM can’t necessarily fix past mistakes — especially when it comes to Stargate’s cancelled live-action shows — with future Stargate endeavors the studio can make contingency plans to finish the story (even if the most unexpected obstacles arise — like a surprise cancellation).
Plan ahead and don’t over-commit. Simple as that.
(GateWorld previously published an impassioned article on the importance of completing long-form stories — and the damage of failing to do so.)
(7) Keep Stargate a Creative Challenge (Not a Corporate Chore)
Stargate is part of the film industry, and the film industry is a business — such is an unavoidable fact of adult life. As much as my inner child wants MGM to produce more Stargate (say, a Stargate Universe wrap-up series) out of the charity of their hearts, it simply won’t happen unless it stands a chance of survival on their balance sheet.
But this doesn’t have to be an entirely cynical dynamic. A compromise between commerce and creativity can be achieved. Stargate is a franchise that blossomed because its producers saw the chance to create not one, not two, but three thoroughly unique television series — each a risk in its own right, but all resounding successes in terms of quality.
These days television shows are a dime a dozen. They come and go, and so many of them demand nothing more than an hour of their viewer’s casual attention. But Stargate is not that kind of show. Stargate demands that special emotional investment (and greater engagement in the expanded universe).
My ultimate suggestion to MGM: Think of Stargate like a luxury resort — with each Stargate property seeking to give tourists a more satisfying and immersive experience. Projects ought to be selected out of a desire to innovate and build upon that larger Stargate “experience,” and create the most vibrant, rich, and engaging cinematic universe possible.
Stargate is not a single show. It quickly grew beyond that once Stargate SG-1 survived Showtime’s premature cancellation. It’s a cinematic universe — a community of storytellers and dreamers who see our world in a distinct and inspiring way. It’s a group of fans who want to believe the best about humanity, and see the most admirable parts of humankind manifested in our intrepid, galactic explorers.
But above all, Stargate is about the heart. The sincerity. The honesty.
My hope for the franchise’s next chapter is a more transparent, multi-faceted, and engaging community where fans can share their love of the Stargate like never before. And maybe, just maybe, Stargate can reach the heights we’ve always known it can.
Fan feedback is crucial for any franchises’ success, so we’d love to hear your thoughts on how Stargate can avoid past pitfalls and reach new heights! Let us know in the comment section — or on Twitter and Facebook.
Note: MGM recently announced a partnership with Tongal — a crowd-sourcing platform that allows fans to officially contribute content to a franchise without breaching legal boundaries. But given the lack of information available on that front, I’ve chosen to withhold that factor from my analysis.