Opinion: How Future Stargate Can Reach New Heights

Adam Barnard explores what it might take for the Stargate franchise to make a full-fledged comeback.

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.

Stargate Continuum (2008) was the second of two successful SG-1 DVD movies.

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.

My hope is that we see plenty of future crossover projects that build the greater universe of Stargate.

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.

On SGU we got to see a more seasoned Jack O’Neill — but one who still retained his classic wit and charisma.

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).

Stargate has cultivated an impressive and nuanced mythological repertoire — and one that has plenty of stories left to tell.

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.

Stargate fans at WonderCon, 2018. Photo courtesy of Stargate Command.

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.

Stargate Origins: Catherine poster

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 Stargate Universe never received a live-action resolution, our hearts remain with the crew of the Destiny.

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.

MGM has seen some hard times in recent years, but they’ve displayed a commitment to the Stargate franchise and its diverse and expansive legacy.

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.

Over the many years, SG-1 began to feel like family — a family we still miss.

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.

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5 years ago

If you want it to be great avoid the following:

SJW characters.
Half seasons of 10 episodes or less (make them full 20-24 episode seasons).
Making it a show with almost entirely adolescent characters.
10 minute episodes.
Quentin Tarantino.

5 years ago

Figuring out international distribution (where “international” doesn’t mean “a handful” of countries) would be very nice.

It’s a big world…

5 years ago

Woolsey made the committee, he said the gate is in Moscow! Carter wont return our calls.. keeps banging on about ‘retirement’. Send Maj. @MacKenziePMusic out to find her.. we need to get the Stargate program off the ground! This is not about politics… Goa’uld ancients are headed for Earth! #NoPressure #SG4

David Walters
David Walters
5 years ago

No matter what Stargate does to try to continue, they are screwed. Of course, this doesn’t apply to just Stargate, but to any science fiction that tries to continue from a previous incarnation, whether a continuation or a reboot. No matter what you do, you will always be at the mercy of the Backlash — always between five to ten percent of the audience who will start an all out war against whatever you attempt to do. They and their sock-puppet army will take control of every board and forum in existence, trashing any attempts at either intelligence or creativity.… Read more »

5 years ago

, I dunno about that mate. You’re reading too much into it. We just want a new Stargate series set in the same continuity (that’s not a low budget web series). It can be done without diminishing previous series, without reinventing itself into oblivion.

5 years ago

My biggest fear is that any new SG series will end up being relegated to online streaming distribution only. I just read that Star Wars: The Clone Wars is coming back, but streaming only. CBS put Star Trek online streaming only instead of having cable and satellite distribution as well. If you’re going to limit the number of people who can watch then any new sci-fi series is going to die a slow death right out of the box. The number of people who can stream video is still somewhat limited. Why limit your audience?

5 years ago

I’ve read the opinion piece and the comments and everyone is right. I hope to see new Stargate, but I disagree with Adam on one thing. I don’t think that the characters should be treated with too much reverence! (I don’t see General O’Neill going for that at all :) ). I would just add into the character mix, don’t get TOO serious and don’t forget the comedy that most of us love about this series. Also, I can’t say that I was compelled to watch the Origin story… have had the last two episodes just hanging there all summer.… Read more »

5 years ago

Don´t let SYFY nor Netflix to produce!

Donald Earl
Donald Earl
5 years ago

Keep Stargate in the present tense. What attracted me to Stargate was Richard Dean Anderson’s Jack O’Neill. Just like Captain Kirk and Luke Skywalker, Jack and his crew saved the Universe time and time again. However, Stargate was not set in the 23rd Century or “long long ago in a galaxy far far away.” After saving the universe from the aliens, he came home, popped open a Guinness, and watched The Simpsons. Also, the SGC’s enemies were not all aliens. They had to face budget cuts, government agency malfunctions, and rivalries with other earth-bound powers. As the series progressed, I… Read more »

5 years ago

@Donald Earl Exactly that. How can they keep the Stargate Program a secret when literally everyone has access to any information all around the world? What if someone accidentally posts a video of the stargate online? and so on :D But I don’t know if we should blow up Elon’s Ego even more… @scidude I agree except that one point on SJW characters – that triggered me ;) Sam was one of these “SJW characters” when she was introduced (“And just because my reproductive organs are on the inside instead of the outside, doesn’t mean I can’t handle whatever you… Read more »

5 years ago

Personally I would love if the series were distributed via Netflix. It would mean great worldwide distribution and less incentive for illegally downloading it. I think the best way to do it would be around 13 episodes per season and releasing them on one date. That way the plot of the season would not be too stretched out and there would be less plot holes since they can edit all episodes simultaneously.

5 years ago

With the length of time the series has been off air, fresh faces lead by the older cast would be a good Idea. the fith race needs to build out now into the stars and act as a building force like the other 4 races. find new knowledge, new enemys comeing out of these new worlds. exploreing the galaxy not just looking for a way to defeat an empire yet again.

Colleen Burks
5 years ago

Just found this article only to see a photo of myself and several others from SG-Command at Stargate Command WonderCon booth last year. Very cool. :)

5 years ago

Thanks for posting my (Wondercon) picture, that’s me on the far right, doing my part to try to keep Stargate fandom alive. At this point, what Stargate needs is a soft reboot, like what Jurassic World did for the Jurassic Park franchise. You set a new Stargate show in the present day with all of the time that has passed included. You’ll have a brand new cast but you’d also bring back as many of the original cast all of 3 shows (and explain where they’ve been and what they’ve been up to all of these years) either as support… Read more »