Suffice it to day: 2019 was a very quiet year on the Stargate front. In fact, it caps off what has been a quiet decade for the science fiction franchise.
But in its 20 years online GateWorld has operated as a sort of “historical record” of the Stargate franchise, and so here at the start of a new decade it seems fitting to look back at the ups and downs not only of 2019 but of the decade as a whole.
The 2010s was the decade that Stargate was off the air, out of production, with little in the way of new, licensed merchandise. But still, it’s noteworthy just how active the fan base continues to be — now going on nine years since the last show went off the air.
Last January we speculated a bit on what the final year of this decade might hold for the franchise, and also where we think Stargate needs to go. Here let’s open the iris a little bit further and look at the entire decade we’ve just wrapped up: 2010 to 2019.
The Stargate franchise entered the second decade of the twenty-first century in pretty good shape, all things considered. As the calendar turned over to January of 2010 Stargate Universe had aired the first half of its first season, premiering with nearly 2.5 million viewers in the U.S.
SG-1 had seen success in the DVD market with 2008’s Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum, and hopes were still running high that a third movie would be made. Fans also anticipated news … any day now … that the promised Stargate Atlantis movie would be going into production.
But the successes that the franchise had enjoyed in the previous decade would prove to be waning. The movies never went into active production. The Stargate Atlantis story was cut short. And SGU ended abruptly after only two seasons, in 2011, as MGM declared bankruptcy late in 2010 … and Syfy Channel fumbled the franchise that had made it a Top 10 cable network.
THE LONG NIGHT
SGU aired its final episode on May 9, 2011. Much of the history of the franchise since then isn’t about what the studio has been doing, but about Stargate’s inactivity — and the studio’s silence about it.
It wasn’t that way at first. In 2014 MGM let it be known that it had given the go-ahead to Stargate’s original creators, Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich, to reboot the franchise on the big screen. The first of a new trilogy of big-budget movies hired a pair of writers, and we got excited again. It was something new — a new horizon of stories to be told.
Fans of the long-running TV series were less enthusiastic, however, when it became clear that a new trilogy would mean the end of the television universe — not a continuation of what we love, but the dreaded reboot. Viewers debated TV versus movie continuity. But in the end our worries didn’t matter much: by the fall of 2016 the project was dead. Devlin and Emmerich wouldn’t be making a new Stargate movie after all.
And so, in the middle of the decade, Stargate and its fandom fell back into silence. There were no new projects in development, and no evidence that MGM had plans to do anything with the brand for the foreseeable future. Stargate seemed destined to become that show you used to watch, years ago, when you were younger.
A new spark of hope came at San Diego Comic-Con in the summer of 2017. MGM hosted an official Stargate panel for fans, where they announced a 10-part Web series called Stargate Origins. Along with the new project would be a dedicated Web site, mobile app, and streaming platform. “Stargate Command” was to be the franchise’s new home on the Internet, providing fans (in select markets) the ability to interact, get new content, and stream all 350+ episodes and films on demand.
Stargate, they said, was back.
Origins debuted over a 3-week period in February and March of 2018. It received a mixed response, for sure. Some long-time fans of the franchise were just happy to see a new story set in this universe, one that re-imagined favorite characters like Kasuf and Catherine Langford while also expanding the pantheon of Goa’uld with new figures such as Aset and Serqet.
Others bemoaned the project’s low budget, which had evidently led to the studio hiring mostly young unknowns to write, direct, and produce the project. Efforts to capture the tone of Stargate — funny and adventurous, while also capable of grave stakes — at times fell flat. To make matters worse, a portion of Stargate’s international fan base lived outside the six countries where Origins was streaming and couldn’t watch it at all.
‘TESTING THE WATERS?’
We knew that this was only a partial “revival,” at best. MGM was dipping its toe into the water, so to speak, perhaps gauging not only the level of interest among fans but also its own ability to produce original Web content on a budget. There was every intention, at least at first, to continue on with additional “Origins” stories — evidenced by the distinctive subtitle given to this first outing when it was re-released: the feature cut Stargate Origins: Catherine.
But why was a second outing of the Web series never given the go-ahead? Was it due to poor reception, or a low subscriber base, or perhaps other unseen business factors to which fans were not privy?
As we noted over and again (and again) here at GateWorld, the post-Origins silence was deafening. Another Comic-Con came and went, with no news from the studio. The Gatecon fan convention in Vancouver came and went that fall, with no official announcement. Stargate Command launched its second year, then a site-wide refresh … still with nothing to say about another Origins story. Now, 2019 in its entirety is in the rear-view mirror.
Stargate wasn’t back, after all.
What some might perceive as the nail in the coffin came this past October, when MGM announced that it would shut down the Stargate Command platform. Just like Senator Kinsey in SG-1’s “Politics,” the studio would mothball the Stargate program. In the words of General Hammond: “It’s over, Jack. No extensions, no reversals, no new hearings. The Stargate will be buried, literally and figuratively.”
And that brings us up to today: Stargate Command closed on Tuesday, December 31, 2019. Video content is being migrated to YouTube, and the app now shows an error message.
KEEPING HOPE ALIVE
Let’s give credit where credit is due: Some Stargate creators continued to work hard through this quiet decade.
The adventures of SG-1 and Atlantis continue in the pages of these books, and the past decade brought readers a whopping 40 new titles. And that includes a new set of anthologies, with multiple authors contributing short stories focused on many different characters and settings throughout the Stargate pantheon.
New Stargate stories also came in the form of licensed comics. After a pair of ill-conceived Daniel Jackson and Vala Mal Doran comics from Dynamite, American Mythology picked up the license and delivered fine continuations of both Atlantis and Universe.
In 2016 “Back to Pegasus” took the city of Atlantis home to the Pegasus Galaxy, bringing back a familiar face as a brand new villain. More stories followed from writers Mark L. Haynes and J.C. Vaughn, with 12 issues plus four more of anthology shorts. And in 2017 the duo delivered “Back to Destiny,” a 6-issue continuation of the Stargate Universe story.
And finally, another new licensee joined the Stargate family just recently — although their forthcoming Stargate role-playing game hasn’t been released yet. At this moment Wyvern Gaming is hard at work on a brand new tabletop RPG, set for release this summer.
The folks who have really kept Stargate alive and well, though, are the fans themselves. Stargate fans new and old continued to talk about it online, share the shows with their friends, and rally on social media to get MGM to green-light something new. And as the years have passed, a group of brand new viewers have discovered SG-1, Atlantis, and SGU for the very first time through online streaming.
If (or rather when) Stargate does make a comeback, it’s going to be because of the fans. It’s going to be because viewers the world over made it clear to the decision makers that there is still an active and excited audience — ready for new sci-fi storytelling.
SO … IS NEW STARGATE COMING?
It’s the $64,000 question on everyone’s mind: Is MGM going to put a new show, or movie, or miniseries, or at least some kind of short-form Web project into production? If it wasn’t announced in 2019, will this finally be the year?
If the last year has brought no official word from the studio, that is not because there isn’t anything happening behind the scenes. Stargate is not back on the shelf at MGM. Rather it’s a matter of rethinking the franchise to put Stargate’s best foot forward, and getting the right people in place to command that ship.
Stargate’s TV co-creator Brad Wright appeared on stage at Gatecon in the fall of 2018 where he let it be known that, although he didn’t have anything to do with Stargate Origins, he and MGM were talking again. After many years away (and a great deal of executive turn-over following the studio’s bankruptcy), evidently MGM wanted to have the conversation about bringing Wright back into the fold. What might a new Stargate production look like if it came from his pen, and was set in the universe he shepherded for 14 years?
Wright followed that up with an appearance on a fan podcast one year ago, in January of 2019. In response to the question of whether there would be a new Stargate project, he told the Nerks of the Hub, “We’re working on it.”
And that’s the last we heard of it. Something is happening. What form it will take — long or short, finite or ongoing — is anybody’s guess. This is Hollywood, and development often proceeds at a snail’s pace … until suddenly it doesn’t. Hurry up, and wait.
The decade 2010 to 2019 was Stargate’s quiet decade. But I hope it will be the last such decade for a long, long time.
I hope that 2020 is the year that Brad Wright’s long-gestating project (or projects?) finally come to some fruition. While a production schedule realistically may mean that nothing will hit the airwaves (or streaming platforms) before 2021, MGM can at least commit to a new show, movie, or miniseries and make the announcement this year. In fact, we challenge them to do so.
Stargate has had a powerful fan base for two and a half decades now. But, realistically, that fan base is not getting any younger. New viewers are discovering the shows for the first time, yes — but our community is losing perhaps just as many by attrition. Some of our friends who once joined us online on Friday nights to talk about the newest episode of SG-1 have since passed away. Others have left simply because there is nothing new happening. (I heard from more than one person in 2018 and 2019 who hadn’t even heard about the existence of Stargate Origins — a sign about the limited reach that Stargate Command had as a niche platform.)
Fans of Stargate — young and old alike — need MGM to demonstrate that Stargate still matters.
Stargate stands on the edge of greatness. It still has every chance of reemerging in the new decade as one of science fiction’s crown jewels. Only the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek (which are both enjoying massive revivals of their own) can rival Stargate in scope and in storytelling possibilities. But something has to happen.
So here’s to 2020, and the years to come. Whether it is a fourth live-action show, or a theatrical feature, a streaming miniseries, or all of the above, in this “Golden Age” of genre entertainment we are ready to rally Stargate back to the greatness it deserves.