It’s been twelve years to the day since the lights went dark aboard Destiny as Stargate Universe signed off with its unintended series finale “Gauntlet” on the Syfy Channel on May 9, 2011.
While the show struggled to win over many old-school Stargate fans and retain its strong ratings from the first half of Season One, SGU creatively found itself during its second season. And it felt destined – pun intended – to truly break out in Season Three (much like Stargate SG-1 did with its third season more than a decade earlier).
Despite producers’ optimism that a renewal was likely, the Syfy Channel cancelled Stargate Universe in December of 2010. Ostensibly this was due to low ratings and high production costs … but perhaps it was also because of the network’s changing brand strategy (along with MGM’s financial woes that ended in bankruptcy that very same year).
While “Gauntlet” was a strong and emotional end to the show’s outstanding second season, it was still an unusual series finale that left our heroes’ fate uncertain – not to mention a lack of resolution regarding Destiny’s larger mission. Now, while time heals all wounds, we’re still not over SGU’s premature conclusion. So as the crew of Destiny continues their second decade in the void between galaxies, here are six reasons why we miss Stargate Universe.
#1 – Destiny’s Crew
In its early days, Stargate Universe was focused on fleshing out its extensive cast of characters. Rather than adventures of the week that would take our heroes off the ship, most episodes were focused on what was happening inside the Destiny. Characters bounced off one another, pined for one another, conspired against one another, and fell into each other’s arms as they struggled to come to terms with being stranded aboard an ancient ship with no ability to return home.
The writers chose to create character dynamics that were messy and authentic to the circumstances aboard the ship – a stark departure from the healthy, familial bonds found on Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis. Furthermore, with the introduction of the Ancient communication stones, audiences were given a front-row seat to our characters’ earthbound realities as they made the occasional body-swapping visit back to Earth.
But as the show progressed, that dynamic changed. Personal visits to Earth became increasingly rare, and the ongoing do-or-die circumstances on board Destiny united the ship’s crew. By the time SGU reached 40 episodes, the characters (as well as the cast) felt comfortable in their own skins, and there was a greater sense of urgency to turn outward and face the voyage ahead.
The shift in tone ultimately pushed the show in a more aspirational direction – reminiscent of the classic storytelling and camaraderie we knew from the two previous shows. And because we spent so much time watching that camaraderie earned through blood, sweat, and tears, it was all the more special to witness Destiny’s ragtag crew finally work together toward a common goal.
#2 – Exciting New Worlds
During its all too brief run, Stargate Universe introduced several visually stunning planets and showcased how truly alien the farthest reaches of the universe could be. The producers wanted to move away from that signature “British Columbia forest” backdrop that was used for almost every alien world in the other two Stargate series – and thanks to a bigger budget, that was finally possible.
Viewers were treated to many impressive worlds, like the desert planet in “Air, Part 3” – shot in White Sands, New Mexico, to end the three-part series premiere with a breathtaking backdrop. Then “Time” took us to a tropical rainforest (built entirely on one of The Bridge Studios’ sound stages), where the filmmakers staged one of Stargate’s most impressive and innovative action set pieces to date.
We then saw many exotic and biologically diverse worlds in “Lost” as Matt, Chloe, and Eli hopped from planet to planet via the Stargate in an attempt to find their way back to the Destiny. And perhaps most notably, we got a jagged, merciless desert planet in “Malice” – shot in New Mexico’s Bisti Badlands – which provided the perfect canvas for a heartbreaking revenge story as Dr. Rush chased down the murderous Simeon.
While we were shown some genuinely imaginative “alien” worlds in Stargate Universe, we’re left to wonder how technology like The Volume (the immersive LED soundstage used in Disney’s The Mandalorian) or advances in VFX technology could help further realize these breathtaking alien environments. With more resources, modern technology, and the imagination of Brad Wright and company – the possibilities were truly limitless.
#3 – A Unique Visual Style
While Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis established a clean visual aesthetic full of long Steadicam takes, smooth crane shots, and tight conventional compositions, Stargate Universe embraced a vastly different style.
From the moment the Icarus evacuees arrived on Destiny the camerawork was edgy, handheld, and voyeuristic in nature. It was almost like the cameraman was trapped on board with the crew, perilously weaving in and out of a given scene – making the audience feel like a bystander caught up in the drama. While the stylistic changes were ambitious, they were also very fitting considering what the series was trying to accomplish.
SGU co-creator Robert C. Cooper explained this creative decision in an interview with GateWorld, saying: “The idea was to shoot it like a documentary. To say, ‘What would happen if a documentary crew were to ride along on this adventure to outer space?’ … I believe that there’s a difference between what we are doing and just constantly waving the camera around for style’s sake.”
Also contributing to the new style was the incredible work of production designer James Robbins. For SGU Robbins imagined some of the most beautiful and inspired sets for a show of this budget, with texture, detail, and scope rivaling that of many feature films. And those sets truly came alive as all the creeks, groans, and cadence of Destiny’s internal mechanisms were audibly present during shipbound scenes – creating an eerie energy that personified the ship and gave it a soul.
Finally, when it comes to visual style, we cannot forget the iconic kino – a small, floating, orb-shaped device created by the Ancients to probe environments on the other side of the Stargate. It was a clever and playful invention: an omniscient eye that quickly became a crucial storytelling device in the series. In most episodes there were at least a few shots of kino footage layered into the show, and in some key episodes like “Time” or “Epilogue” the kino footage was central to the primary plot itself.
#4 – The Music
While Joel Goldsmith (son of legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith) had turned in consistently incredible work during his time on SG-1 and Atlantis, his work on Stargate Universe was in a league of its own. Goldsmith’s score was fresh, daring, and subversive. If we’re going to reflect on the best parts of SGU, it’s worth taking a moment to remember some key episodes from the show where Goldsmith’s score really elevated the drama.
In the final minutes of “Air Part, 3” Lt. Scott and Sergeant Greer struggle to make it back to the gate with the life-saving mineral before Destiny jumps into F.T.L. Throughout this sequence, Goldsmith’s sweeping score puts us on the edge of our seats – and you can feel the desperation and life-or-death stakes in every segment of the composition.
Another highlight is the score for “Light,” an episode where Destiny is ostensibly on a fatal collision course with a star (with most of the crew expecting to die). As the episode takes its many twists and turns Goldsmith’s potent, operatic, and soulful score perfectly complements all the intense emotional beats and deep existential crises our characters experience.
Countless smaller moments are worth noting. There’s a great, sonically unique piece in “Divided” that ratchets up the tension as the civilians aboard Destiny launch an unexpected and hostile takeover of the ship. Goldsmith’s intense and aggressive score during the final minutes of “Incursion, Part 2” is another highlight (and an unforgettable end to SGU’s first season). Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the Stargate Universe theme itself: a thunderous anthem that feels boundless and adventurous, but also brings a sense of angst not found in any of the other Stargate themes.
That said, Goldsmith’s most noteworthy and important contribution to the show can be found in the series finale, “Gauntlet.” As Destiny powers down to make the jump between galaxies a bittersweet, sentimental, piano-centric score carries us through to the final credits. You can literally feel the soul of the show in the melody, and it’s a career-defining piece of genius – something that series co-creator Brad Wright has called Goldsmith’s “best work.”
#5 – Epic Stakes
Let’s be honest: After a combined 15 seasons of adventuring, the SG-1 and Atlantis teams had gotten damn good at their jobs. Earth and Atlantis were major power players in their respective galaxies, and thanks to Earth’s Asgard-upgraded spaceships the Milky Way and Pegasus Galaxies had become easily accessible. It made for fun adventures along the way … but the galaxies had started to feel a bit small as a result.
Stargate Universe, however, sent our heroes to the farthest reaches of the universe with little more than the clothes on their backs. In Season One – before any strange, new worlds could be explored – Destiny would drop out of F.T.L. for just a few hours before automatically making the jump to another planet. This mechanism made the universe feel big and urgent again, and the ticking clock made for plenty of close calls and thrilling stories.
But that eventually needed to change to allow the greater story to progress – so at the beginning of Season Two, Dr. Rush discovered Destiny’s bridge and cracked the ship’s command code. Suddenly, the crew was no longer stuck on a predetermined voyage – they were masters of their own fate, able to choose where to go and how long to stay.
This development also resulted in a distinct thematic shift. Despite the crew’s profound desire to return home, it became clear that establishing a wormhole to Earth was highly unlikely. However, what awaited them at the end of Destiny’s journey could potentially unlock the ability to return home. And even if the crew failed to return to Earth after completing Destiny’s mission, they would have undoubtedly been part of one of the most important human achievements of all time.
How does that old phrase go again – “the only way out is through“?
There is a level of poetry to this idea – that accepting the journey eventually leads us to the inner peace and purpose we all crave. Destiny’s crew were not heroes in the traditional sense – they were accidental passengers, often radically unprepared to crew the ship. But they became our heroes, slowly, because of the bravery they discovered within themselves, coalescing behind Destiny’s mission even as their own long-term survival seemed unlikely.
#6 – A Mystery Worth Solving
In “The Greater Good” Destiny’s crew learned of the ship’s true purpose: to discover the origins of a complex signal found in the universe’s cosmic microwave background radiation. The CMBR (as it’s often abbreviated) is “noise” left over from the Big Bang – traceable to the beginning of time itself.
The presence of such a complex structure here defies logic. Intelligent life capable of creating this should have taken billions of years to develop after the formation of the universe – so does the CMBR confirm the existence of intelligent design, or could it result in a scientific discovery that revolutionizes the way we view the natural world?
Such questions must have been on the minds of the Ancients, who launched Destiny eons ago in search of answers. But their plan for Destiny never came to pass, and the Ancients failed to set foot on their own ship (perhaps due to the discovery of ascension).
So what revelations await our crew at the end of Destiny’s journey?
Sadly, we may never know. But it’s hard to think of a more perfect way to provide closure to the vast mythology of Stargate’s canon. As the builders of the Stargates and the city of Atlantis, the Ancients have always been at the center of the Stargate story. So exploring the Ancients’ role in the mystery of the Destiny – while also decoding the origins of our universe – felt like a perfect way to organically tie together all the various elements from the Wright-Cooper universe of Stargate storytelling.
It’s also worth noting that Brad Wright’s fourth Stargate series would have (in some form) revisited the Destiny and her crew. While the show would have prioritized the introduction of new characters and storylines, both Wright and his fellow writer and executive producer Joseph Mallozzi indicated that there would have been some kind of resolution addressing the cliffhanger from the SGU series finale.
With Wright’s fourth series now apparently shelved, we can only hope that Amazon will see the value in revisiting the Destiny (or at least the show’s characters) in future iterations of Stargate. The completion of Destiny’s mission would provide an opportunity to tie up loose ends from Stargate’s television universe while also setting the stage for a whole new era of storytelling – not to mention finally giving us closure on the mystery of the CMBR, and why Destiny and the Stargate’s ninth chevron existed in the first place.
But until that day comes, we’ll continue to miss SGU – both for what it was, and what it was destined to become.
Do you miss Stargate Universe too? To mark twelve years since the series finale, let us know what you loved about the show in the comments below.
The show was incredible. The uniqueness of each character and how they interacted with one another kept me coming back for more each week. I absolutely enjoyed the Stargate shows and hope that one day we can again.
Stargate Universe was not my cup of tea, i preferred SG1 and Stargate Atlantis.
How about a movie to wrap up Destiny and crate a spinoff? Huge fan of SG1 and Atlantis but you are correct, Universe had something special going. I still worry about Eli.
The series basically LOST and BSG (remake) combined which worked well. SGU had me hooked from from episode 1, but SG-1 was dreadfully “meh” the first and second season.
As first,[i realize now that i was mistaken] i didn’t like the jump back to “flashbacks or previous moments” on SGU.But then it all fell into place.I’ve always liked the”fish out of water” stories and characters.Loved how the characters grew,yet still kept their beliefs and characteristics that some could perceive as flaws.Would have liked a conclusion,but i prefer none at all to a rushed hokey one.
Well said. I loved the more grounded serious character focus of the show, and the science fiction mysteries, big and small, to be uncovered. In many ways, SGU felt like the most science fiction of all three shows.
Loved SGU – it was star gate for grown-ups. I loved the lack of cheesy “humour” and the grittiness of the setting. Miss it terribly, and would love to see it finished somehow.
Great article. All those points hit for me.
SGU was naturally the best and most aesthetically pleasing of the shows – it was after all made in the era when good CGI had become fairly cheap and easy to make, unlike SG1 and SGA. Beyond that, the show also had a complexity of story-telling that was better put together and more interesting than at least the first couple of seasons of SG1. I don’t think any of the shows are specifically a favorite of mine over the others – I love them all (except origins which I don’t consider canon at all) and I really seriously hope that… Read more »
SGU grew on me over time. I wasn’t initially onboard with it because I wasn’t sure about the new cast but by season 2 I was fully invested. I still think about the finale from time to time. I’ve been rewatching SG1 and I’m halfway through S9 now. Makes me realize my favourite episodes are the more space and sci-fi heavy ones, which SGU had in abundance. I can’t believe it’s been 12 years already. I was hopeful for a couple years after SGU ended that we would get a movie conclusion but that never happened. And then a couple… Read more »
SGU deserved 5 seasons and a full story. That second season was the finest of ANY Stargate had produced and I know all three shows like the back of my hand.
SGU was, unfortunately, about 5 years ahead of its time, and I imagine it would have been a huge success on its own to a modern audience.
Just finished SGU 5/15/2023, binged the 2 seasons. While the series was interesting & entertaining…I was disappointed with how it ended without conclusions.I obviously knew there were only 2 seasons and with only a couple of episodes left…I wasn’t expecting an epic ending but I was hopeful.
I quickly grew to love SGU and the different direction they took. It was a shame that some of the fans felt the need to reject it so loudly. It might’ve made the difference if it had been a resounding ratings success – instead we’ve had an unfinished storyline and an unfinished drought.
Think sgu biggest thing is allowed bigger stories wish lots more on orgins of sgu somewhere in story telling I think sgu could give you story that goes back original ancients Galaxy builds forward aka why destiny built earth how predated Atlantis and did ship have connected story same or different ancients involved creation of both ships and seperate story origins of seed ships and much much more story of backwards time traveled desiney crew and civilizations and what did once they relocated in galaxy or did they fail second time and what about eli and tc possibly terrible endings… Read more »
The show changed my life, honestly. It opened my mind to the sheer wonder and mystery of the Universe in a way no other sci-fi ever did, not even Star Trek (which I also love). After it was cancelled, I found myself learning all about astronomy, and eventually I spent six years doing volunteer work for an astronomy podcast. I think it’s safe to say that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t watched SGU. Destiny shall continue to fly on in my heart. And I also sincerely hope the soundtrack will be released one day.
All three series are excellent, I would like to continue filming SGU or some new series. Greetings from Serbia