After more than a decade of Stargate series established lengthy backstories for both the Milky Way and Pegasus galaxies, where does a new entrant in the franchise take the story? How about the vast frontier of the universe?
That's the approach the creators of Syfy's upcoming Stargate Universe have taken. The new show centers on the adventures of a group of military personnel and civilians who gate inadvertently to the Ancient starship Destiny during an attack. They find themselves stranded and must explore the Destiny to find a way home as it soars through the uncharted reaches of space.
"The universe is a bigger place," series co-creator Robert C. Cooper said in a group interview last week at Comic-Con in San Diego. "In order to not be restricted by the mythologies that have been established within each individual galaxy, the Milky Way and Pegasus, we took this show out into the universe, into the frontier of places we have never been to. Because we're constantly going forward, we can tell a story that's new every week. It doesn't have to be 'What are the Wraith doing this week? What are the Goa'uld doing this week? What is this character up to?' When we drop out of FTL [faster-than-light mode], who knows where we are? Who knows who we're going to meet? Just because we've encountered these aliens this week doesn't mean we're going to see them three episodes later."
SGU promises a grittier, more serious take than previous Stargate series. Even the editing demonstrates a new approach, Cooper said. "We had to catch ourselves from falling back into certain things in terms of the writing, just for example how we would end a scene," he said. "Instead of imagining we would push in on a character's concerned expression, we just go hard out."
From a story standpoint, pre-commercial cliffhangers will be more character-centered in SGU, as opposed to action beats, added co-creator Brad Wright. "In the old days, it would always be around a particular plot event," Wright said. "In this case, it's about something that's happened to a character that's making you go, 'Oh, my God, I have to see what happens to them,' not 'I have to see what happens in the story.'"
Wright acknowledged that some fans want to keep Stargate the way they like it. He added that part of the new approach is based on new technology that allows them to take a more handheld, verite approach that was not possible in earlier incarnations.
"When SG-1 started, we could not have even thought of doing this style," Wright said. "The cameras that we're using that enable our camera operators to move around this way are HD cameras. The lighting style that we're approaching is not something that our [directors of photography] or any DP would even have tried 12, 13 years ago. We couldn't have done the visual effects the way we do now 10 years ago. You used to have to lock off the camera,and there's your visual-ffects shot. The way we have a constantly moving camera incorporating visual effects at the same time is a new advent to film."
Cooper and Wright are also aware that some fans are comparing the SGU "lost in space" premise to Star Trek Voyager, in which a Starfleet crew were hurled into the uncharted Delta Quadrant and spent seven seasons trying to get home.
"The fact is that if I pitch you a story about somebody getting lost and trying to get home, that's a story that's been told countless times throughout history," Cooper said. "That aspect was not unique to Voyager. What's very different about this show and Voyager is that it's about us, in a contemporary sense of you and I beamed off out of our houses onto a spaceship. What are we going to do, and what are our concerns? We're not in Starfleet. It's not an antiseptic future militaristic happy place where everybody gets along. I don't apologize for telling a story about people trying to get home. In many ways, that was somewhat built into the first season of Atlantis as well."
Cooper even suggested that SGU might be more in sync with the original concept of Voyager than Voyager ended up being. Wright promised that SGU will stick to its course after the pilot.
"They kind of abandoned what they set out in Voyager," Wright said. "They had the conflict between the Maquis and the Starfleet personnel, and that was going to be like, 'Oh, they're going to go at each other.' Well, almost in episode one, Chakotay's her right-hand man, everything's fine, and that went away. They also got even more, I think, episodic than [Star Trek:] Deep Space Nine. It was kind of backwards. So we're not resetting to zero at all. We're not going to destroy a shuttlecraft and then have a new one next week. But, having said that, when you see the characters, when you see the milieu, the ship is so different, it's itself. It's its own show."
Stargate Universe premieres Oct. 2 at 10 p.m. on Syfy.