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Tag: opinion

How Stargate Origins looks to the past to find the franchise's future

Contributed by
Feb 15, 2018

Stargate Origins is a fascinating case study in how to successfully keep the fires of a beloved franchise burning without stoking them all that much in the end. That said, it's still a lot of fun to watch those embers glow.

Minor spoilers ahead for the first three episodes of the Stargate Command streaming series Stargate Origins!

The first three episodes of Stargate Origins, the Stargate Command streaming series, dropped today (along with a free-for-all release of the original 1994 film), finally giving fans a new adventure after almost seven years of radio silence. It might be small scale, but the show really is a lot of fun. It's no small task, telling a new story in a universe weighed down by the better part of two decades of canon — it's equally impressive that the show manages to do it all on a low-ish streaming budget to boot.

Stargate Origins, set in the late 1930s, checks a lot of the right boxes along the way, channeling Stargate SG-1's original, adventurous spunk with a healthy dose of Indiana Jones-style Nazi punching thrown in for good measure. The cast has good chemistry, and Ellie Gall positively steals the show as the 20-something version of Catherine Langford, a fiery and fearless Egyptologist studying the Stargate not long after it was first unearthed.

Fans have been clamoring for more adventures through the Stargate ever since the short-lived Stargate Universe was canceled on a cliffhanger back in 2011. That cancelation cut short a beloved but flagging franchise that spanned 10 seasons of Stargate SG-1, five seasons of Stargate Atlantis and a handful of movies. Stargate Origins does its best to straddle the old and new in a way that gives the creative team enough leeway to tell a new story while still fitting this untold adventure squarely into the universe fans are familiar with.

The gate effects work is vintage SG-1 (for better and worse), and a Dial Home Device (DHD) shows up before too long (the devices were introduced in SG-1, and the appearance squarely grounds Origins within that show's canon). The creative team clearly put in the work to find an empty void within the series' canon, and, again, fans will find a lot to enjoy when the low-budget seams aren't showing at the fringes.

But if you're looking for a major declaration that the Stargate franchise is back in earnest, you may want to look elsewhere.

 

In Origins, MGM found a way to tell a new story without actually moving the needle for the franchise all that much. It's clever, sure, but Origins feels more like a complementary tale for Stargate fans than a true standalone series all its own. It's an enjoyable romp, but it's ethereal. The period setting avoids the pressures of having to tell a story in the modern day that picks up the baton from the flagship shows; it presents a natural bookend due to being set decades before Daniel, Jack, Sam, and Teal'c ever suited up to explore the universe. Origins is the spin-off equivalent of a bottle episode.

For fans simply happy to see a new Stargate adventure, Origins should fill the void nicely, if only for a time (the series will consist of 10, 10-minute episodes). But, in the end, Origins feels like MGM is just spinning its wheels while it decides the series' long-term future. Origins is fine, but is it enough to anchor a streaming service all its own? Not really.

The fact that it's this good is surprising in itself, considering the tumult surrounding the franchise the past few years. Initially, the studio was eyeing a full-fledged reboot on the big screen with the original film's creative team at the helm, but those plans were indefinitely shelved not long into development. MGM has since leveraged the full catalog of the franchise into this niche streaming service, Stargate Command, (which exclusively hosts Origins) buoyed by extras aimed at fans. But, for the most part, that approach is rooted in nostalgia for the franchise. The real question is what comes next, and Origins doesn't really answer that in any meaningful way.

In a sense, Stargate Origins owes some cultural debt to Marvel's excellent Agent Carter TV series, itself a period-set adventure within a larger continuity. But where that series transcended its place in the timeline to tell a story so compelling it didn't matter where it fit in, Origins is still trying to escape the trappings of simply being a low-stakes diversion.

With genre brethren Star Trek and Star Wars enjoying a big budget renaissance these days, 'Gate remains the stepchild of the "Star"-titled sci-fi heavyweights. The franchise has a lot of fans and name recognition, and it stands to reason it's only a matter of time until it's mined again for something meatier than a web series. Until then, though, Origins should make for a pretty good distraction while we wait.

All you have to do is step through.

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