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Credit: MGM Television

The Stargate franchise is the plucky sci-fi adventure we could all use right now

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Jun 26, 2020

It's been off the air for close to a decade, but in a world where we could desperately use the inspiration of some well-meaning heroes to save the day in the end, the Stargate franchise is just what we need — now more than ever.

Following teams of modern-day heroes facing overwhelming odds, from alien attacks to mysterious pathogens, the franchise was a hopeful sci-fi adventure about heroes going through a portal to limitless possibilities across the universe. It rarely gets as much acclaim or attention as Star Trek's optimistic spin on a future where we've largely learned to work together, but Stargate was tangibly modern-day, with heroes who cracked jokes about The Simpsons and always seemed to find the right MacGuffin in the nick of time.

It told stories that brought out the best of us — real people overcoming their fears and finding the strength to pick themselves up by the bootstraps and fight to save the world every Friday night in primetime. They fought aliens with super-strength and god-like powers, and took on pyramid-sized motherships with nothing but grit and slapdash plans as risky and thin as anything Will Smith ever tried in Independence Day.

It also wasn't afraid to have fun along the way, with episodes ranging from Farscape spoofs to a time loop that featured an intergalactic driving range. And though its team rosters were often filled with square-jawed military heroes, a key component of the formula added diverse characters to the lineup, joining up from their native worlds and races to fight the good fight. Humanity always found a way to stand together against evil, even when we weren't all human.

The franchise kicked off all the way back in 1994 with the film Stargate, a so-so blockbuster that didn't exactly light up the box office. Things didn't begin in earnest until a few years later, when the concept was repurposed for TV with what would become the long-running sci-fi series Stargate SG-1, following a flagship team exploring a new world every week. That show ran for a decade, plus two direct-to-DVD films, and spawned the spinoff series Stargate Atlantis — about a new team in a new galaxy — which itself ran for 100 episodes and five seasons.

The franchise took on a more serious, Battlestar Galactica-esque tone with the final mainline series Stargate Universe in 2009, which followed a crew of evacuees stuck on a ship galaxies away from Earth with no way home. And though that premise sounds pretty nihilistic on the surface, it was still fairly hopeful despite the circumstances. Universe was axed after just two seasons as the franchise reached a point of fatigue after 14 years and more than 350 episodes on the air. Oh, and there was even the bizzaro, future-set animated series Stargate Infinity briefly tossed into the mix in 2002 (seriously check it out, it's crazy weird).

Then Stargate remained dormant, as plans for a big-screen reboot stalled in development before fizzling out. All was quiet until 2018 when the now-defunct Stargate Command streaming service launched the low-ish budget streaming series Stargate Origins, which was eventually cut into an hour-and-a-half "Feature Cut" after dropping as 10 webisodes. Origins sidestepped the wider questions of continuity by telling a story set in the 1930s, following the young woman who helped discover the Stargate in Egypt on a long-forgotten adventure through the 'gate. It was a fun distraction for fans, especially after being content-starved for a few years, but it was a stopgap mini-adventure at best.

After that? Radio silence, and the upstart streaming service that hosted Origins eventually folded. There were rumblings about a year and a half ago when SG-1 co-creator Brad Wright teased he was involved in "conversations" with MGM about bringing the series back to life — though we've heard nothing since then, and all those alleged discussions were a lifetime ago in a pre-pandemic world.

But even though the future of the franchise seems to be stuck in the event horizon for the time being, it doesn't mean Stargate can't bring us comfort and inspire us right now — at a time where we need plucky heroes more than ever. The full runs of SG-1, Atlantis, and Universe are currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Hulu. The original Stargate film is streaming on Prime Video, while SG-1 direct-to-DVD films Continuum and Ark of Truth (set continuity-wise after the final season of SG-1) sadly aren't streaming on any mainline services, but are available for purchase. Stargate Origins is available to purchase or rent via VOD.

If you've seen the series before, only parts of it along the way, or are coming to the 'gate fresh after you've already binged all the other "Star" franchises on Disney+ and CBS All Access — Stargate makes for excellent "Stay At Home" pandemic comfort food.

Looking at the franchise as a whole, it traces a fascinating arc. The story starts with humanity taking baby steps into other worlds thanks to the 'gate, and by the end of things we've allied with high-powered aliens and built intergalactic spaceships of our own. Instead of thrusting us into the far-flung space-faring age, we get to see humanity do the hard work of figuring it out along the way. We get to watch heroes rise to meet the occasion, with a binge that's astronomically long enough it could conceivably even last you until the pandemic is over.

Credit: MGM Home Entertainment

With SG-1 you get something oftentimes more akin to Star Trek: The Original Series in a sense, with morality plays often playing out on alien worlds. Atlantis ups the sci-fi ante and sends a team of explorers to another galaxy to occupy an ancient, long-lost alien city. Before long they awaken a vampire-like alien race hell-bent on feeding on humanity as a whole, so Earth's heroes take up the battle to defend a universe that isn't even our own. The world could use that kind of nobility. If you're looking for something a bit more throwback and whimsical, the short-lived Stargate Origins is a period-set tale that plays like a lower-budget Indiana Jones adventure.

The final mainline series, Universe, takes the story in a more grounded direction, with a team woefully unprepared for the mission thrust upon them. But even when Stargate tries its hand at being dark, it's still plenty hopeful, as the team survives for two seasons and sets off on a series-ending cliffhanger to explore a whole new galaxy.

Even when the stakes were the highest, you knew Stargate's heroes would come out ahead in the end. The world is always saved, the day is always made, and the heroes always walk away victorious (though, you know, sometimes it takes a while to get there). Science fiction is at its best when it guides us toward the ideals of what we can be at our best — and that's the crux of what makes Stargate so great. That kind of inspiration and hope is exactly what we need right now.

And who knows? Interest remains high for the series, with fans still turning out to celebrate anniversaries with con panels and table reads (and even building full-size replica 'gates). Maybe eventually we'll get some new adventures. Because if the past year has shown us anything, we could always use a few more heroes.

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