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Why ‘Stargate SG-1’ Worked So Well

Stargate SG-1 was based on the 1994 science fiction film of the same name. The elevator pitch for the film: an ancient Egyptian artifact is actually an advanced means of travel known as a Stargate. It leads to a planet similar to ancient Egypt where they can defeat an alien masquerading as the god Ra and free the planet.

The Stargate SG-1 series followed up a few years later with several actors reprising their old roles from the film. It begins with the Stargate reactivating but not from the same planet as before. The Stargates are actually part of a vast network with thousands of destinations, each located using six location symbols and another for the departure point. The Stargate program is restarted to map these new worlds but there are plenty of dangers waiting.

The series ran for 10 years, racking up 10 seasons, numerous awards, and seven Emmy nominations. For a while, it even became the longest-running North American sci-fi series until it was surpassed by Smallville in 2011, and then this year by Supernatural. So what made Stargate SG-1 such a success?

The Human Factor

One of the biggest problems with science fiction is how the aliens always look similar – bipedal, two arms, and a pair of eyes and ears. The problem with human actors trying to be alien is that they are still humans under it all.

The goa'uld Apophis from Stargate SG-1
The goa’uld Apophis

Stargate SG-1 overcomes this problem by establishing the various civilisations of the universe as beginning with humans captured from Earth. Their extreme isolation makes them like civilisations almost frozen in time that progress without interference. In addition to being a good sci-fi spin, it makes for a fantastic history lesson throughout the franchise.

Science

Stargate SG-1 DHD
Originally named ‘clavis’ by the creators

Obviously, you can’t break the light barrier. That’s why the majority of travel is done via Stargate. These devices create wormholes that link the various portals together. Each portal is accompanied by a device to enter the coordinates. Their similarity to phones gives them the name DHDs – Dial Home Devices.

All the alien devices also follow sensible rules. Staff weapons that fire powerful energy pulses are unwieldy from the lack of aiming and recoil. Zats – pistol-like electric guns that stun, kill, and destroy bodies – have shorter range and less power. Both are powered by an alien element known as Naquadah.

Aliens

Thankfully, there are plenty of aliens wandering about the galaxy. Of all the various races throughout the series, none are more identifiable than Asgard. There are still the various bugs and beasties to enjoy, like the Iratus bug, but humans make up the majority.

The Wraith

Possibly the second most prolific race, after humans, are the Wraith. Originally beginning as Iratus bugs, they fed on enough humans to gain humanoid characteristics. But they still maintained an insectoid civilisation with QueensHives, and spawning from eggs.

Politics

Between Brexit and President Drumpf, the world of politics is definitely not going the way anybody expected. But suppose somebody dropped aliens into the mix? Even when the freedom of the planet (or galaxy) is on the line, there is always some smarmy fool looking to gain the political advantage.

Senator Robert Kinsey attempted to gain control of the SGC more than once

As if dealing with governments wasn’t bad enough, the Stargate on Earth doesn’t have a dialling device of its own. To make up for their missing Ancient technology, the system is replaced by a lot of expensive Earth devices. This means that each mission is horribly expensive, reaching into the billions of dollars every year. There’s also a plot through a few seasons where the Russians have their own Stargate and the two governments clash over their technologies.

Magic

Any sci-fan fan worth their salt will know the famous words of Arthur Clarke: “Any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Well, he’s not wrong. Humanity is actually the second iteration of a race known as the Ancients.

The Ancients built the Stargates and dozens of other incredible inventions. Commonplace in the franchise is teleportation, the aforementioned ray guns, false gods and invisibility. Just in case you thought we were kidding, Merlin was an Ancient. Jesus was also probably an ascended being.

Realism

Okay, maybe more of a pseudo-realism, but there is some solid basis for reality in Stargate SG-1 beneath all the science fiction. Despite being an outcast and hated by his entire society, Teal’c is a slave fighting to save his people. There is some definite chemistry between Jack O’Neill and Samantha Carter but they are professionals about it and decide not to act on it. They also selfishly decide not to report it so they can both remain on the leading edge of exploring the universe.

Daniel Jackson with Supreme Commander Thor

And if that wasn’t enough, the Asgard – the only remaining race of the original Four Great Races – look down on humanity. They believe that we are a young, violent, and immature race. It is only at the end of their own species that they give unlimited access to the fledgling Fifth Race (humans) to preserve their legacy.

Ascension

Be honest now; you’ve wanted almighty powers at least once in your life. Unsurprisingly, Stargate has you covered there too. The Ancients discovered a way to convert from matter to energy after reaching a deep state of meditation at a sufficiently advanced state of evolution. They would then ‘ascend’ to a higher existence.

Daniel Jackson ascends Stargate SG-1
Daniel Jackson ascends

With their vast wisdom, they also decide not to intervene with lower planes of existence and punish whoever did. A few Ancients help lower races ascend, but that’s it unless they give up their new existence and become mortal again. With ascension taking years to fully realise, this often spelled a death sentence.

Reaching Light Speed in Science Fiction


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Graham Host

Graham Host is a member of the Fan Contributor program. In his spare time, he enjoys the works of Terry Pratchett, DC Comics and a wide assortment of video games. Under no circumstances should he be fed after midnight. Contactable only via the Twitter icon below or trained carrier pigeon.

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