It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Stargate SG-1 first premiered on Showtime, but perhaps that’s because the show’s legacy continues to live on today. You only had to look around at the eager faces assembled for last week’s big Stargate panel at San Diego Comic-Con to know that, despite it being two decades old, the Stargate TV franchise still has one of the best fandoms in all of science fiction.
While it was Roland Emmerich’s 1994 movie that started the whole thing, it was the adventures of Jack O’Neill, Sam Carter, Daniel Jackson, and Teal’c – better known as the SG-1 team- that elevated the franchise to the pinnacle of the sci-fi genre. Since SG-1 first premiered back on July 27th, 1997, the franchise has produced 17 seasons of TV spanning three different shows, and two spin-off movies to boot. And it doesn’t appear to be done yet. At San Diego Comic-Con last week, MGM announced Stargate Origins, a brand new digital series premiering on a new official Stargate platform later this year, proving the Stargate franchise is still alive and kicking. To think, none of this would have been possible were it not for the overwhelming success of Stargate SG-1.
So, what made SG-1 so special? As someone who has been watching the franchise since he was a young teen, that’s not an easy question to answer concisely, but I’ll do my best to lay out just a few of the things that I believe elevate SG-1 above the plethora of other sci-fi shows that emerged as I was growing up.
Sure, there are plenty of deep mythologies in the science fiction genre, but the way in which SG-1 went about developing its lore was, I believe, revolutionary. SG-1 didn’t just evolve one of the deepest mythologies on TV; it actively embraced it throughout the show’s entire narrative arc. Whereas some shows would happily settle for a monster of the week and then be done with it, SG-1 successfully used an episodic approach to storytelling (hey, we can all admit they visited a lot of planets that looked a lot like a forest near Vancouver) which all filtered into an epic serial arc in a way that was almost unheard of at the time.
What started with a relatively simple ancient alien mythology centering on the Goa’uld soon evolved into a galaxy-wide mythology, featuring a number of highly advanced alien races, all of whom continuously developed the fictional SGC’s knowledge of humanity’s place in the galaxy. The way in which stories and incidents from two or more seasons ago could influence what was happening to the characters right now was impressive, and it often felt like the writers were leaving a breadcrumb trail for you to try and pick your way through as your attachment with the show grew. This mythology was so damned deep that it was even able to spawn a whole new show (Stargate: Atlantis), which in itself ran for five seasons.
Throughout more than 200 episodes of the SG-1, new backstories and alien learnings were layered in at an almost mind-boggling rate, all in a way that made viewers feel as though their knowledge was evolving along with the likes of Sam Carter and Daniel Jackson. And, I can tell you, when you’re a nerdy 13-year old like I was, that is supremely cool.
Like plenty of other sci-fi shows, science and technology were at the heart of just about everything the SG-1 team did. Whereas Star Trek’s Federation had the mission to ‘boldly go where no man has gone before’, Stargate Command’s primary mission was more driven. This world-hopping wasn’t a mere lark; it was a mission of survival in which humanity needed to find new technologies that could help them repel the Goa’uld threat.
Just as historical learnings about ancient races evolved our knowledge of the mythology, new technologies were introduced that changed the way SG-1 would conduct their missions. For example, when the team discovered the Zat gun during the show’s first season, it meant that throughout the show’s entire 1o season run, SGC teams didn’t have to use deadly force to take down their enemies.
As the seasons went by, you actually got to see humanity’s power and technological capability evolve. With the help of the races like the Asgard and the discovery of materials like Naquadah, the Tau’ri went from a plucky and curious underdog in the first season, to becoming one of the great races in the Universe.
From guest stars to series regulars, to the core cast themselves, SG-1 gave us so many memorable characters over the years. Mythology building isn’t enough to get you through more than 200 episodes; occasionally you need to just bang out a relatively mundane trip to ‘Forested Planet #78’ or go and meet ‘Feudal civilization #12’. But, thanks to the brilliantly written characters, even the lower level episodes felt entertaining and engrossing.
Even before the first season was complete, fans like myself had taken the SG-1 crew to their hearts. Such was the way that the show made the entire Stargate Command team (and their alien allies) feel like family, it wasn’t long before that sentiment was extended to less regular characters like Master Bra’tac and, my personal favorite, Walter Harriman.
Part of what made the SG-1 characters so memorable was the brilliant banter between them all. Jack O’Neill was responsible for delivering some of the show’s best lines, but that humor was a big part of just about every characters’ development. Most importantly, it wasn’t just the light-hearted episodes like Window of Opportunity and Wormhole X-Treme that delivered the comedy. SG-1 regularly used humor The way in which humor was infused into high-drama situations always made for a rollercoaster ride in which you didn’t know whether to laugh or cover your eyes with fear.
Here are a few of my personal favorite lines:
Teal’c: Undomesticated equines could not remove me.
Jack: It’s wild horses, Teal’c.
Sam: So what didn’t they go for?
Jack: The name I suggested.
Sam: For the ship?
Sam: Yeah, sir….we can’t call it the Enterprise.
Ba’al: You dare mock me?
Jack: Ba’al, come on. You should know…Of course I dare mock you.
Teal’c: If we are discovered, you will be brought to Apophis along with us.
Jack: Well, we’ll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.
Bra’tac: No! The bridge is too well guarded.
The Theme Tune
I might be biased, but in my humble opinion, the Stargate SG-1 theme tune was the most rousing and memorable Sci-Fi TV theme song of its time. With the help of David Arnold, Joel Goldsmith took the tune from the 1994 movie and somehow found a way to make it even better.
Finally, if you’re looking for a way to celebrate SG-1’s birthday, the show’s official Facebook page will be hosting a live re-watch of Children of the Gods. Tune in live at 4:30pm PST to join in on all the fun, and don’t forget to catch episodes of SG-1 on COMET every Monday – Thursday at 8/7c.