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Continuity Terrors: Finding Space for Stargate’s Expanded Universe Part 1 | Stargate

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As we wait to hear if Brad Wright’s efforts to bring Stargate back to TV bear fruit, it is worth recognizing that the franchise has never stopped growing. Although it has been almost a decade since Stargate Universe was cancelled and nearly three years since Stargate Origins did little to make up for that, MGM has continued to license off-screen creative endeavors under the Stargate brand to keep fans engaged.

Stargate‘s expanded universe of novels, audio adventures, comics, games and other media has been around for as long as there have been chevrons to lock. If you look online, you will find contradictory statements about whether parts of it are in-canon. However, this probably reflects confusion over what ‘canon’ means in the context of Stargate rather than disagreement over whether any of the expanded universe is official. For the nearest thing to a definitive statement on that, you should ask someone who worked on the TV series.

“I will be honest with you, I know next to nothing about the tie-in books and comic books, nor do I consider them canon,” long-time Stargate writer, producer and showrunner Joe Mallozzi tells me. Nonetheless, one thing everyone should agree on is that the expanded universe is a major asset to the franchise, not least because it allows fans to indulge their passion, especially while there is no new Stargate on TV.

“I think that the expanded universe is a great way for hardcore fans to continue to enjoy the adventures of the Stargate universe.”

Joe Mallozzi

Yet, Stargate’s expanded universe is more than just a place to find stories that fill the gap between shows. It includes milestones in the franchise’s evolution, as well as proxies for canon that expand on ideas that were peripheral to a script or left unfinished. There are also great ideas that never made it to market and not-so-great ones that did.

Furthermore, there is potential in the expanded universe to inform Stargate’s future. Other franchises have shown that elements that were not canon can become so if new creative minds choose not to be tied to what was lore before. With Star Trek, for example, writers have taken ideas from media that were once outside what was generally accepted as canon and made them part of the official continuity by including them in new films and shows.

Similarly, changes in who has had creative control during Stargate’s development, and the different priorities of showrunners and studio licensing departments, has produced different interpretations of what is canon depending on who you ask and when.

Ultimately, then, the boundary between canon and the expanded universe is more of a wormhole than a wall and ideas get sucked in from both sides. With that in mind and MGM discussing the possibility of a new Stargate show, this is an opportune time to evaluate the value of the franchise’s expanded universe and discuss the dynamic relationship that it has with canon.

Step-Children of the Gods

Bill McCay was already a prolific author when he was tasked with writing novels centred on Jack O’Neil with one ‘l’ and “renegade Egyptologist” Daniel Jackson set after the original Stargate movie. As a writer and editor, McCay had previously contributed to several popular children’s book series, including The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. Before writing Stargate, he also penned Young Indiana Jones novels, books in Stan Lee’s Riftworld series, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation tie-in novel Chains of Command with Eloise Flood.

Unfortunately, MGM’s acquisition of the Stargate film property and decision to reboot it as a TV series meant that McCay’s five Stargate books, which were published by ROC between 1995 and 1999, became incongruous even before they all hit store shelves. Inadvertently, therefore, McCay became the first contributor to Stargate’s expanded universe.

Four of Bill McCay’s five Stargate novels. Confusingly, they were publishing co-currently with the airing of SG-1 despite containing a completely different interpretation of the source. | ROC Books, 1995-1998.

Moreover, after the 1997 premiere of SG-1, readers who were drawn to the familiar iconography on the cover of McCay’s Stargate: Rebellion, Stargate: Retaliation, Stargate: Retribution, Stargate: Reconnaissance and Stargate: Resistance could be forgiven for being confused by elements that didn’t jive with the retooled mythology. That may have been especially true for fans of Sam Carter and Teal’c because these characters were inevitably absent from McCay’s universe.

The waters were further muddied by the short series of SG-1 tie-in novels by Ashley McConnell that ROC began publishing in 1998. McConnell’s adaptation of ‘Children of the Gods’ (simply titled Stargate SG-1) and three follow-ups, The Price You Pay (1999), The First Amendment (2000) and The Morpheus Factor (2001), were at least set in familiar territory for viewers of the TV series. However, the covers of both McCay’s and McConnell’s novels were published with the tagline “Based on the story and characters created by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich”, which implied that they shared continuity. Furthermore, on later books in McCay’s series, ROC added “Now an original series from MGM television” even though those novels had nothing to do with the show.

Dean Devlin, writer of the original Stargate movie, at New York Comic Con 2017. | Luigi Novi CC BY 4.0.

Given the disjunct between McCay’s books and where Stargate is now, it would be easy to archive his strand of the expanded universe under temporal anomalies not worth exploring. That would be a mistake because McCay’s novels are an enjoyable read. Also, like Bantam Books’ Star Trek titles from the 1970s, they are a blast from the past. More importantly, though, they serve as a portal through which we can see what Stargate might have looked like under the direction of Devlin and Emmerich.

“We worked with him on those original ones, and I’m real proud of those and I support those entirely,” Devlin said of McCay’s stories in a recent interview with GateWorld

In the same interview, Devlin said he might return to Stargate in the future if MGM is open to developing a TV series unrelated to the current small-screen continuity. If that were to happen, McCay’s novels could enjoy renewed importance as part of a parallel Stargate universe. Even if it doesn’t, they should be valued as collectors’ items as they are long out of print and the stories they tell are not ‘Ancient’ history.

Canon Fodder

Although Bill McCay’s version of the Stargate universe has been shunted off onto a cosmic siding, for now, his books have fared better than the franchise’s unloved animated series, Stargate Infinity

If MGM executives were hoping that Infinity would get pre-teens interested in SG-1, they would have been disappointed that almost no-one seemed to like its only season, which first ran from 2002 to 2003 (although perhaps that was just as well for parents of any pre-pubescent kids who would have seen more than they bargained for in the original cut of ‘Children of the Gods’).

Mark Edward Edens helped to develop Stargate Infinity with his brother Michael and Eric Lewald for a French-American-Canadian consortium. He remembers that among the challenges they faced was meeting the expectations of the US government’s Federal Communications Commission.

“The biggest problem with the show from our point of view was that it was being used to satisfy an FCC requirement that a network has a certain amount of ‘educational’ children’s programming,” he recalls “Eric, Michael, and I had all been involved with the X-Men animated series and similar relatively adult-themed action-adventure projects like Exosquad and Wing Commander Academy, and we would have done Stargate Infinity in a similar vein.”

Consequently, rather than being what Mark Edens describes as “an animated sci-fi series for general audiences, with some simplification and toned-down violence to make it more kid-friendly,” Stargate Infinity became less about drama and continuity with the live-action series and more a watered-down attempt at social engineering.

“Instead of exploring strange alien worlds and fighting for survival, our heroes were shoe-horned into situations in which they learned valuable life lessons and [provided] educational content suitable for pre-adolescents.”

Mark Edens

What’s more, while the FCC’s policies were causing the show to veer off course, the network wasn’t doing much to set it straight, based on the recollections of Michael Edens, who was a story editor on Stargate Infinity.

“We had very little direction from MGM,” he says. “We just had one meeting with the MGM executives. They took the position that, since we were set in the future of the Stargate timeline, we could pretty much do anything we wanted.” 

As the bastard child of the franchise, Stargate Infinity has since been banished to the farthest reaches of the expanded universe. The fact that the abbreviation SGI isn’t really a thing sums up how most fans probably feel about it. Unfortunately, this was not what the writers were expecting, Michael Edens admits.

“Since we were set in the Stargate future, we thought the original fans would cut us some slack, but apparently they didn’t,” he says. “We did the best we could do, especially since we were out there operating on our own with very little input from MGM, so the fan reaction came as something of a surprise.”

Stargate, but not as you know it. Stargate Infinity failed to find an audience despite the best intentions of its creators. | MGM, 2002.

No-one seems to be happy with the way Stargate Infinity turned because it is so out of phase with anything else in the franchise. The effort to blend positive values with the sense of adventure that is essential to Stargate was well-intentioned but always likely to fail in the absence of a commitment to keep the show in line with canon. MGM failed to show this from the beginning, according to the writers who developed the series, so it should come as no surprise that Infinity is barely remembered as Stargate

Still, perhaps there is some hope for its redemption. The animated series of Star Trek has been criticized for having many of the same faults as Stargate Infinity. Even now the former show is not universally accepted as canon. Nevertheless, over the years elements from it have become embedded in official Trek lore, highlighting how, when it comes to long-running franchises, canons are only as static as the laws that govern us in real life. As unlikely as it may seem that we will see a Hrathi in a future Stargate series, give it another decade and an uber-fan showrunner with a penchant for arcane references and who knows.

ShoutoutsA huge thanks to Annmarie & Peter Clark, Manish, and Jeff Lewis, some of our Kickstarter backers who made The Companion possible!

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Mike is a journalist, writer and scientist living in British Columbia, Canada. He really wants the film industry to get back on its feet because going to the sets of geeky TV shows is like his favourite thing ever. Cheese is up there, too

Follow him on Twitter @PopCan_CA