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Expanded Universe

Continuity Terrors: Finding Space for Stargate’s Expanded Universe Part 2 | Stargate

Editor’s note:

This, as it says up top, is Part 2 of Mike’s article on Stargate tie-in and spin-off media, but Part 1 hasn’t gone anywhere so set your DHD pronto and give it a read. KAWOOSH!

By the Book

With an ever-deepening well of official lore to draw from, it stands to reason that the media in Stargate’s expanded universe have become more consistent, if not more coordinated, over the last two decades. As the most prolific contributors to that shift, Big Finish and Fandemomium deserve praise for successfully adapting the spirit of SG-1 and SGA into a literary form.

That these companies have kept the iris open is no coincidence as some of the same personnel, including Sally Malcolm, co-owner of Fandemonium, have written for both. Consistency is not the only important factor behind their success, though. The Big Finish recordings are more than just books on tape. With talent from the TV series performing their on-screen characters, the audio adventures feel authentic and it helps that many of them are set at specific points in the TV series timeline.

The latter is also true of Fandemonium’s series of original SG-1 and SGA novels. The UK-based publisher has evidently impressed fans as it has now been putting out Stargate novels for longer than the run of either of the shows these are inspired by. If more proof were needed, fan reviews on internet message boards and bookstore websites have been almost universally positive.

One reason for this is that MGM reviews and approves all the outlines and final manuscripts for the Stargate tie-in novels, I am told by author Amy Griswold in an email. Griswold has written or co-authored several of Fandemonium’s Stargate titles and believes there is also another good reason why the company has got it right.

The most recent book in the SGA ‘Legacy’ series of novels along with its author, Amy Griswold. | Courtesy of Amy Griswold.

“Fandemonium’s tie-in writers are professional authors, but they’re also genuinely fans of the shows,” says Griswold. “I think we all feel a responsibility to the characters and the world that we love, and it’s important to us that as we bring new adventures to the page, we’re including the same elements that fans loved about the original series.”

Much like the Star Trek novels published by Pocket Books, the Fandemonium series succeeds by taking us where TV episodes cannot because of budget and other constraints. Even so, MGM’s oversight ensures that the stories do not stray far from the spirit of the TV show.

“Most of the guidelines we received were in the form of requests to change things MGM didn’t want to see,” Griswold explains. “In terms of general guidelines, the books needed to maintain a family-friendly ‘rating’ to be consistent with SG-1 and SGA, so we had to be careful about things like swearing in dialogue.”

The fact that so many of the Big Finish recordings and Fandemonium books have 4- or 5-star ratings shows that fans are willing to overlook inevitable inconsistencies with the TV continuity and embrace the idea that these stories could happen in the Stargate universe even if they are not canon, according to at least some of the powers that be. This is particularly true of Fandemonium’s SGA ‘Legacy’ series, which essentially plays out as the sixth season of the show.

“We originally sold the series on a two-page pitch, with something like a two-paragraph synopsis of each book,” says Griswold who is credited as a co-author on the books.

“We knew major plot points – that Atlantis was going back to Pegasus in the first book, what was going to happen to Rodney, what we were going to do about the Wraith, and the general roles that the Genii and the Satedans were going to play.”

Amy Griswold

“Then we wrote the outlines for the first two books, which were then called The Return and The Missing, and ultimately became Homecoming and The Lost.”

If the Stargate series Brad Wright has teased us with does happen, the events of the ‘Legacy’ series will almost certainly be supplanted by whatever fate the new show’s writers come up with for SGA’s characters. Until then, though, it at least offers fans a way to overcome any lingering sense of being left hanging by the early cancellation of the show it ties into.

Destiny Denied

The same can be said of American Mythology Comics’ SGU comic book series, Stargate Universe: Back to Destiny. Its story takes place after the cliffhanger finale of that show’s second and final season with MGM’s blessing but is not officially endorsed as canon.
“I had nothing to do with the American Mythology book series nor have I looked into them,” I’m told by Joe Mallozzi, who was a showrunner on SGU.

“Several years ago, a comic book publisher reached out about writing a continuation to SGU. I suggested adapting the unproduced Stargate: Extinction script Paul [Mullie] and I wrote for Atlantis. Sadly, that went nowhere.”

Joe Mallozzi

Mallozzi’s words show how different parties that have an interest in a property are not always on the same page about whether it is better to keep it in-canon or take it in another direction. While Mallozzi might have preferred to see an SGU comic based on a script that would have been canon if it had been filmed, MGM was content to go with a new story.

“American Mythology, which was relatively newly formed at that point, acquired the license for Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe from MGM,” says J.C. Vaughn, one of the writers of the company’s Stargate titles. “My co-writer, Mark L. Haynes, and I had done 24 together and were both fans of the entire Stargate franchise. James Kuhoric at American Mythology knew this and asked us to take a run at them.”

Though firmly out of canon, American Mythology’s continuation of the SGU saga earned them the loyalty of fans. | American Mythology, 2017.

The Stargate Universe comic was more difficult to do, Vaughn recalls, because it required many likeness approvals. Yet, MGM was clear that the story it told was not to be considered an official replacement for the third season the show didn’t get.

“MGM seemed rather insistent on making sure that none of this was advertised as canon, which is too bad,” Vaughn says.

Still, while the story in the American Mythology series was not what fans or Mallozzi might have preferred, it did bring some measure of closure and appears to have satisfied at least some of the series’ cast members.

“The reactions we got at Gatecon seemed to suggest we connected with the audience pretty well,” Vaughn said. “A lot of the actors really liked what we did, which was great to hear.”

As a visual medium, comics can provide the closest approximation of the TV and film experience, although the artists can sometimes take liberties that undermine credibility. The cover of Issue 1 of Dynamite Entertainment’s series Stargate: Daniel Jackson, for example, has an image of the titular character that makes him look more like Casper Van Dien in Starship Troopers than James Spader or Michael Shanks.

In general, though, comic books bring to the expanded universe what novels do but in a less descriptive format. In the case of Entity Comic’s adaptations of Bill McCay’s books, the two formats even complement each other, with the comics serving as an aid to visualizing what the novelist has put into words.

Lores of the Game

It is unfortunate that most officially licensed games set in the Stargate universe have either shown great promise but no end-product or had a short shelf life. The demise of Stargate Worlds was particularly disappointing as the expansive MMORPG format could have been the nearest fans could get to immersion in an authentic Stargate universe. The trailers also looked amazing.

A finished version of Stargate SG-1: The Alliance also never saw the light of day but at least its enemy race, the Haaken, left an impression. Peruse Stargate message boards and you will find fans suggesting this antagonist, which was created for the game and was therefore not canon, would be a worthy addition to both the expanded universe and the TV series continuity. Hence, the Haaken may be another example of how a concept in the expanded universe may potentially inform the franchise someday if the right showrunner comes along and wants to run with it.

It is too early to tell if Stargate: Phoenix will have a long-term impact but the innovative episodic format of Wyvern Gaming’s new “Living RPG Series” looks promising as a way of bringing the TV show experience to other media. Like Alderac’s Stargate SG-1: Roleplaying Game before it, Wyvern’s RPG has to tread a fine line between respecting established lore and being original.

“We wanted something familiar but different,” Wyvern’s co-founder and CEO, Brad Ellis, tells us. “So, we chose to go with the Stargate SG-1 TV series as the backdrop but set the action on an off-world site called Phoenix Site. This allowed us to visit familiar themes and even interact with the [SG-1] storyline.”

A successful RPG needs a comprehensive grounding in lore for gameplay to be authentic, but it also needs to ensure that Gatemasters and players do not feel constrained by too many rules. Part of the fun of an RPG is that it is a way of playing out a fantasy that is true to canon but not restricted by it. Fortunately, Wyvern seems to have that covered.

The cover of the core rulebook for Wyvern’s eagerly anticipated Stargate RPG.. | Wyvern Gaming, 2020.

“Players create characters that are members of the Phoenix Site,” Ellis explains. “What this allows us to do is to play in the sandbox of the rich background of the Stargate SG-1 TV series and to not mess up any canon but instead enhance it. For example, things like Tretonin [a health-giving substance created by a race called Pangarans in SG-1], which are developed off-screen, can now be missions that Phoenix Site player-character teams can go on and accomplish. This ties the player’s actions directly into the show. It’s also fun to occasionally bump into familiar faces like Dr. McKay, Major General Hammond or others.”

Whose Canon Is It Anyway?

From Bill McCay’s prime universe novels through to Wyvern Gaming’s RPG, Stargate has inspired a multifaceted expanded universe that testifies to the versatility and broad appeal of the ideas at the heart of the film and TV series. MGM knows a good thing when it has one, too, so there is likely to be plenty more to come, especially if (or surely when) the network greenlights a new series. 

Even though they are licensed by MGM, the media that make up Stargate’s expanded universe may feel like a poor substitute for the “real thing”. Due to the franchise’s complex history, however, different authorities have different notions about what is canon. As a result, things, such as Bill McCay’s novels, may be canon to some people but not to others.

What this reveals is that the relationship between Stargate’s expanded universe and whatever canon is will always be ambiguous. What will not is the value that both have to the franchise and its fans. As long as the expanded universe is still expanding, Stargate is a living entity, and that can only help Brad Wright, or someone else, convince MGM that it is worth bringing back.

ShoutoutsA huge thanks to Jace Chretin, Tito Gumballz, and William Murphy, 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

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