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Stargate | Who Are the Ori and How Were They Defeated?

Everything you need to know about the origins, defeat, and possible future of Stargate SG-1’s enigmatic antagonists, the Ori.

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Avalon: Part 1’ (S9, Ep1), ‘Origin’ (S9, Ep3), and ‘Arthur’s Mantle’ (S9, Ep18), ‘Camelot’ (S9, E20), ‘Flesh and Blood’ (S10, Ep2), and Stargate: The Ark of Truth (2008). Proceed with caution.

The Stargate universe is known for its fascinating and complex storylines, blending science fiction with mythology and exploring the depths of human nature. Among the many captivating plot elements, the Ori (pronounced “OR-EYE,” not “ORRY”) stands out as one of the most formidable and enigmatic adversaries faced by the heroes of Stargate SG-1. In this article, we will delve into the origins, beliefs, and impact of the Ori, shedding light on their role in the Stargate universe and the challenges they pose to our protagonists.

Ori Origins and Background

The Ori, introduced in the ninth season of Stargate SG-1 in the episode ‘Avalon: Part 1’ (S9, Ep1), is a group of ascended beings that share a common ancestry with the Ancients, collectively known as the Alterans.

The Alterans originally inhabited a distant galaxy, where they were divided into two factions: the Ori and the Lanteans. The Lanteans sought knowledge and pursued a path of scientific enlightenment (which came with its own consequences, but that’s a story for another time), while the Ori became increasingly fixated on religion, using it as a means to reshape the galaxy in their image.

Doci (Julian Sands)'s eyes glow.
The Doci (Julian Sands), the senior Prior, in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Origin’ (S9, Ep3). Sands was an appropriate choice, having played the similarly powerful title character in the 1989 horror movie Warlock and its 1993 sequel, Warlock: The Armageddon. | MGM, 2005.

As Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) explains in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Origin’ (S9, Ep3):

“It appears our ascended Ancients and the Ori have a slight difference of opinion. See, the Ori seem to think that because they’re ascended, human beings should worship them. All humans.”

This ideological divergence led to a schism, forcing the Lanteans to leave their home galaxy and settle in the Milky Way, where they eventually built the Stargate network. Meanwhile, the Ori remained in their home galaxy and achieved ascension, granting them immense power and knowledge that transcended the physical realm.

Ori Beliefs and Religious Dogma

The Ori are fervently religious, believing in their own divine right as ascended beings. They demand unwavering devotion from their followers, who worship the Ori as gods. This devotion is not merely a matter of faith; the Ori draw power from their followers' prayers and beliefs, making them stronger and more influential in the process.

The Ori’s religious doctrine is outlined in a holy text called the “Book of Origin,” which serves as the basis for their followers’ beliefs. The Book of Origin teaches that adherence to the Ori’s teachings – the “path to enlightenment” – will lead to ascension, allowing the faithful to join the Ori in their higher plane of existence.

A prior with glowing staff and book in his hand stands in front of the Stargate.
An unnamed Prior (Ian Butcher) brandishes the Book of Origin in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Beachhead’ (S9, Ep6). Butcher also played a similarly pale and enigmatic Observer in Fringe. | MGM, 2005.

The Ori are zealous in spreading their religion, often through violent means. They utilize advanced technology and powerful warriors known as Priors to conquer planets and convert their inhabitants to the Ori faith. Those who resist or defy the Ori’s teachings are deemed heretics and face severe punishment or even death.

The idea of false gods isn’t new to Stargate, but the Ori do represent a significant escalation in the challenges posed by the parasitic Goa’uld. For the Goa’uld, faith – or fear, at least – is the means by which they maintain control over their dominions, but the Ori are true believers and that makes them far more dangerous.

Brad Wright highlighted the connection in a 2005 interview with GateWorld, saying:

“The most intriguing thing [...] is that it’s very much still in the overriding theme of Stargate. And that is ‘aliens playing gods’ and ‘false gods’ and the relationship between aliens as gods and ordinary human folk, poor humans in the galaxy.”

Executive producer Robert C. Cooper explored the contrast between the two powers, telling Gateworld in 2007:

“When you killed the Goa’uld and you showed someone the snake in their head and how the technology worked. Suddenly that person went, ‘Oh, yeah, right — he’s not a god. He’s just a guy with a snake in his head.”

The Ori’s Conflict with the Ancients

The Ori’s ultimate goal is to eradicate the Ancients, whom they view as rivals in both power and ideology. While both the Ori and Ancients are ascended beings, the Ancients abide by a strict non-interference policy, which prohibits them from directly influencing the lower planes of existence. This policy is in stark contrast to the Ori’s aggressive pursuit of power and control over their followers.

The Ancients are aware of the threat posed by the Ori but are limited in their ability to counteract it due to their strict policy of non-interference (not unlike Doctor Who’s Time Lords in this regard, another ‘enlightened’ race who rarely seem to make the galaxy better for them being there). Thus, the conflict between the Ori and the Ancients plays out indirectly, with both sides vying for influence and control over the mortal realm. Daniel highlights the hypocrisy in ‘Origin’ (S9, Ep3):

“The Ancients may be protecting us from the Ori, but not their human followers. See, Ancients won’t interfere in any lower planes of existence. If anybody from our galaxy wants to worship the Ori, apparently that’s our choice. And, they won’t stop Priors from coming through the gate because apparently they’ve already sent one.”

The Ori’s Conflict with... Everyone Else

Instead, as Daniel suggests, the Ori rely on their Priors to carry the word to the galaxy’s unbelievers. Priors – who are often marked with ritual scars – have been given advanced knowledge and abilities by their gods to help spread the Ori’s teachings and convert others to their religion. They are known for their ability to perform miracles, such as healing, conjuring fire, and shrugging off mortal wounds, and for their unwavering devotion to the Ori.

In the field, the Priors served as battlefield commanders as well as missionaries, leading zealots from myriad worlds in heavy Medieval-style armor and equipped with staff weapons that fired energy blasts. More powerful than the staff weapons wielded by the Jaffa, the Ori staff (which could be wielded by any of their soldiers, not just a warrior caste) was capable of disintegrating its targets.

Ori soldiers with staff weapons form a circle around Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder).
Ori soldiers level their staff weapons at SG-1 in the opening ambush in Stargate: The Ark of Truth (2008). | MGM, 2008.

As well as the Priors, the Ori also used immense Supergates to transport ships and armies across the galaxy, allowing them to project their power across vast distances and strike quickly and decisively at their enemies. The Ori Supergates were first introduced in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Camelot’ (S9, E20), where SG-1 discovers the location of a Supergate on a planet known as P9Y-4C3. The episode ‘Flesh and Blood’ (S10, Ep2) sees the Ori using a Supergate to launch an attack on Earth, with the Jaffa and the Lucian Alliance joining forces with the SG-1 team to repel the invasion.

The Supergates are powered by enormous amounts of energy, and opening one requires the use of a device known as a control crystal, similar to the crystal technology used by the Ancients. These crystals were typically kept in the hands of high-ranking Ori officials.

The Ori’s Impact on Stargate SG-1

The arrival of the Ori in the Stargate universe marked a significant shift in the series’ dynamics, as the SG-1 team found themselves facing a new and powerful enemy. The Ori’s advanced technology, coupled with their insidious religious influence, presented unique challenges that pushed the team to their limits.

Throughout seasons nine and ten, SG-1 sought ways to combat the Ori’s growing influence and prevent them from conquering the Milky Way galaxy. The team’s efforts culminated in the discovery of the Sangraal in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Arthur’s Mantle’ (S9, Ep18), a legendary Ancient weapon capable of neutralizing ascended beings. With the help of their allies, including the Asgard, the Jaffa, and the Tok’ra, the team embarked on a dangerous quest to locate and activate the Sangraal in ‘The Quest: Part 1’ (S10, Ep10), and ‘The Quest: Part 2’ (S10, Ep10), in the hopes of eliminating the Ori threat once and for all.

The struggle against the Ori also brought new characters into the SG-1 team, such as Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder) and Vala Mal Doran (Claudia Black). Vala’s personal history became entwined with the Ori storyline, as she gave birth to Adria, a human-Ori hybrid (known as the “Orici”) designed to be the leader of the Ori crusade in the Milky Way.

Or as Vala quipped in Stargate: The Ark of Truth: “A spoiled brat with a God complex.”

The adult Adria (‎Morena Baccarin) looks out over the crowd.
Adria (‎Morena Baccarin) in the Stargate SG-1 episode ‘Counterstrike’ (S10, Ep7). The episode introduced the adult Adria and after this appearance, the yellow contact lenses were dropped as they irritated Baccarin’s eyes. | MGM, 2006. 

Adria possesses powerful abilities, including telekinesis, telepathy, and the ability to heal others. She is also immune to the powers of  Ascended beings, making her a formidable adversary.

SG-1’s fight against the Ori reached its climax in the direct-to-DVD movie Stargate: The Ark of Truth (2008). In the film, the team discovered an Ancient device called the Ark of Truth, which had the power to reveal the true nature of the Ori to their followers, thus undermining the Ori’s power base.

The team used the Ark to reveal the true nature of the Ori to their followers, which caused many to abandon their worship and thereby weakened the Ori’s power. This was followed by a battle in which the Ori’s ships and armies were defeated, effectively ending their crusade and neutralizing the threat they posed to the galaxy.

The Ori’s Legacy and Impact on the Stargate Universe

The Ori storyline not only challenged the SG-1 team but also explored deeper themes of faith, power, and manipulation. The introduction of the Ori added a new layer of complexity to the Stargate universe, compelling viewers to consider the consequences of blind faith and the dangers of unchecked power.

In the years following their defeat, the remnants of the Ori’s crusade continued to impact the Stargate universe. The Ori’s advanced technology and former followers influenced the development of various societies and cultures across the galaxy. Additionally, the lessons learned from the conflict with the Ori informed the future actions and decisions of the SG-1 team and their allies.

The Ori are a testament to the rich storytelling and intricate world-building that has come to define the Stargate universe. As powerful and enigmatic adversaries, they pushed the SG-1 team to their limits and forced them to confront their own beliefs and values. The Ori’s impact on the Stargate universe serves as a reminder of the importance of questioning authority and seeking the truth, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds.

Stargate: The Ark of Truth may have decisively brought the Ori’s empire crashing down, but for as long as the galaxy needs something to believe in, there’ll be false prophets to exploit that belief. The Ori have been doing this for a long time and there may be schemes and plots long set in motion that have yet to be revealed. Whether, in comics, roleplaying games, novels, or the long-awaited new Stargate series, odds are that even beyond death, the threat of the Ori is far from over.

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