The Stargate franchise spans three main series, an RPG, an animated series (which I understand to be non-canon), and more.

My wife and I watched and loved SG-1, but I'm having a hard time convincing her to watch SG-Atlantis and SG-Universe. She's been burned by spin-offs in the past, and thinks that the quality is never as good as the original, and feels that the feel of the series won't be similar. She also enjoyed SG-1 largely because she likes the characters and the dynamic that evolved over 10 seasons.

I don't have much exposure to SG-Atlantis (watched some of the first season on TV, as I could) and none at all to SG-Universe, so I can't honestly tell her that the stories are as engaging, the characters as entertaining, etc.

Aside from the obvious differences in cast, setting, and antagonist, are there any significant differences in characterization, story telling, tone, or 'feel' between SG-1 and SG-Atlantis, or SG-1 and SG-Universe?

  • 1
    Maybe this should have the recommendation tag?
    – user1027
    Mar 17, 2011 at 14:40
  • I don't know if recommendation is really appropriate, but I have an empty tag slot. I should fill it with something...if there isn't a 'comparison' tag, I'll use 'recommendation'.
    – Jeff
    Mar 17, 2011 at 15:37
  • 4
    Atlantis is basically the last 4 series of SG-1 but better at it. It's a more action-oriented stargate, but it's very very good. Universe is... well, it's been canceled after one and a half seasons for a reason.
    – Phoshi
    Mar 17, 2011 at 15:56
  • 4
    I removed the recommendations tag, feel free to roll it back. While you are asking generally for people to recommend the Stargate spin-offs, your question's focus is on the differences between the series (and rightly so). BTW that tag is a quick route to an early grave for questions, because we don't allow most recommendations. However, this question seems valid and on-topic to me, even if it is a little broad and discussion focused. Mar 17, 2011 at 16:33
  • This question is way too broad. Sep 8, 2017 at 14:34

7 Answers 7


Without delving into an in-depth analysis of Atlantis and Universe, I'll try and be as succinct as possible.

There are definitely noticeable differences between the shows. Atlantis, being the first spin-off, has much the same feel as SG1, as it began alongside season 8 and ran in parallel, with many crossover episodes where characters from SG1 would visit Atlantis, and vice versa.

As SG1 came to an end, Atlantis kind of developed into its own show and, in my opinion, improved upon the more lighthearted tone set by the later seasons of SG1 (season 10 in particular). But still, it remained much closer to the SG1 concept as opposed to the latest development: Universe.

SG:U is less like SG1, and more like a combination of other sci-fi shows. For this reason, many people have criticised it. Imagine a cross between Star Trek: Voyager and Battlestar Galactica. Personally, I think it's great, as those are two of my most favourite sci-fi shows. Universe has a much more "gritty" feel, using similar camera techniques as Battlestar Galactica (unstable/erratic camera shots in space, etc). In my mind the Voyager influence comes from the fact that they're stranded on a ship flying through space unable to get home. To be honest, the only thing linking SG:U to the original shows is the fact that they have a Stargate, on an Ancient ship, with occasional contact back to earth with some familiar SG1 characters. The majority of the show feels like a completely new concept. The acting of most characters is average, with the exception of Robert Carlyle, who is, in my opinion, excellent.

If you loved SG1, you'll definitely enjoy Atlantis. However, I wouldn't recommend SG:U to just anyone. It's nothing like SG1, and it shouldn't be expected to be. You really need to decide for yourself by watching a few episodes. It's very slow moving in terms of action, and focuses more on character and scene development.

  • 2
    funny, I always felt that the earlier seasons of SG-1 were more lighthearted.
    – Xantec
    Mar 17, 2011 at 16:38
  • @Xantec some are, but I thought the general feel of each season was somewhat more serious the earlier you look back (perhaps they took more suggestions from the real military at that time). Maybe it was a confidence thing - by S10 they've got all sorts of tech, so can joke around the galaxy in their spacecraft. "uh oh! Ori! jump to hyperspace", or "uh oh! Ori! Let's give it a shot! fire weapons" "<insert witty comment about the outcome of the event>"
    – badgerr
    Mar 17, 2011 at 17:02
  • I've only recently started watching SG--started last August with Atlantis, now on SG-1 season 5(thank you netflix) and SGU . A little backwards, I know. But I like them all, including SGU which is different than SG1 and SGA--still better than a lot of crap on TV. Mar 17, 2011 at 23:13
  • @CharlesBoyung: Sorry, but I'm going to have to remove your comment because it is overly argumentative, without providing enough of your point of view as to why you don't like it. I encourage you to continue to participate, and if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to voice them on the Sci-Fi Meta site or chat. Mar 18, 2011 at 18:06
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    +1 for Carlyle, definitely worth watching if only for his somewhat unsettling portrayal of Rush. Though I would say that the other actors definitely pull their weight, notably David Blue (Eli). Highly recommended for fans of SG-1. May 15, 2011 at 2:06

She also enjoyed SG-1 largely because she likes the characters and the dynamic that evolved over 10 seasons.

Then it's highly likely she won't like either Atlantis or SG:U, as they don't try to replicate the same characters and interplay that SG-1 had. Atlantis kind of gets back to SG-1's roots where they are exploring a galaxy and meeting civilizations then trading and interacting with them. They meet a new threat in the Wraith, but some other dangers come their way as well. It also delves into the Ancient mythology more, as they are in a city the Ancients built, and they get access to much more of their technology and history through exploring the city. This show is fairly similar to SG-1, and has quite a few visits and name-drops of familiar SG-1 characters.

SG:U is Stargate trying to reinvent itself in the wake of BSG's popularity. It's grittier, the characters are more flawed, the stakes are higher, etc. Our intrepid heroes are stranded on the other side of the universe on a really old Ancient ship that the Ancients sent out to explore the universe. They sent it out prior to making the Milky Way Stargate Network, so the technology on display is older than what you see in both SG-1 and Atlantis. The smaller quarters gives the writers more time for character interaction and character development, which has made these people more fleshed out than Jack O'Neill (two 'L's!) ever was. But in my opinion their reliance on mystical explanations in the Stargate universe are always trite.

  • 1
    "The stakes are higher" unfortunately wasn't revealed until mid/late Season 2 - the final season before cancellation. Made all the more frustrating because something remarkably similar was discovered in reallife around the same time.
    – Izkata
    Oct 23, 2011 at 22:52

I started watching the Stargate series by watching Atlantis first! I thought in a historical context that Atlantis existed long before SG-1 (my mistake) but I loved it immensely. Then I grabbed the whole SG-1 series on DVD and watched it nonstop, and overall I enjoyed it more as it was (I now realised) the first. But then I started to notice that so many ideas in Atlantis were stolen from SG-1, which diminished my awe of Atlantis, don't get me wrong, I still love it and watch it. I don't think I'll ever watch Universe as I think they "Strayed from the Path" (ORI statment) lol. They should have used the insertion of Carlyle in a new continuation involving the amalgamation of the Jaffa, new Ori and Tok'ra in the new threat of the Wraith making it to our Galaxy as they were formidible adversaries (defeating the Ancients) and so could hold their own against us for the next 10-year series (without using previous scenarios from other episodes).


I watched Stargate SG1 and loved it. I then tried to watch Atlantis. I took me time to get used to it, but then I loved it too. They both have similar concepts and you get used to the characters. Both are also lighthearted. I loved Todd the wraith. I also found Baal and his numerous clones to be entertaining. Mickael, Anubis and Adria are pure evil. The 2 series start with a limited environment, with concepts, characters and ships later adding up. I only regret that the last episode of Atlantis was so rushed. What's remarkable is that they offer credible explanations (as long as you accept to believe in aliens, snakes in your head, mystical powers, parallel universes) to mythology and Antiquity

I watched a few episodes of Stargate Universe. It seems darker. They are not explorers but rather trapped on a ship without any hope of coming back home. The environment is much more limited as it cannot expand, their ship never stop very long at the same place.

  • Not bad for a 1st answer :)
    – Rocket
    Jan 29, 2015 at 15:41
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    SG:U was literally darker, the lights are out or dim in almost every scene! Even on planets they're in the shade or in a cave or building more often than not.
    – Xen2050
    Jan 20, 2016 at 9:31

SG1, for most of its run, hinges on a near constant dissection of moral philosophy as presented by opposing view points in a given situation. The dichotomy between Jack and Daniel is presented as the core of the show, in an episodic morality play which focuses on deep and resonant themes in the grand tradition of sci-fi shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who before it. In this way, SG1 can almost be treated as the prompt for a moral-of-the-week discussion course, as it was for many years in my household with my own children.

This took a back seat in the later seasons as the show took a more lighthearted and adventure-based tone, centered around its own expanding mythology. The addition of fun and loveable characters like Mitchell and Vala, came at the cost of the thematic opposition to Daniel's often debated perspective, which can be exemplified through the total lack of argument revolving around "whats the right choice" scenarios between Daniel and Mitchell.

Where Jack and the militaristic nature of the core SG mission often stood in stark contrast between duty/practicality and Daniel's persistent discussions of moral philosophy and spiritualism, this dynamic was lacking after the departure of RDA as a cast regular. Vala's personal journey and redemption instead filled this void in the final seasons, as the question of what is right in a given scenario was shifted toward the more general struggle to overcome one's own faults and seek a more selfless life.

Stargate Atlantis, while occasionally able to capture some essence of these themes -- specifically regarding the rock versus a hard place decisions faced by Weir in particular -- mostly chose from its outset to focus less on philosophy and more on popular entertainment. The distance from Earth and removal of legal restrictions regarding experimentation, torture, human rights etc, is brought into the forefront through several arcs, but ultimately any message is entirely lacking in conclusivity or conviction, as no character present through the series' entire run is written quite as effectively to such ends as Daniel Jackson was within SG1. There is no moral center, only an occasionally questioning uncertainty presented through Weir's leadership and depiction. The show is fun and adventurous with greatly likeable characters, action, set pieces etc... it just never captures the heart of its predecessor.

SGU was a marked departure in all regards, seemingly lacking any foundational character who had what I might call a moral center in the first place. It's darker, grittier, and deals in shades of human failings more often than aspirational virtues. Rather than focus on fun and adventure, it seems to relish instead the theoretical sciences of the franchise mythology, while basking in just how unlikable its central cast can be, while still being considered protagonists. It's primary audience surrogate Eli, is a passenger who holds little authority but perhaps more merit than all of the show's other characters combined, and yet he never truly comes into his own to fill the role of hero, as he rightly should have if the show were renewed further.

So... in summation,

SG1 was a philosophy class in a bottle each week, filled with exciting and entertaining characters all striving to live up to their most heroic and virtuous ideals.

SGA was a more cut-and-dry adventure-of-the-week, which occasionally dipped its toe into questions of moral ethics.

And Stargate Universe was an exercise in sci-fi nihilism.


Here my breakdown

SG-1 (1997-2007) Predictable story lines and plots. Almost every planet has the look and feel of the Cascade Range and early special effects did not impress. All of the aliens speak English which is convenient. It is comforting to know if humans ever venture out of the solar system we will be able to have a nice chat with the aliens we meet.

SGA (2004-2009) A rehash of SG-1.

SG-1 and SGA are to SGU as Lost in Space was to Star Trek. Good drama and suspension of disbelief requires characters that are complex, believable, and at risk. SGU delivered on some level all three criteria. Imagine yourself blasting through the cosmic void on an ancient vessel you had no control over. Everyone you ever cared about is on the other side of the cosmos. It is a fight to stay alive, necessary, and hopeful. Immersive TV only happens when a story arc is realistically propelled by events or characters. In the other iterations of the Star Gate franchise, the main cast take off on adventures like Captain Video, but you know in your heart MacGyver will return to fight another day.

The TV show Lost was popular because the audience invested in the characters, and occasionally those characters would be killed off, the Walking Dead and SGU adopted that premise to add peril to their character's lives. SGU has more visceral realism with an alien back drop for character development. A concept similar to that used in the TV series "Under the Dome".

I regret SGU's cancellation. Farscape and Firefly were great departures from standard tv fare but compelling programing seems too much for the general viewing public. In the end I would trade 5 seasons of SG-1 for one more season of SGU, but then like Caprica, it was made for adults.


SG-1 is more militaristic in its setting. Everything is an op and mission with the fate of the world on the line. I personally like the thrust of discovery that its earlier seasons had along with world building which they returned to in the last 2 seasons.

SGA is somewhat inverted in the sense that it's less militaristic and more civilian so there is more focus on what do we need what is the world like. The problem with it is that it gets somewhat drab in season 3, 4, and early 5, but near the end it starts picking back up again. Unfortunately we're left with many questions about the world that as far as I know are never resolved. It mixes those elements I like from the early and later seasons of SG-1, but it never comes to fruition due to canceling...

Characterwise... Shepherd is a younger clone of O'Neill. Teyla is the strong female character, but lacks the intelligence of Carter... She more or less plays an Amazon. Ronon is a more talkative, less open Teal'c that came into the series later. He grows a little bit, but is largely stuck in the noble warrior gimmick. The original 4th is your common rookie and doesn't really grow. he just changes. McKay is a whinier wimp that the Soldier originally think Jackson is. He has low morals, and he's dumber than Carter. They pretty much attempted to shove all the "smart people" stuff into him. Teyla plays the culture role of Daniel, but she has little knowledge so doesn't really work. And the "O'Neill is smarter than he seems" is tried to be replicated here, but ultimately it comes off as the message "Jocks are smarter than geeks, they just don't show off" due to McKay's character... Shepherd and McKay are the most fleshed out and their relationship resembles a toned down version of O'Neill's outbursts against Daniel or Carter when they are being smart/difficult.

SGU... is a slog to get through... mostly because the main focus is on Eli, the supposed to be main character, being treated like trash and getting little development. OR because the focus is on the head military and head science guy clashing, mostly because the head military guy knows nothing and the head science guy keeps everything a secret, sometimes for very good reasons, other times not so much. It's largely teen drama, even when focusing on the older characters, and the first season takes the "OMG everything is breaking" of SGA's first 2 episodes into overdrive with it lasting practically the entire first season. By the time they get to something really interesting the show was canceled and we don't know anything about their fate, nor do we get any answers to the questions that SGA or SGU raised, which are really interesting with respect to Ascended beings. And worse is that they likely will never be resolved due to IP rights being bought up by Emmerich who has no intentions of sinking money into the TV franchise, but continuing the movie franchise.

The main differences are pretty much the thing that you said you liked.

SGA characters are mixed around clones of the characters you see in SG-1.
SGU is all teen drama characters.

SGA you'll probably like, but SGU... I'd push through because it does reveal some interesting questions with regard to the universe, but it is also highly frustrating, bland, and missed the mark on so many things, but there are some good things about it too.

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