Bullet Points: The Last Starfighter
The 1980’s did not have a shortage of action packed space adventures. After Star Wars exploded at the box office in 1977, you can’t blame any studio for trying to get a piece of that lucrative outer space pie and try they did.
With Star Wars and Star Trek sequels being released through out the 1980’s, there is one space adventure that was released in 1984 that gets lost in the shuffle. That movie is the topic of this review, that movie is The Last Starfighter.
- Pac Man Fever: The popularity of video games spread like an uncontrollable wild fire in the 1980’s. “Pac Man Fever” was not just a song by Buckner & Garcia, it was damn near an actual medical condition. And while kids could play at home on their Atari 2600, Intellivision or Coleco Vision consoles, we were still a long ways away from Call of Duty. The best way to play video games back then were on the stand alone video game machines that were found at arcades, movie theater lobbies, bowling alleys or the mom-n-pop pizza shop where a kid could play Frogger after school. Video game machines were even at convenience stores, including the Starfighter video game outside the store at the Starlite Starbrite Trailer Court and it is from that humble beginning that our story begins…
- The Sword in the Stone: Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is a young man who has dreams of doing much more than helping his mother run a trailer park. When he’s not dreaming of a better future or being the trailer park handyman, he is playing the Starfighter video game and he’s quite good at it… so good he breaks the record scoring over 1 million points! Little does he know that video game wasn’t just a video game, it was designed to help recruit actual starfighters for an intergalactic war taking place in another solar system. Alex is soon in the back of a space car being driven by the inventor of the Starfighter game, Centauri (Robert Preston), and being transported to another world.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: When Alex gets to the Starfighter base, he is overwhelmed. And suddenly the young man who was dreaming of bigger things wants to go home. Getting the high score on a video game is one thing, actual life and death combat is something entirely different. To Centauri’s dismay, Alex declines the offer to become a Starfighter and wants to be taken home to his family and his girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart)… unfortunately for Alex, the forces of evil have a plan to eradicate all Starfighters from existence, that includes Alex, who as far as the bad guys know is an actual Starfighter, so they send an intergalactic assassin to Earth to eliminate him. With the fight hitting so close to home and realizing his family and friends will now be in danger, Alex reconsiders Centauri’s offer and accepts his fate as a Starfighter!
I don’t believe The Last Starfighter gets the recognition it so richly deserves. The Last Starfighter has heart. It may be one of the best “feel good action movies” of all-time.
Jonathan Betuel deserves a bulk of the credit for coming up with this unique take on the space adventure and wisely incorporating the popularity of video games into his story, but the actors who brought the story to life deserve a great deal of credit too…
- The Hero: Lance Guest plays Alex Rogan perfectly. Any kid who ever had a dream can relate to Alex Rogan and can look up to him as a hero for having the guts to chase his dreams and take a chance.
- The Girl Next Door: I am not sure you could have found a better Maggie than Catherine Mary Stewart. She is the girl next door, or at least the girl we wish lived next door.
- The Visionary: Robert Preston’s portrayal of Centauri, is part salesman/part motivational speaker and all awesome. Sadly the Last Starfighter would be Preston’s last theatrically released film before he died in 1987 from lung cancer.
- The Man in the Grig Mask: Then there is my personal favorite character in The Last Starfighter, Grig. Grig is Alex’s pilot/navigator/mentor in the film. But who is the man behind the Grig mask? It is none other than Dan O’Herlihy, who played The Old Man in Robocop and again in Robocop 2. The emotions and personality that O’Herlihy is still able to convey under the Grig mask is commendable and proof of the kind of acting talent the man possessed.
- The Trailer Park: It is easy to jump to the stereotype of “trailer park trash” when you think of a trailer park community, but that’s not the case of the fine folks who call the Starlite Starbrite Trailer Court their home. Alex is surrounded by people who support him and care about him and his family, because they are always there for them. And while that may not be entirely realistic, especially in our cynical world, this is a movie about a video game being used to recruit gunners for a battle in outer space, so I think we can all check reality at the door and enjoy this amazing 80’s film.
My only complaint about the film, they never made a sequel. I would have loved to have seen another story involving Alex Rogan or maybe even his younger brother Louis who definitely catches Starfighter Fever by the end of the movie.
But it is always better to leave the audience wanting more than overstaying your welcome. And if you still want more of this review, check out a few more bonus Bullet Points…
- The Birth of CGI: The Last Starfighter was the first movie to use a computer to create many of their special effects. All of the scenes involving the spacecraft and battles in space were generated by a computer.
- Back to the Future: Centauri’s “Star Car” was based on the Delorean.
- Favorite Quote: “Diarrhea!” – Louis Rogan
- Score Another One For Craig Safan: One of my favorite movie composers, Craig Safan, who was the man behind the awesome music in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins… also composed the score for The Last Starfighter. Safan did a tremendous job with the score and it brings the movie up another level, as any great score should. Check out the YouTube video below to enjoy Mr. Safan’s work…