THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984)
The Last Starfighter is a fun 1984 Sci-Fi adventure that is now both very dated and yet charmingly nostalgic at the same time. Teen Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) lives with his mom (Barbara Bosson) and brother Louis (Chris Herbert) in a trailer park where he serves as the local repairman. Alex constantly dreams of a better life for he and his girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) and while it seems like he’s going nowhere, he finds solace in playing The Last Starfighter video game at the local store. Alex soon finds out that this is no mere game, when it’s creator, an alien named Centauri (Robert Preston in his last film), comes to tell him that it is actually a test and his high score has qualified him to join the Star League from the game and become a Starfighter. Their mission, to defend against the game’s villains Xur (Norman Snow) and the Ko-Dan Armada, who are quite real. Taken to their headquarters in space, wide-eyed Alex is introduced to his lizard faced navigator Grig (Dan O’Herlihy), but is overwhelmed and asks to be returned home. Soon after Alex leaves, Xur attacks and the Star League is destroyed save for Grig and a lone prototype gun-star battleship. Back on Earth, Xur’s assassins come looking for Alex and he soon changes his mind to protect his loved ones and the Earth. With a lookalike drone left to act as him in his place, Alex returns to Rylos to somehow try to defeat the massive invading fleet with only he, Grig and their lone warship to defend the galaxy.
In it’s time, Starfighter was groundbreaking for being one of the first films to use completely CGI effects for it’s space and battle scenes. By today’s standards these FX are quite antiquated and cheesy, but, at the time, they were very impressive to those of us who were still used to the simple graphics of games like Asteroids and Pac-man. The sets and costumes also resembled those from a sci-fi TV show from that era, but when it comes down to it, it’s the film’s charm that makes it still fun to watch. As directed by John Carpenter alumni Nick Castle (who played The Shape in the original Halloween) the film is loaded with charm and given a real sense of fun. The space battles are short and not all that exciting, but it is the almost fairy tale like atmosphere and wonderful cast that really makes this movie the charmer it is.
Lance Guest makes a very likable, reluctant hero and Catherine Mary Stewart is perfect as the pretty girl next door which is something she was great at and made her a favorite of many an 80s movie fan. Veterans Robert Preston and Dan O’Herlihy really deliver fun performances and make there respective characters quite endearing and they both have a great camaraderie with Guest, which goes a long way to making what could have been a routine flick, a little special. Add to that a delightfully over the top performance by Norman Show as the slimy villain Xur and you get a movie that despite being sold on it’s, at the time, revolutionary FX, is really a very character driven story. Director Nick Castle has kept this film memorable because, he focused on the wonderfully endearing cast of characters and they still hold up despite the fact that the FX and sets and costumes are borderline silly three decades later. The 80s nostalgia the film now carries also helps a lot, but when it comes down to it, Nick Castle did a nice job of taking Jonathan R. Betuel’s script and bringing the characters to such vibrant life along with the talented actors cast in the roles.
Overall, while I was re-watching this and I was wincing at the now cheesy CGI and plastic sets, with their random blinking lights, I still couldn’t help, but get a warm feeling inside and a smile on my face whenever the characters interacted together onscreen. And the longevity of this Sci-Fi flick is not based on ships and space battles, but on a fairy tale-like story about some very real and endearing characters, both human and alien alike, who get together and do the impossible. Something I think we all dream of doing now and then. A fun flick whose character charm far exceeds it’s dated FX work. Considered a classic by many and rightfully so. There is talk of some sort of sequel or follow-up being in the works and only time will tell if it happens.
Rated 3 (out of 4) gun stars.