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The Last Starfighter is a science fiction film about a teenager who beats an arcade game, which turns out to be a recruiting tool for an endangered alien race and leads him to become a starfighter pilot. I saw this movie for the first time a couple weeks ago and thought, "I want to write about this." It's 24 years old and incredibly outdated, but it's one of those films that I wish I had seen as a kid, because I know it would have been truly magical.
This is going to be an informal review of the movie, I'd rather just discuss it and talk about some things I noticed. You may be wondering why the heck a video game website is doing movie reviews, and I'm kind of wondering that myself, but because of its video game themes, I think it is appropriate.
An intergalactic war is being waged between the Rylan Star League and the Ko-Dan Empire (can you guess who the bad guys are?). With the Rylans on their last line of defense on planet Rylos, a galaxy-wide recruitment program is started to find gifted starfighters. Earth teenager Alex Rogan unknowingly passes their recruiting tests by conquering an arcade game! He is picked up by the alien recruiter Centauri, and whisked away to Rylos leaving his girlfriend and family behind. Along with his alien navigator Grig, Alex ends up defeating the Ko-Dan and saving the galaxy.
Quite possibly the most epic scene in the movie is when Alex defeats the Starfighter arcade game set up at the local watering hole. He's obviously played the game a million times and always comes so close to beating it. Alex is pissed off about working a job he doesn't get paid for and his girlfriend is off with some redneck jocks. Even though he's distracted by all this, he starts racking up a huge score. Alex's girlfriend Maggie finally shows up, and somehow they make up while he plays on. Here's a man who can multitask!
The area pipe-smoking old man realizes that Alex has reached 900,000 points and shouts, "you gonna bust the record!" Hearing that from a 70 year old senior made me crack up. Then he runs off and shouts to the entire trailer park that Alex is going for the record. Everyone immediately drops what they're doing and runs to the arcade machine. There are about 20 residents there when Alex is declared "Record Breaker" and they're all going insane. It was such a surreal moment for me. I've had tons of friends who are into video games, but besides my sisters, every other family member has never understood the first thing about gaming, let alone cheered for me when I was "going for the record." I was getting goosebumps!
Best known for playing Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man, Robert Preston essentially reprises the fast-talking, good-natured con-man in The Last Starfighter. He plays Centauri, the recruiter who plants the arcade game Starfighter on Earth. Once Alex beats the game, Centauri arrives in his cheesy looking space car and takes Alex to Rylos. He really drives the scenes he is in and from the special features I watched, it was obvious the part was written for him in mind. Kind of interesting that Preston would actually elect to do this science fiction role so late in his career, but he was able to replay the character that invigored his career in the '60s. This ended up being Preston's last movie, and I think it was a great way to end a great career. If you're a fan of The Music Man and Robert Preston, I highly recommend checking out The Last Starfighter just for him.
All right, I will admit right now that I think The Last Starfighter features some of the worst space combat scenes I have ever seen. This movie has aged really, really awfully. I know that it was released in 1984 and that it was groundbreaking at the time, but that doesn't mean the 3D models were incredibly unrealistic and distracting for what they were. This film was a lot stronger when they weren't showing the Gunstars moving and shooting, but I suppose you have to start somewhere, right?
The Last Starfighter was a lot funnier than I imagined it would be. There are some great scenes back on Earth between Alex and his younger brother and Alex's doppleganger robot who replaces him while he is gone. Alex's little brother is obsessed with his Playboy collection and has some hilarious lines of surprise and anger. The movie is pretty light-hearted to begin with for the subject, and these scenes really helped The Last Starfighter balance out some of the more dragged out scenes on the planet Rylos.
Lance Guest stars as Alex Rogan, who you've probably never heard of. His only three notable roles were in The Last Starfighter, Jaws: The Revenge, and Halloween II. I can only imagine how thoroughly bad Jaws 4 must be, and I've never seen Halloween II, leaving me to judge his entire career on The Last Starfighter. He played the awkward 24 year old teenager pretty well, so I will consider his career a rousing success.
Catherine Mary Stewart played Alex's mobile home girl next door. I will admit, she was pretty good looking in 1984 but her career reveals that did not lead to much. She was in Weekend at Bernie's which I never saw (actually saw the sequel at a hotel once...) but it sounds like something the Wayans brothers would remake. Catherine also appeared in Samurai Cowboy, a movie which sounds awesome, but from its Wikipedia description sounds nothing like the PSX classic, Rising Zan: Samurai Gunman.
Grig, Alex's navigator and Gunstar co-pilot is played by Daniel O'Herlihy. I really enjoyed this role and found him to be an entertaining and even decently written character. I was surprised to see that Daniel was about 65 years old when he was in this film! His character seemed so much younger, I guess playing an alien removes a few years onscreen.
All in all, The Last Starfighter is a fun movie to watch and I would recommend it to anyone into light-hearted science fiction. The graphics have aged but the story and humor hasn't. And if you've ever imagined yourself down at the arcade attempting to achieve the high score in whatever arcade games are left these days, and having a huge crowd gather around to watch, then this movie is for you!