|The Last Starfighter|
Edward O. Denault
Catherine Mary Stewart
Kay E. Kuter
|Released:||July 13, 1984|
|Distributor:||Universal/Lorimar, a joint-venture (original release)|
Warner Bros. Television Distribution (successor-in-interest to Lorimar) (television broadcast rights)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment (home entertainment distribution rights)
|Editing:||Carroll Timothy O'Meara|
|Gross:||$28,733,290 (USA) (sub-total)|
|Internet Movie Database entry 0087597|
The Last Starfighter is a 1984 science fiction adventure film directed by Nick Castle. There was a subsequent novelization of the movie by Alan Dean Foster, as well as a video game based on the production. In 2004, it was also adapted as an off-Broadway musical.
The Last Starfighter, in addition to Disney's Tron, has the distinction of being one of cinema's earliest films to use extensive Computer-generated imagery (CGI) to depict its many starships, environments and battle scenes. This CGI technique, for the time, was a great leap into the future compared to contemporary films such as the previous year's Return of the Jedi, which still used static physical models shot by moving analogic cameras.
The Last Starfighter was the final theatrical film role of actor Robert Preston before his death. His character, a "lovable con-man," was a nod to his most famous role as Harold Hill in The Music Man.
Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), is a teenager living in a remote trailer park, who has just learned that he failed to qualify for a college loan and seems to be stuck in his job as a trailer park handyman. To escape his problems, he has a hobby of playing Starfighter, a stand-up arcade game where the player defends "the Frontier" from "Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada" in a space battle. Eventually he becomes the top player of Starfighter and wins it as the trailer park residents cheer him on. After finally beating the game, he is approached by its inventor, Centauri (Robert Preston). Stepping into Centauri's vehicle, Alex is horrified to find that it is actually a spaceship; moreover, Centauri is a disguised alien who whisks him off to the planet Rylos, in another solar system.
Upon his arrival, Alex is given a flight suit. He is also fitted with a translator so he can understand the various alien languages of the League's alien members. Alex discovers that he has been recruited as a starship weapons-expert, (a Starfighter). He also discovers that the images and territories in the Starfighter arcade game represent a conflict which actually is raging between the Rylan Star League and the Ko-Dan Empire; the latter is led by Xur (Norman Snow), a borderline psychopathic traitor to whom the Ko-Dan Emperor has promised (apparently with no intention of delivering) control of Rylos itself.
Alex's disbelief is further compounded when he is given a briefing on the situation with the other (alien) Starfighter recruits. As he leaves the briefing area, he meets star-navigator Grig (Dan O'Herlihy), a jovial sauropod alien. When confronting Centauri, Alex learns that the Starfighter game is in fact a test devised to find those "with the gift." Furthermore, the game's story about defending the galaxy against enemies is real, with a full-blown Starfighter battle preparing to be launched. Immediately afterwards Xur appears (via a holographic projection) inside of the Starfighter base and reveals he has discovered an infiltrator in his ranks and proceeds to broadcast his death by torture to the entire base, including his father, Ambassador Enduran (Kay E. Kuter), the Starfighter commander. He then proclaims to the people of Rylos that once Galan (Rylos's moon) is in full eclipse, the Ko-Dan Armada will begin their invasion and not even the Starfighters will be able to save them. Undaunted by his son's declaration, Enduran defiantly replies, “We shall see, Xur. We shall see!”
Alex's life is saved by two eerie twists of fate. First, in his shock from said revelation, he declines to participate in the Xurian War. So Centauri brings him back to Earth and gives him a high-tech pager to use, should Alex change his mind. Unbeknownst to either Centauri or Alex, Xur shows up in the Ko-Dan mother-ship shortly after their departure. After breaching The Frontier, an array of planetary-scale force fields that protect Rylos and its surroundings galactic territories from invasion, he all but destroys the Starfighter base with the mother-ship's "meteor gun" (a keel-mounted mass driver), killing most of the base personnel (excluding Grig) and all of the Starfighters save the one who just left: Alex. Back at home, Alex discovers that he has not been missed because Centauri replaced him with an android named Beta (Lance Guest in a dual role). Beta, an exact replica of Alex, seconds the urging of Centauri: that Alex should serve Rylos, and the galaxy, as a Starfighter. It does not help that Beta has made bad impressions on many of Alex's friends and family members, including his girlfriend Maggie Gordon (Catherine Mary Stewart). Angered, Alex activates the pager so that Centauri can remove the impostor. No sooner has he done so, however, than a Zan-Do-Zan (an assassin hired by Xur) appears. It tries to kill both Alex and Beta (because it cannot tell them apart). Centauri arrives during the chase that ensues; he kills the Zan-Do-Zan but is seriously wounded in the process. Centauri warns Alex that he has been discovered by the enemy, and that more Zan-Do-Zans are on the way; therefore, his only hope of survival is to become a Starfighter.
Alex agrees to return and finds the Starfighter base in ruins. Centauri dies from his wounds just after landing, leaving Alex alone with Grig. After getting Alex suited up, Grig places him in the gunnery chair of the Starfighters' designated space warcraft, the "Gunstar." Grig serves as navigator while Alex mans the weapons systems. Alex is delighted to find that the controls are just like those of the arcade game, but is horrified to learn that all the other Starfighters have been destroyed in Xur's ambush; he and Grig will have to battle the Ko-Dan Armada by themselves. Given that Grig and Alex are facing impossible odds against the Ko-Dan Empire, Alex is gripped with fear and feels that it may be safer to leave Rylos for good. As Grig is launching, he gets a chance to establish a rapport with Alex by telling him of his homeworld and the fact his private residence is a cave, to which Alex tells him of his home life on Earth living in a trailer park, a concept which confuses Grig, who ponders "a mobile cave that never went anywhere, fascinating", making Alex once again realize that he had wanted to get out of the trailer park, and that seeing Rylos is certainly a unique opportunity. Alex's fear of the upcoming battle is overcome, however, after destroying a Xurian ship, when Grig passively points out that Xur's plans of conquest would ultimately expand towards Earth.
Meanwhile, on Earth, Beta is having a difficult time replacing Alex. He fails at Alex's job as a repairman, ruins Alex's relationship with Maggie and is nearly discovered by Alex's younger brother Louis (Chris Hebert) who collects Playboy magazines. Beta finally admits to Maggie that he is not the real Alex Rogan, that Alex is in fact engaging Xur's forces as a Starfighter. Maggie does not believe him at first, but when he is shot by the Zan-Do-Zan and his damaged circuity is exposed, she realizes the truth. The assassin tries to alert Xur, but Beta kills it first at the cost of his own life when he crashes Jack Blake's truck into the Zan-Do-Zan's ship. As the wreckage of the ship and the truck burn before her eyes, Maggie looks skyward and proclaims her love for Alex. Meanwhile, Xur, who only received part of the Zan-Do-Zan's communique wrongly assumes Alex is dead and proceeds with his invasion of Rylos.
Alex and Grig attack the Ko-Dan mother-ship, crippling its communications system; now they can catch the Ko-Dan fighter wings off-guard. The battle reaches a fevered pitch; Alex keeps the upper hand, using the "lone fighter-against-hordes" tactics he mastered by playing the coin-operated video game. Soon, however, his weapons are depleted. Desperately, he activates a secret weapon installed in the Gunstar: "Death Blossom", which destroys all the remaining Ko-Dan fighters. Lord Kril (Dan Mason), captain of the Ko-Dan mother-ship, blames Xur for this turn of events. After relieving Xur of command, Kril orders him executed. Instead, Xur takes advantage of Alex's attack and kills the sentries escorting him from the bridge. He then flees the mother-ship just before Alex knocks out its helm/navigation system. Kril and his fellow Ko-Dans perish as their mother-ship crashes into the nearby moon of Galan and explodes.
At the victory celebration, Centauri reappears; he was never actually dead, but rather in a coma-like healing trance. Alex is proclaimed the savior of Rylos, only to discover from Enduran (who escaped from the Starfighter base before its destruction) that the Star League is still vulnerable: The Frontier has collapsed and Xur escaped, and will continue to be a threat as long as he still lives. Alex agrees to stay and recruit other Starfighters, rebuilding the Legion.
Alex returns to Earth, dramatically landing his Gunstar in the trailer park. Grig tells Alex's mother and the people of the trailer park of Alex's heroism in the Rylan War and that he will be a Starfighter of great potential, who will teach future Starfighters. After explaining to his friends and family where he was, Alex reveals that his services as a Starfighter are still needed by the Rylan Star League. He then asks Maggie to join him in space as his wife. Maggie's grandmother, Granny Gordon (Meg Wyllie) gives her blessing to her granddaughter, and returns to Rylos with him.
Louis is delighted to meet Grig; he would love to join Alex and Maggie, but the Gunstar was not designed for that many passengers. Yet the Starfighter videogame is still running, so Louis throws himself into mastering it and the cycle begins anew.
|Lance Guest||Alex Rogan / Beta Alex||The film's protagonist. A teenager who finds himself recruited as a starfighter.|
|Dan O'Herlihy||Grig||Alex's copilot, navigator, and sidekick.|
|Catherine Mary Stewart||Maggie Gordon||Alex's girlfriend.|
|Norman Snow||Xur||Evil leader of the Ko-Dan armada.|
|Robert Preston||Centauri||Alien recruiter. He makes contact with Alex in the beginning of the movie after he passes the arcade game test.|
|Kay E. Kuter||Enduran||The ambassador of Rylos, Xur's father and commander of the Star League|
|Barbara Bosson||Jane Rogan||Alex's mother|
|Chris Hebert||Louis Rogan||Alex's younger brother|
|Meg Wyllie||Granny Gordon||Maggie's grandmother|
Wil Wheaton, known for his portrayal of Wesley Crusher in , had a part in the movie, but his scenes were cut. However, his name still appears in the closing credits and he can be seen as the tallest child running through the trailer park in one of the earliest scenes. Marc Alaimo, who played Gul Dukat in , also appears as one of the assassins in human disguise sent to Earth to kill Alex Rogan by Xur (before the disguise is "detected" and erased by a nearby Last Starfighter game). Kay E. Kuter, who played Enduran, also appeared on an episode of Deep Space Nine as the Sirah. Meg Wyllie who played the Keeper in the Star Trek pilot The Cage appears briefly as Granny Gordon.
The Last Starfighter is one of the earliest films to make extensive use of computer graphics for its special effects. In place of physical models, 3D rendered models were used to depict space ships and many other objects. The Gunstar and other spaceships were the design of artist Ron Cobb, who also worked on Alien, Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian.
The computer graphics for the movie were rendered by Digital Productions on a Cray X-MP supercomputer. The company created 27 minutes of effects for the movie. This was considered an enormous amount of computer generated imagery at the time. For the 300 scenes containing computer graphics in the film, each frame of the animation contained an average of 250,000 polygons, and had a resolution of 3000 × 5000 36-bit pixels. Digital Productions estimated that using computer animation required only half the time, and one half to one third the cost of traditional special effects. The result was a cost of $14 million for a film that made about $21 million at the box office.
Not all special effects in the movie were done with computer animation. The depiction of the Beta unit before it had taken Alex's form was a practical effect, created out of materials and produced on-set. The StarCar driven by the Centauri character was also a real prop. It was later reused in the movie Back to the Future Part II as a car parked on one of the streets in the 2015 future setting.
A new, digitally remastered version presented in anamorphic wide screen is now available. The new transfer has improved color and sharpness, and is shown regularly on television.
However, the more mundane sequences of the film unexpectedly received more attention themselves. Test audiences enjoyed the comical struggles of Alex's android impostor at the trailer park so much that the producers decided to shoot more of these scenes they felt gave this science fiction film a unique flavor.
Craig Safan's score for the film calls for an unusually large orchestra, including six trumpets and six trombones, which are used simultaneously to play the main theme in twelve-part harmony.
The Last Starfighters popularity has resulted in several non-film adaptations of the storyline and uses of the name. Alan Dean Foster wrote a novelization of the movie shortly after it was released (ISBN 0-425-07255-X). In the same year as the release of the movie, Marvel Comics released a three issue mini-series adapting the film to comics format. In 2004, it was also adapted as an off-Broadway musical debuting at the Storm Theatre in New York City.
Several hip-hop artists have since taken to calling themselves "the Last Starfighter." Sean Daley, aka Slug from the Minnesota based hip-hop group Atmosphere, often refers to himself as the Last Starfighter in his lyrics. In RZA as Bobby Digital in Stereo Bobby Digital also refers to himself as the Last Starfighter.
A real The Last Starfighter arcade game by Atari, Inc. is promised in the end credits, but was never released. If released, the game would have been the first arcade game to use a Motorola 68000 as the CPU. Gameplay would have been taken from game scenes and space battle scenes in the movie and would have included the same controller that was used on the first Star Wars arcade game. Ultimately, it was not released because the arcade machine would have had a sale price of $10,000, which the vice president in Atari considered too high.
Home versions of the game for the Atari 2600 and Atari 8-bit home computers were also developed, but never sold. Ultimately, the home computer version was retooled, renamed, and released as Star Raiders 2. A protype exists for the Atari 2600 Last Starfighter game, which was actually a game already in development by Atari under the name Universe. This game was eventually released as Solaris. 
A freeware playable version of the game, based on what is seen in the movie, was released for PC in 2007. This is a faithful reproduction of the arcade game from the movie and features full sounds effects and music from the game. The creators of this game, Rogue Synapse, have also built a working arcade cabinet that was used in the Last Starfighter documentary. 
The central plot device, that a young man's skill at a video game secretly enables him to perform a related real-life task, has been used as a frequent homage to this film.
In the March 30, 2005 episode, "Best Friends Forever", the fictional Play Station Portable game, Heaven vs. Hell proves to be an aptitude test that qualifies a near-dead Kenny McCormick to be God's decisive weapon against Satan's army.
In the October 27, 2008 episode, "Chuck Versus Tom Sawyer", the inventor of the Atari video game Missile Command hid the access codes for an orbiting nuclear missile battery in the game's programming, such that an exceptional Missile Command player could command actual missiles.
In episode eight of season three, Matrix targets all of the binomes in a Star Wars-style cantina and orders his gun to "Death Blossom Mode' where it begis to spin along all three axis, a reference to the final attack in 'The Last Starfighter'.
George Paige Associates lists Starfighter among their upcoming projects as a sequel to The Last Starfighter. The release date has been proposed for sometime in 2010.  .