Film: The Last Starfighter

Directed By: Nick Castle

Release Date: 13/07/1984

IMDB: 6.8 | Metacritic: 67

This is a film that I have such nostalgia towards and spent a huge chunk of my childhood, wanting to be a starfighter, saving humanity and all that nonsense but I have not watched this past a VHS version, so it has been on my list to rewatch for some time.

The reality of this and wanting to know how well it stood test of time, I thought that it made the perfect choice in our series of 'Watch Again' posts, where we will take classics movies and examine them with a contemporary lens.

So, on with show...

Viewing Synopsis

The movie starts in a trailer park somewhere in the USA, our main protagonist Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is our classic hero. With an attitude of wanting more from his life and a desire to get himself and his family out of the park.

If only he would stop playing video games right?

The trailer park features a small grocery store and our hero Alex spends his time playing the only arcade game, which sits on the patio outside. The game in question - Starfighter. 

Now Starfighter did surprisingly well on the graphics side of things, particularly as this is a film from 1984 and our man Alex is a wiz at the game, saving virtual humanity from virtual destruction at the hands of an invading enemy force. 

In fact, it would seem as though everyone in the trailer park loves this game as not ten minutes into it, Alex is looking set to break the record of 900,000 points, and gets quite the crowd from the park as he breaks the record. 

With this being the 80's there only seems to be a couple of black residents at the park, and they don't seem to speak.

Later on that same evening, after the party of the high score has died down, Alex gets a letter in the post to say that his college loan has not been approved, and instantly runs to the park gates to throw said letter at the sign by the entrance. I mean I don't get it, but hell, he just broke the Starfighter record  and that seemed like a pretty big deal, so let's cut him a break. 

Anyway, as he is stood there the Starfighter game starts making noises and it is while he is looking towards the arcade machine, a Blue Peter Delorean (not an actual Delorian) arrives with a fellow inside that identifies himself as Centauri, though he looks far more like a knock off Doctor Who, looking for the chap that just set the awesome new record on the Starfighter arcade game.

I mean, he's in luck because the guy he just saw throwing a letter at that sign over there, set the record!

Alex of course gets into the vehicle, I mean if the 80's taught me anything it's that riding in the back of pickup trucks and getting into cars with strangers is perfectly fine. 

Anyway, he gets in and before he knows it the car is flying through space and docks at a space station where he is met by a young female old man, who directs him through to some kind of barracks. 

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Alex's little brother is looking his Playboy collection and his girlfriend has a conversation with a maggot clone version of himself, hiding under the covers. 

In space, Alex is being put through his paces as a trainee Starfighter, though now the young female old man has attached a translating device to his shirt collar so now he can hear everything in English.

During the briefing Alex learns that the space frontier is about to fall and the group of reprobates that he finds himself training with, are all stood around chanting 'Victory or Death'. Is this how you get indoctrinated into a cult?

While trying to possibly find a way out, or maybe just embracing his potential psychosis, he decides to try and follow knock off Doctor Who and bumps into Grig, some weird tortoise headed lizard dude that looks to be made of leather, before one of the Umpa Lumpas, called Xur, holograms his head into the middle of the room and shows a video of a spy getting his brains fried. Ouch. 

Xur is also one of the old young people. Something that I never understood from 80's movies is why the bad guys were always such hammy roles. I always wondered whether the is some subtle shade being thrown somewhere or if it is just the fact that these were hammy roles, hammed up!

Xur isn't a bad bad guy, I mean he has that kind of psychotic edge to the character but it also has a feeling of Flash Gordon and Ming the Merciless in there too. 

Anyway, Alex gets a lift home from knock off Doctor Who and heads back to his trailer where his girlfriend say something about his weird sexual tendencies and slaps him, not sure what that's about but Alex, this is the 21st century now mate, don't try any of that 80's shit or you will likely get rocked. Turns out she tried to kiss the beta unit and it freaked out. 

Anyway, in his bedroom he meets his beta unit, a clone of himself that is meant to take his place while he is saving the universe, says goodnight to it and heads back out into the night only to be attacked by a man in a rejected Admiral Ackbar costume.

Luckily for Alex, knock off Doctor Who turns up just in time and shoots its arm off and stands there talking for 3 minutes, forgetting that this weird Admiral Ackbar thing can control it's limbs when removed and it shoots him in the gut. Is this the end of Centauri? Is Alex going to have what it takes to save the universe without him?

He's gonna have to,  knock off Doctor Who is dead. Leather Turtle Dude now seems to be Centauri, so Alex is following him instead.

Back on Earth, Alex's beta unit has removed it's head to clean out it's ears and his younger brother has seen, this kid is gonna be really traumatised by all this, I hope he got some therapy after all of this. 

Back to space again (i'm getting sea sick now) the real Alex has discovered that he is the only Starfighter left in the galaxy that can defeat Xur, that the ship that he needs to do it in has the same controls as the arcade game, but it's hard to do whilst wearing gloves. 

Gloves off and he is shooting space garbage like there is not tomorrow, I get a feeling that he may just do this. Leather Turtle Dude looks like he suspects the same thing. 

On earth, the beta unit is struggling with the complexities of a human relationship, he looks lost, I know the feeling dude.

The real Alex has now taken his Starship out of the hangar and is flying around the Frontier, which looks a lot like boxes floating in space. He then comes up against his first real action, a Xur fighter takes on his ship and after chasing them through a cave in an asteroid, Alex kills for the first time. 

On earth the weird Admiral Ackbar thing is back, it has assimilated a Police officer, which I can only think is bad news for the Police officer and also potentially bad news for the beta unit Alex. 

In space, as they emerge from the asteroid cave, Alex and Leather Turtle Dude are attacked by another wave of Xurian fighters and this time there is not hesitation from Alex, he has a taste for blood now that can only be sated by his desire to win. I mean, this guy could actually be Elon Musk.

Earth Alex is having issues with his girlfriend exerting pressure on him for not meeting her expectations, again... Meanwhile Officer Admiral Ackbar turns up and shoots him in the guts, if this goes the same way as knock off Doctor Who, he only has 2 minutes left to live. 

At the Frontier, Xur has lost his shit and decided now is the time to go all in and has dispatched an entire fleet of Starfighters to attack, I know how this ends but even I am getting nervous for them now.

Back on Earth again and Officer Admiral Ackbar and the Beta Unit along with the Unhappy Girlfriend are involved in a car chase. Beta Unit is in a pick up truck chasing OAA, he gives the signal to UG to bail and she does so just in time for Beta Unit to go somewhat kamikaze into Police Car carrying OAA. Boom. Some slow mo explosion was all it took to take care of OAA.

Xur now thinks that Alex is dead and so is sending in his fleet. Turns out that Alex and Leather Turtle Dude were laying low in the asteroid, biding their time to make a bigger impact, but now they have been spotted on the radar and as a result Xur just got fired. 

Alex manages to get off a very accurate shot that somehow seems to take out the big star destroyer thing. Only thing left now is to try to take out the fleet of fighters using that special button that is highly experimental. Luckily, Alex is very good at this, he even has the high score! 

What happens next is truly beautiful, The Last Starfighter does the spinny laser thing and takes everyone out, before losing power on their craft. Luckily, all it took was 30 seconds of suspense and they get another lucky shot on the baddies main ship and they all die. Jubilation!

Xur escaped though :( Silly, but this means that Alex has been offered a job to train an entire fleet of Starfighters and knock off Doctor Who came back to life and filled in his face with a napkin. It was all very odd, but maybe that's because I thought about it like a human and these are aliens.

Back on Earth and Alex's girlfriend is looking for him, and he turns up in his spaceship while the only black man in the film so far looks confused in his dressing gown.

This all causes quite a ruckus in the trailer park, Leather Turtle Dude is being introduced to everyone, it really is quite the spectacle.When it comes time to go back to space, Alex gaslights his girlfriend into heading back with him and Leather Turtle Dude to hang out at knock off Doctor Who's house and everyone lives happily ever after.

Conclusion:

This is not by any means a perfect film. The cast is far too white, even underneath all of the make up and in terms of whether the characters have any amount of depth to them, this is a purely superficial movie. 

That said, it does not try to be any more than that. One of the things that I think that Nick Castle is very good at is taking a story and encapsulating very solidly, this may be to do with him having that primary role as a script writer, but he manages to work with the little depth and still pull something out of the bag. 

A big part of that lies within the pace of the film, within 10 minutes we are into the main crux of the story and there is no going back, from that point the film just flies by. The duality of the story lines, seeing the position of Alex in space against the ever so slightly more comical role that his Beta Unit plays on earth, consumes most of the plot and again, this just increases the pace.

Go back into this movie, or for the first time, with very low expectations and I don't think you will be disappointed, if anything I think that it would be quite the opposite. 

One of the things that really stood out to me when re-watching this was the quality of the CGI for the year, which was 1984. We are talking 3D polygons! I wasn't expecting that, for some reason I went into this with Tron in mind and they really did a pretty decent job, so credit where it is due. 

Would I watch this again? Yes

Would I recommend this to watch? Yes

What mood should you be in to watch this? Lazy, fun, easygoing.

What rating would I give this film then & now? 7.5/10 | 6/10

You can check out our exclusive Starfighter tee below:

The Last Starfighter T-Shirt