In 1984 when video games was on the eve of becoming a life style I must have seen the trailer for The Last Starfighter on a movie I was watching in the theatres at the time. Back then because of my financial dependency on parents and very generous aunts and uncles who love to take me, my siblings, and cousins to the popular family friendly movie of the current time, and the idea of just deciding to go to a PG-rated movie on your own at 12 was something unheard of, I resorted to reading the made for the movie book of The Last Starfighter.
I believed I enjoyed it. I remember the simple hero’s journey of Alex Rogan, a high school senior with nothing but big dreams, a small town girlfriend, Maggie, and an ambition to not be mediocre. He gets picked on for being too ambitious by the other town guys who settle on being studs in a valley paradise of somewhere in Midwest America in the 80s. They all want his girlfriend who doesn’t really see life beyond the happy valley paradise she and Alex grew up in. Alex hangs on the hope that he gets a university degree, makes it big with a white collar job, and marries happily ever after with Maggie.
The stakes of his somewhat static life gets bumped up when the bank loan to get him to a city university gets rejected. Luckily, just before this latest blow to his ego he manages to score big 80s style by beating a video game machine at the convenience store of the trailer park he lives at. The video game called “Starfighter” which Alex had just beaten just so happened to be an “Excalibur” test to find recruits of an actual alien starfighter squadron.
The test was illegally and serendipitously installed on Earth and at the corner store that Alex just so happened to be living next to by Centauri – an alien headhunter on the desperate look out for new recruits for a dying starfighter squadron. The Starfighter Command enlists pilots and gunners from the planets they protect from the evil empire that lurks outside their protection. As of late they have been losing a war against their greatest aggressor, the Ko-Dan Empire. Xur, the embittered son of the leader of Starfighter Command, threatens to betray the location of the starfighter base to the Ko-Dan Empire.
The legal issues of enlisting Alex as a starfighter pilot (according to what ever alien laws the “good guys” are aligned with) is that Earth is not listed as a protected planet. You, however, do get a sense that Earth just so happens to be in the middle of the good graces of the Starfighter Command and that times are desperate enough for Centauri to “bend” the rules just a little. Centauri rides up to Alex shortly after beating the “Starfighter” video game in an almost foreshadowing of Elon Musk’s Tesla Truck. Disguised as discount Jack Palance, because normally Centauri is this bug eyed purple alien, he convinces Alex to take a ride with him to discuss potential opportunities from his recent victory at the Starfighter videogame.
I know what you are thinking. Teenager gets in strange car with senior smooth talking man – but let’s get past the dated attitudes towards personal safety and say that’s what he did. Centauri takes him to Starfighter Headquarters straight to the armory for his flight suit. The culture shock and realizing the millions of lives they were placing him to play his favorite video game to potentially kill real enemy lives breaks our growing hero and he demands to be taken back. And reluctantly Centauri obliges Alex’s request.
Our hero returns to find Centauri had replaced Alex back on Earth (did I mention Starfighter Headquarters was in space?) with a decoy-clone-robot that of course looks exactly like him. His girlfriend, Maggie, is pissed off at him for something his “doppelganger” did. Alex is as well, of course , back in his aimless existence on Earth. That is of course until the space hit men come knocking at his door. Alex narrowly escapes an assassination attempt and realizes that while the Ko-Dan Empire exists he is now a marked man. Centauri brings an re-invigored Alex back to Starfighter Headquarters.
The rest of the movie plays out like a re-imagined Star Wars fighter dogfight whilst alternating another attempt on Alex’s decoy’s life while he is trying to spend some romantic time with Maggie. Although in the book the campy all against one odds fight was still pretty climactic I will have to say the movie circa TRON movie effects really did not do the scene justice. The frame rates and the really sluggish flight scenes of the starfighters was really disappointing. And it’s not that I’ve seen so much advances in computer animation since this film was released. It’s because had the director even done low expense real scale model effects they could have made more of an impactful, convincing scene and maybe boosted up a few stars in my eye.
Despite that one negative comment on the starfighter computer animation it’s on my shelf because I remember finally getting to watch this movie that I have read read about.