One of the joys of DVD-ing is reuniting with films you enjoyed in the long-ago, and the finding out if they were as good as you remember. Sometimes they are not, which tells you a great deal about how your tastes have changed. I am happy to say that The Last Starfighter has held up well since its 1984 release. Just as enjoyable as the first time I saw it in a theater, Robert Preston’s last film features the old character actor as Centauri, an intergalactic con-man, who recruits Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), a visionary teen trapped in a remote trailer park, to be…well…the last starfighter; of course, neither Centauri nor Alex are aware that his role will be so final at the time. More after the jump:
Alex’s inborn ability for the job is revealed by his excelling at a video game, designed as a test, and set up at the trailer park. Shortly after his win, Alex is visited by Centauri, who whisks him away to the stars, leaving a look-alike android in his place. At first, when Alex realizes what will be demanded of him as a fighter in a stellar war, he refuses; but a desire to save his family, friends, and the Earth from ruin force him to reconsider.
It is sheer, unabashed space opera, with the late (and splendid) Dan O’Herlihy as the lizard-like Grig, Alex’s navigator, and a host of weird aliens direct from the Starwars Cantina. There is the obligatory teen romance, with the lovely Catherine Mary Stewart as Maggie Gordon, Alex’s girlfriend, and a score of great character actors, including the late Meg Wyllie as Granny Gordon.
Story-wise, there is nothing new here, but that is hardly the point. The movie is fun; fun the way space operas should be fun. The plot is ancient; but the characters and the actors who portray them are (save the villains) very likeable, and the cast takes the story seriously. The special effects were revolutionary for the day, and a great deal of time is spent on them in the accompanying documentaries. In many ways, the whole digital revolution in this area began with The Last Starfighter.
As remarked, this was Robert Preston’s last film. It was also Lance Guest’s biggest. There was not an immediate sequel, which was a great disappointment to me at the time; for all of its enjoyability and revolutionary production values, it was not that great a hit. But two and a half decades can work wonders, and there are rumours of a sequel to be made soon. This reviewer hopes they are true. In the meantime, though, use this DVD for a great time and a pleasant return to the past.
“Heroes of the Screen:” a new documentary on the making of the film with the original cast and crew.
“Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter,” and older documentary on the same topic.
Image Gallery: Production photos, promo stuff, and an alternate ending.
Feature Commentary: with director Nick Castle and Production Designer Ron Cobb.
Subtitles: English, Spanish, and French.
A classic of its type, and as entertaining now as when it was released. Unabashed fun.