The Last Starfighter (1984) is one of those movies that few people have heard of, but for some reason speaks to me on many levels. When I was a kid, just to give you a sense of its anonymity, there were no Lego sets of gunstars (the ships in the film), which (to my young mind) would have been a natural for the toy franchise. Instead, I was forced to build my own version, which was a pale comparison thereof. Then again, this was the 1980s before cross-branding was really a thing, despite the inroads made by the original Star Wars trilogy. When I watch it these days, the sense of adventure I get from the film always appeal to the boy in me. So, yes, this is a personal favorite of mine.
The Last Starfighter is about a young man named Alex Rogan (the late Lance Guest) who lives in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere in the Southwest with his mother, Jane (Barbara Bosson), and bother, Louis (Chris Hebert). Alex, though, wants more than his mundane existence amidst the tumbleweed and tin cans in which he resides. When he is not fixing the crumbling infrastructure of his community or spending time with his girlfriend, Maggie Gordon (Catherine Mary Stewart), he plays an arcade game that was apparently dropped off by accident at the park’s roadside diner. His skills at the controls attract the attention of Centauri (Robert Preston), an off-world recruiter of some kind who uses the machine to find people talented enough to join the Star League and defend the frontier against Xur (Norman Show) and the Kodan Armada. When Centauri brings Alex to Rylos (one could make the argument that Alex is basically kidnapped), that familiar phrase about defending the frontier turns out to be all too real. Alex is understandably perturbed to discover that not only is there life on other planets, but that life there is the plot to a video game.
I will admit, the premise of The Last Starfighter sounds incredibly cheesy. And it is, in that 1980s way that was, in many respects, the last gasp of innocence in this country. Then again, the ten-year-old Louis and his Playboy collection are not too innocent, but thankfully there is no visible nudity. He is just being a gross kid. Despite allusions to underage pornography consumption, there is a hopeful optimism that is at the heart of the film. Alex wants to be something more. Despite his aspirations, his neighbors and their needs, and the fact that his loan application for college was denied (trust me, kid, you dodge a bullet there), seem to hold him back. This is particularly evident when, after returning home from the horror of discovering that your favorite video game was real, Centauri offers Alex a way to come back and be a starfighter. Initially, Alex refuses, protesting that he is a nobody from a trailer park. Centauri sternly admonishes him by saying, “If that is what you think, then that’s all you’ll ever be!” Wise words. It is Alex’s belief that he can transcend his current surroundings that put him back in the cockpit and in a position to save Rylos from Xur, which he does, of course.
The Church teaches (basically) that everyone has a path or a calling, and to deny it can be problematic. For Alex in The Last Starfighter, resisting what seems to be his purpose might have had consequences on a galactic scale. We mere humans usually do not have to face such an outcome from our decisions, luckily. But the film does suggest that good things can come to those who fulfill their destiny. That is not to suggest that predestination is a thing, and apologies to all my protestant friends who believe in that idea! The point I am trying to make here is that it is good for a duck to be a duck and a starfighter to be a starfighter.
If you are sitting down for The Last Starfighter with your family and you have impressionable young ones, the scenes that mention Playboy are usually when Alex and Louis are in their shared room. Be ready with the fast-forward button in these parts. Otherwise, you should be good to go. The computer generated images (CGI) are a little dated, but not bad when you consider that this movie was made in 1984. So go ahead and watch this one, and laugh at the giddiness of Grig (Dan O’Herlihy) for a “desperate battle against incredible odds.”