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For, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: Although ‘The Last Starfighter’ obviously sets itself up for a sequel, that didn’t happen — but it did lead to, of course, a video game, as well as a novelization, a comic book adaptation and, believe it or not, a stage musical version! And now it has earned a new Blu-ray edition with loads of bells and whistles from Arrow Video, acknowledging the film’s early use (along with ‘Tron’) of what would come to be known as CGI (computer graphics imaging). This would prove to be the final theatrical effort for longtime film star Robert Preston, for whom this role was written (and which is reminiscent of his most famous film, ‘The Music Man’). And alert fans of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ will spot young Will Wheaton in a small role, three years before he landed his more prominent gig on that TV series. This review was published in the Deseret News on July 13, 1984.


On the surface “The Last Starfighter” is nothing more than a formula picture, and a very commercial venture. The story is simple. An American teenager, especially adept at video games, is invited to use his talents amid grid after grid of computer-generated special effects, to become Luke Skywalker and help aliens in an intergalactic war to defend their version of the Empire. “Star Wars” meets “TRON,” if you will.


But the filmmakers behind “The Last Starfighter” did a couple of very wise things. They injected heavy doses of good-natured humor into the script, and hired an utterly charming cast. Both of those elements manage to lift the proceedings out of the formula doldrums and give the film a great boost in terms of audience enjoyment.


And that’s especially good since the script takes on some ludicrous aspects as the film tries to outdo all predecessors in terms of starfighter battles, making the title character a one-man army.


But that’s getting ahead of the game.


“The Last Starfighter” begins with young Alex Rogan bemoaning his lot in life. Like many teenagers on the brink of manhood, he is dissatisfied — and he certainly has good reason. Alex lives in a rundown trailer park in the middle of nowhere and helps support his mother and younger brother by fixing the neighbors’ televisions, though he’d rather be spending time with his girlfriend.




Robert Preston, left, Lance Guest, 'The Last Starfighter' (1984)


As a consequence, Alex uses nearly every free moment to escape by playing a nearby video game, and he just gets better and better at it. When he finally manages to beat the game, Alex receives a visitor, one Centauri, who whisks him off in a car that travels at 300 miles per hour on the ground, and then takes off into outer space. Centauri, it seems, has “recruited” Alex to become a starfighter, due to the lad’s dexterity at the video game, one of many Centauri placed on earth to try and find someone with Alex’s talent.


To compensate for the boy’s absence from earth, Centauri has also left a duplicate robot to take Alex’s place.


You can guess the film’s direction from there, and this is pretty predictable stuff, filled with odd-looking aliens and weird creatures, and lots of explosive chases and battles amid the stars when Alex teams up with what he refers to as a “gung-ho iguana” named Grig, who helps him in his Skywalker heroics.


The special effects here are fascinating to watch, nearly all the product of computerized technology, and the makeup for the various other-worldly persons is quite imaginative, as is Ron Cobb’s excellent production design. But the various battles in space, despite their interesting look, are a bit dulled by the fact that we’ve seen so many of the same kind before — especially in the three “Star Wars” films.


The script is the best and worst of the slick kind of moviemaking that is obviously motivated by potential profits. The negative aspects are derived from the film’s lack of originality, at various times seeming to steal not only from “Star Wars” and “TRON,” but from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and, believe it or not, “Sergeant York.” Even the style of credits seems borrowed from “Superman.” And there is the inevitable open-end climax, hoping for enough box-office revenue to warrant a sequel.




On the positive side, however, are the characters, the sense of humor and the actors chosen to fill the most prominent roles.


Veteran actor Dan O’Herlihy, unrecognizable under his “Grig” makeup, has a great time as the lizard-like alien who instructs Alex, and Catherine Mary Stewart, best known for her “Days of Our Lives” daytime TV soap opera role, is quite charming as Alex’s girl, though it is admittedly a rather thankless part.


But the best roles here go to Robert Preston, whose appearance is all too brief as Centauri, a kind of lovable space pirate whose recruiting of Alex is tantamount to kidnapping, and the lead role — both as Alex and his robot counterpart — by Lance Guest. Guest, in his first starring movie role, is doubly delightful as the straight-laced, overly modest Alex, and as his wisecracking, befuddled robot duplicate. He underplays both roles to great advantage, and both make for great fun.


Director Nick Castle, with only one other directing effort to his credit, has a deft comic touch and manages to make “The Last Starfighter” a film that will doubtless appeal to its target audience — teenagers with money in their pockets. But it will serve as enjoyable fare for their parents, as well.


“The Last Starfighter” is rated PG for violence and a couple of profanities.