“Oh, you’re gonna love it . . . LOVE IT!” Centauri
Directed by: Nick Castle
Written by: Jonathan Betuel
Cast: Lance Guest, Catherine Mary Stewart, Dan O’Herlihy, Chris Hebert, Robert Preston
Swift shot: A little bit Sword in the Stone with a touch of Star Wars (set in our galaxy, in our time), The Last Starfighter filled a vaccum left after the “final” Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi. I saw this one in theaters when it was released, and it has resonated with me ever since: a story about a reluctant hero who is thrust into a full on space war, as the enemy creeps ever closer to his home planet, Earth. The Last Starfighter reminds us that when it’s time to fight, sometimes that’s all there is left to protect those we love – so that they don’t have to. Real courage isn’t around every corner, sometimes you have to scour the universe to find it.
Alex Rogan (Guest) is a teenager with big dreams of getting the hell out of his pathetic, mundane existence as the handy man for his shanty little mobile home community. He has a great girlfriend, Maggie (Stewart) who is always there for him, but he can’t always be there for her, as he has to constantly tend to the needs of the community.
His one source of relaxation is a video game called “Starfighter” where the object is to prevent Xur (Norman Snow) and the Kodan Armada from destroying Rylos and the Frontier, which is essentially a wall created by Rylos to keep the Kodan from all the Rylans. Pretty straight-forward premise for a video game, especially one in the ’80s.
Maggie wants to see Alex do great things, but she is mired in her commitment to her grandmother (Meg Wyllie). In reality, Maggie uses her grandmother as an excuse to mire in mediocrity. She’s afraid to leave her safe, comfortable life for the “big city.” She really does love Alex, but that love has limits – the limits of their crappy little, dusty community. But things are about to change for them both, as a military recruiter seeks Alex out personally. Thing is, this recruiter ain’t from around these parts!
Once Alex is exposed to the reality that his game is in actuality a test to seek out a new starfighter, he’s understandably shocked. Meeting his recruiter Centauri (Preston) who comes across as a slick used car salesman, with slightly better duds, is more than he can process at first. Alex is not at all interested in actually battling space tyrants. [Swift aside: it’s funny watching this now, as Centauri definitely reminds me of one of those promise you everything military recruiters who tells you not to worry about a thing, my boy. Granted, my recruiter was incredibly honest and told me to only expect pain and suffering.]
Let’s be honest, would you be willing to actually suit up and leave everyone behind to literally go do battle in your favorite video game? Remember, unlike a game, you only get one life, no extra lives and do-overs, just you and your reflexes and your wits.
If that was all that was going on in The Last Starfighter, it would still be a good flick, but there’s actually a whole funny aspect of the film where Centauri has come up with a unique way of seeing to it that Alex isn’t missed and even gets his care-taking duties fulfilled. Speaking of fulfilled though, Maggie sure isn’t being taken care of, as she starts to suspect something is awry with Alex.
The characters in The Last Starfighter are a bit one-dimensional at times, but you still care about them, and the scene stealer of the whole film is easily Chris Hebert who plays Alex’s bratty little pervy brother, Louis. He’s not really sure what the hell is going on with Alex, but he too knows something is up, he just has no idea how UP things really are, of course.
Then there’s Grig (O’Herlihy), who plays Alex’s would-be navigator. He is an engineer, and he knows exactly what is at stake if he doesn’t take on Xur head-on. Grig provides some of the comedy relief in his frank assessment of every situation put before Alex.
What makes this cult-classic such a classic is that it is unique and somehow nostalgic, even when you first watched it, you just kind of knew it was going to live on forever in our geekish hearts. In fact, in my case, I had this space strategy hex game that came out after the movie. Over the years I lost pieces to it, and it was tossed out along with so many of my toys.
Years later I was always looking for that game (FAFSA 6002), as a way to make amends to ALL my lost and broken toys that fell into the void of maturity. Then some crazy lady who also had an urge for her past created a thing called E-Bay, and you can bet “The Last Starfighter Combat Game” was one of the very first things I got on that amazing site!
As a relatively new movie critic, there are so many movies from my past that I have never reviewed, because I struggle just to keep up with all the new stuff out of Hollywood. And there are some films from my past that I am actually afraid to review; I am worried my words won’t do it the justice that resides in my heart.
The Last Starfighter is definitely one of those films. It has comedy, action, drama, romance, and lots of great special effects for its time. I was a bit bummed to see that the version we rented on demand was digitally enhanced. I like the old school version better, because that was the way it was when I saw it. I know I sound like those old-fogeys who complained about their old Bogey being colorized – but, now, I get it. I really do.
I hope if you’ve never seen The Last Starfighter you’ll give it a chance and insert the coin and see why this old classic isn’t going anywhere, unlike Alex, who’s clearly going places.