The Last Starfighter (Movie Review)

A Hero’s Journey from Gamer to Starfighter

Remember that old movie The Sword In The Stone? It’s a classic animated Disney film about the clumsy young lad named Wart and his magical buddy Merlin as they partake in jinkiest of hi-jinks. Near the end of the story, however, the poor kid is thrust into a major leadership role when he pulls the mystical Excalibur from it’s resting place. Wart, whose now known as King Arthur, is unsure of what to do with the only solace being that Merlin seems to have an idea of where his journey will go (Knights of the Round Table and all that). This film just goes to show you that greatness in oneself is not always evident and that there is a horror in being told that you are destined to save the day when all you did was pull some rusty artifact from a giant rock. Many writers throughout the years have played with this idea of the Chosen One not being who’d you expect, but there is one that has stuck with nerds over the years despite it being somewhat dated. The Last Starfighter, directed by Nick Castle and written by Jonathan Betuel, is a fascinating modern day take on the previously discussed Chosen One myth akin to Sword in the Stone that makes everyone believe that they are capable of defending the universe from atrocious aliens if they are able to beat the high score in a video game.

The idea for the Last Starfighter came to Jonathan Betuel when he was watching a child dominating on an arcade game. This got him thinking about Arthurian myths (Specifically The Once and Future King. You know, the book mentioned at the end of X-Men 2.) and got the idea that this cabinet could be an Excalibur for a new generation of heroes. After some time, the script got developed into the majestic story many nerds adore to this day. The Last Starfighter follows a pretty faced nobody named Alex Rogan who desires for life outside of his Podunk (yet warm and friendly) trailer park community. It seems as if the only escape he can get is when he spends what little time he can with his girlfriend or  attempting to beat the high score on a dingy arcade game named Starfighter. He’s pretty good at killing virtual aliens, so good in fact that he manages to beat the high score on a whim one night with his whole community cheering him on despite most of them having no idea what the heck was going on. Almost immediately afterwards, a message appears on the cabinet: Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada. Before you can say “What Star League?”, Alex is whisked away from Earth thanks to a stranger named Centauri who tells him that the game was in fact a training simulation to recruit soldiers against a looming threat that could take out the entire galaxy.

This ET remake seems off.

Easily the best aspect of this story is the characters. Not only is the head honcho, Alex Rogan, instantly relatable, but his journey becomes that much more exciting when you see him finally start to believe that he could be more than just some kid from a trailer park. It’s one thing to be great, it’s another to believe that you’re great. His girlfriend Maggie Gordon is charming as all hell too with the trailer park community also having a share of good moments as well. Though there aren’t many of them in the spotlight, the aliens presented are memorable and hilarious. Centauri and Grig are so well acted and interestingly written that the film could have been just about them, but we thankfully have a solid cast that keeps us invested in this larger than life story. Watching The Last Starfighter makes you realize just how well written characters can help elevate a well constructed idea to nerd scripture. Writers to be, take note!

The atmosphere of the Last Starfighter is, in no lesser terms, pitch perfect. There are themes of destiny, loneliness, family and friendship to just name a few that stick out immediately. You feel the terror Alex feels when confronted with the duty of the Starfighter and you’re just as ecstatic as his family is when he returns as a hero. Everything just feels so natural that you swear you were watching everything unfold in real life. You know what also helps these scenes stick out? The music. Sweet Jesus H. John Benjamin Christ is this music good. The main theme reminds me of something from Star Fox mixed with Star Wars. There is just an epic presence of the score that elevates this film to a higher level. If there ever were a time to listen to an orchestra play, it would be for a movie as epic and timeless as The Last Starfighter.

Cool spaceship, lousy effects

So why is this legendary piece of film making not as well remembered? The answer is very simple: CGI. The Last Starfighter is one of the first effects heavy films before special effects got to the point where they could support a whole project. Even then, a healthy level of practical effects in the action sequences would have been much appreciated to help keep things grounded in some sort of reality. The issue is that the filmmakers did not have time to work on the CGI as much as they could have, so they had to rush it when spending more time on it would have been the proper move. Due to the lack of good CGI, the action sequences just don’t work as well which in turn takes you out of the movie. This is so strange since the practical effects in the rest of the film are so good that it makes you wonder why they didn’t go that route. Just look at Japan’s work during that time and you see what could have been done. In some regards, this movie feels like wasted potential.

If you haven’t guessed yet there is a reason that the king of magical children films, Steven Spielberg, wants his hands on this property. This movie is so close to being incredible that it hurts. In many a film connoisseurs’ opinion, including my own, this movie NEEDS a sequel or remake. There is so much more story to tell and effects are at a level today that not much money needs to be thrown at it in order for everything to look good. Even if they could just go back to the original movie and redo the effects, I would be happy. Just look at the show Legends of Tomorrow (which I highly recommend you watch) to see how even something like that could help bump this movie up to be perfect. Were it up to me, I say go with a sequel that brings in a new cast whilst allowing the old cast to shine on their own. No matter what happens next, however, just make sure that the newest chapter captures the beauty and magic of the original film.

Greatness comes from anywhere, though usually from children in the 80’s

There’s a perfect line in the film that fans repeat at nauseum, mostly because it’s a beautiful quote that applies to anyone at any stage in their life. When Alex returns home and states that he doesn’t think he’s cut out for the Star League since he is just some kid from a trailer park, Centauri throws back the perfect counter: If that’s what you think, then that’s all you’ll ever be. Chilling, but accurate. The Last Starfighter is a charming movie that needs more attention and a REMAKE OR SEQUEL! If you’re a fan of any type of Spielberg or Arthurian legend type of movie, give this a shot. And remember: greatest can be thrust upon you, but it’s up to you to be the hero at the end of the day.

What other films do you think need a remake or remastering? Comment below and give everyone a great idea for something new to watch! I’ve been Superguy, and you’ve been an awesome group of Starfighters.

the last starfighter
Brought to you by Starlite Starbrite Dinner: Where Heroes Are Born!

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