Then & Now: The Last Starfighter

Geoff Harris

A video game expert, Alex Rogan, gets conscripted to fight in The Star League, a multi-planet fleet assembled to defend against an encroaching armada of invaders. Reluctant at first, Alex returns to earth where he encounters the same enemy forces seeking to destroy his home-world. Returning to the Star League headquarters to discover them wiped out, Alex follows his destiny and becomes The Last Starfighter.





I remember really wanting to see this movie. The commercial teased just enough of my brain to spark a deep interest. The theater was pretty full for an afternoon showing. I was drawn in from the minute the lights went down to when they came back up at the end. My family were in the process of getting ready to move from my home town to another state entirely. I felt very much like Alex Rogan, the main character, being separated from what he knew to face a brave new future. He got a kick-ass spaceship; I got social anxiety. I so wished the movie would come true and I could leave this world to explore the universe.

I did make a friend though. Our mutual love of the film bound us together. We found we had other interests as well and it made the time pass more quickly having another geek to share the same dream of flight and exploration. We had our own language; An odd mutant blend of references and pseudo-tech talk.

On a side note, before my eyesight weakened to what it is now I was a hardcore video game addict. Going to the arcade, any arcade, brought me pure joy. I could relate to Alex. He was just like me. I do miss those moments of losing myself in eight bit glory. Good Times.


I watched the film again for this article. Straight with no commentary so it could be as pure in my opinion as possible.  As I hit <PLAY> I found myself back in the theater waiting with anticipation for the roller-coaster to ascend its first hill and then sweep me away back into my younger days. Best laid plans and all that. Age brings with it wisdom but it also breeds skepticism.  The creeping cold that crawls up your spine and whispers in your brain telling it to look for the flaws and goofs you once may have missed. A stray eye to spot those moments when the story goes astray or the little details the editor (or director) let slip. I managed to curb my inner troll and dove in accepting the movie, warts and all.

It didn’t last long. The film opens with our main character roaming about the trailer park he called home doing odd jobs for his neighbors. We meet a cast of supporting characters and the love interest, played by Catherine Mary Stewart. I will remember that detail until the day I pass because I had a mad crush on her.  I can’t recall if i saw this before or after Night of the Comet but who cares? She was hot and I was in mid-puberty. Sue me, I’m human. Ironically, I can also remember the actor who played Centari, Robert Preston, because I loved him in Victor Victoria. Not for the same reasons, you cheeky monkeys. Maybe if you’re good Uncle G will do an article about those movies too. Right now, back to the trailer park where our heroes rival shows to basically serve no other purpose than to bust balls and remind us that there is a world beyond the trailer park. Our lead, Alex, does what he can to balance his obligations and keep Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) romantically interested.

Centari arrives and explains to Alex that he had “passed the test” and was chosen to serve in the Star League.  Alex does what any hot-blooded geek would have done if a freaking alien showed up and offered a ride off planet; He hops in Centari’s space car and takes off for The Frontier. I want to insert here how massively disappointed I was back in the day to learn that the game Star Frontiers had NOTHING to do with this movie. I still have that game. Anyway, Alex gets his ride and once again my dreams of leaving this world stir.  I’ve seen damn near a hundred space opera type films. My knowledge of science fiction tropes is pretty large. Yet this one always gets a tug going in the old heart strings. Watching Alex bumble his way through “ordination” and subsequent meeting with his future co-pilot made me think for a moment. Doesn’t it look a suspiciously a lot like a certain gathering of pilots looking at a hologram, a round  shaped one, which represents their target? In a galaxy far far away? Hmmm.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Beta unit that has assumed Alex’s identity stumbles its way through life and dealing with humans and our “hormonal games.” Assassins sent to track down Centari’s champion are dealt with and the truth of Alex’s whereabouts are revealed. Again, basic story 101. Establish the main characters. Set up the basic premise. Have some interactions with minor characters to form relationships between principals and secondaries. Introduce the antagonist.  Move to second act twist, usually a path not taken or complication that causes the protagonist to re-evaluate his motivating paradigm. Move into third act and resolution to ventral conflict. End credits.

Our hero decides not to stick around and asks to be taken home. The big bad strikes, wiping out the other pilots. On the way back, Alex is confronted with the reality that he’s punking out on the opportunity of a lifetime. He “man’s up” and heads back to face the impossible odds of fighting against an enemy way out of his class.  This is where my developed sense of disbelief starts to fray badly. Each Gunstar, the ship Alex is piloting , is reveled to possess a “Death blossom” super weapon that, although untested, is crucial in turning the tide. Yeah. okay. Sure. You, the screenwriter, have brought forward a pretty engaging albeit cliche story about heroism and bravery just to weave in a deus ex machina so inane as to almost counter the sweet sci-fi goodness you had previously provided. The death blossom fires a 360 degree volley of missiles to all targets, conveniently, within its range. Then it shorts out the main power system.  Fourteen year old me was awed by this. Forty seven year old me had to resist yelling at the screen all the things it found wrong with such an asinine solution to how one ship could take out an armada. And all the co-pilot had to do was hot-wire the ignition through the life support system? Who designed this nightmare? No wonder the others died like flies as the meteors rained down. Don’t get me wrong…I still enjoyed the movie. It still stands as a seminal influence in my geek evolution. I’m just older and more bitter now. I can’t play video games anymore. I’m pretty sure if there is intelligent life out there it’s avoiding us on purpose. I still dream of flying. Sometimes on a clear night, I still find myself starring skyward and for a moment, I believe.

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