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“Greetings, Starfighter!  You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada."

With those mere words from a video game, Alex Rogan's greatest adventure began.

And so did ours.

The Premise

The 1984 film The Last Starfighter told the story of a kid in a trailer park who wanted a better life.  Living with his mother and little brother Louis, Alex had dreams of going places. His girlfriend Maggie was content with going to City College, but Alex wanted more than that.

One night, at the end of a particularly bad day, Alex was playing the only video game around: The Last Starfighter.  By chance or by skill, he racked up the highest score ever on the game, with the entire trailer park population as witness! (Tells you how exciting things were around there when something like that was a really big deal!).  The crowd celebrated his success, and then left him alone to contemplate his accomplishment.

Then a visitor arrived.  Centauri, a stranger in a fancy car (The Star Car), asked Alex who beat the game, and Alex told Centauri it was himself.  Then everything in Alex's world changed.

Centauri introduced Alex to Beta, an android duplicate who took on Alex's features after simply touching him. Unknown to Alex, Beta's role was also to take over Alex's life.  Alex is coached into Centauri's car and then locked in as Centauri takes off down the road at a stunning 300 MPH before arcing into the sky and heading off into space.  Alex's adventure has begun.

A few minutes later, Centauri takes off his "face mask" and reveals himself to be an alien.  Sometime later, they land on Rylos, home to the Star League Command. Unbeknownst to Alex, he's been recruited to join the Star League!  Alex is led to the inprocessing area and given a translator before he is shuffled into a briefing area.  There Alex meets Grig, a friendly alien who comments that Earth isn't mature enough to be approached by the Star League.

Alex has already had enough.  After a suprise "visit" from Xur, Centuari is forced to take Alex home.  Once back on Earth, the Star Car breaks down, leaving Alex to walk home.  Discouraged by the turn of events, Centauri hands Alex a signaler to call him back should he change his mind.

Yet, Alex can't return to his old life.  He discovers Beta in his bed, and, after a rather humorous discussion, uses the signaler to call Centauri to pick up Beta.  Within the hour, an alien assassin called a Zandozan attacks, injuring Centuari.  Realizing the danger, Alex decides to return with Centauri to Rylos, leaving Beta to mimic him on Earth.  Beta is unqualified for the duty and runs into some pretty funny situations, especially at the lake with Maggie.

On Rylos, the Star League HQ has been all but destroyed in an attack.   Alex realizes the even more serious danger out in space and again decides to return home.  Unable to further use the broken Star Car, Grig decides to return Alex in a proto-type fighter called a Gunstar.

On the return trip, the pair encounter an enemy fighter and Grig, much Alex's dismay, engages it.  During the battle, Alex realizes that he does have what it takes to be a Starfighter and realizes he's the last one, the others having been killed in the earlier attack.

The pair engage the Ko-Dan armada, blasting apart enemy fighters with their advanced superfighter, and eventually destroying the Ko-Dan mothership in a spectacular battle.  Alex returns to Earth a hero and gets Maggie.

They return to Rylos where Alex begins to help rebuild the Star League.

The Cast and Crew

Lance Guest, as Alex Rogan/Beta, did seem like a typical trailer park teen wanting more than what life was giving him. In a lot of ways, he reminded us of ourselves at some point in our lives.  His acting in this movie at times seemed a little self-centered, but not too much.

Catherine Mary Stewart was definitely the "girlfriend from next door" type: Cute, spunky, loving and down-home type of a girl. If a sequel ever gets made, it'd be nice to see her back in a large role.

Robert Preston as Centauri... who'd have thought "The Music Man" would be in a role like this. Robert was simply a joy in the film, and stole every scene he was in. Sadly, Robert passed away shortly after completing this film.

Dan O'Herlihy's portrayal of Grig was awesome, especially given the make-up the actor had to endure. He had the perfect expressions for a "gung-ho iguana", and was very unrecognizable!

Director Nick Castle took a simplistic script and made it charming. The work he did here was some of his absolute earliest, but he still shined through as a director. It's recommended to listen to his commentary on the DVD Extra Features.

Craig Safan's music score ranks up there in recognizablitiy with the likes of Star Trek, Superman, Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. It's an absolutely beautiful score. Take the chance, get the CD.

The FX

CGI has come a long way since 1984.  Back then, a super computer called the Cray X-MP was used to create the computer generated effects.  The Last Starfighter and Tron opened the way for CGI effects in movies and television.  Tron was given the larger credit but The Last Starfighter had the bigger impact on CGI in movie making.

Surprisingly, ILM passed up a chance to use the CGI ideas that were presented by Digital Productions (founded by John Whitney Jr. and Gary Demos). In early work for Star Wars:  The Empire Strikes Back, they presented a demo showing some X-Wing fighters performing motions that motion cameras and physical models could not duplicate. ILM never responded back to them. Only much later, on the DVD Extras, did ILM acknowledged having received the demo.  The demo is included on the DVD.

Ron Cobb was the Production designer for The Last Starfighter, and designed the Gunstar, the most recognizable ship in the movie. His line drawings were transcribed into the computer, where the CGI wireframe model was built.  When I talked to Ron a few years ago via e-mail, he said the CGI model was not saved anywhere, so a sequel would have to have a new model built.

All space scenes in the movie were CGI, and all land-based scenes had physical sets and/or models. The Star Car was built from an older car as a physical set, and there were multiple versions of it. Everything in space was CGI.  When the car takes off from the highway into space, the physical model is replaced by the CGI one.  To create that scene, one of the lesser detailed physical models was driven off the cliff by remote! They then cut in the CGI version blasting off into space.

To date, only three people are known to have built a CGI model of the Gunstar. Ron was sent images of two of these CGI artist's images, and was very impressed. Should a sequel ever get made, maybe a CGI artists dream will become reality...

The Game

Unfortunately, an actual video arcade game was never built. The one in the movie was actually just a prop with some game aspects that were playable on it.  Originally planned to be a game by Atari, the effort was never finished.

Now, 20 years later, it's time for a sequel!

- written by Darrell Lawrence