Peter’s Retro Reviews: The Last Starfighter (1984)

June 3, 2011

by Peter Nielsen

Meet Alex Rogan! He lives in a trailer-park that his mother is managing. Everybody knows everybody and life kind of just happens at a leisurely pace. Alex feels like he’s stuck in a circle without getting anywhere. Many times when he has plans with his friends and his girlfriend Maggie, he has to do chores instead. This would put any teenager in a foul mood, right? To get away from the trailer-park and community college he has applied for a student loan to be able to go to a college of his own choice.  He eagerly checks the mail-box every morning, but up until now there’s been no answer.

Alex has one other passion besides Maggie…

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

These are the introductory words to the video arcade game Starfighter which he plays every day. This particular evening he plays better than ever, beating both his own high-score and the game itself. The whole park is there to applaud and cheer him on.

The late Robert Preston as Centauri.

The late Robert Preston as Centauri.

After watching this movie, I suppose all of us, or at least all of us nerds, wanted this videogame at home. And not just this videogame, but this particular videogame, since this is kind of like a recruiting-type game or testing ground, if you like. Well, Alex passes with flying colors!

Unfortunately this is also the evening he finds out that he’s been turned down for the loan. Depressed he wanders the grounds when suddenly a strange car arrives in front of him. The door opens and a voice asks for the young man who beat the game earlier. Alex tells him that he’s the one and is then promptly told to get in the car since the old man driving it has a proposition for him.

Alex hops in and off they go!?! All through this I’m thinking… WHAT?? Getting into a car with a total stranger who has a proposition for you? What were you thinking Alex?? To tell you the truth, when I watched this the first time, I didn’t think much of it and I suppose I would have done the same thing. Since then I have grown older and wiser. Or… well, at least older, dammit! But, fortunately the man is a good guy and presents himself as Centauri, the inventor of the game.

The Gunstar

The Gunstar

The actor playing Centauri is Robert Preston in his last movie appearance and what a performance it is. He’s absolutely hilarious. He’s been in a ton of other stuff too, for instance How the West Was Won and another favorite of mine, Victor Victoria, starring the lovely Julie Andrews. Alex is played by Lance Guest who has mostly worked in television, but also in the superbly cheesy Jaws 4: The Revenge.

Anyway, the car turns out to be a small space vessel and Alex is taken to the planet Rylos where he is asked to help in the battle against Lord Kril and Xur. At first Alex doesn’t want anything to do with it and is brought back to Earth, but after almost getting killed by one of Xur’s hit-beasts he’s persuaded by Centauri to go back and join the other Starfighters on Rylos. Unbeknownst to them, they’ve all been killed in a vicious attack, so it’s up to Alex and his pilot Grig to singlehandedly take on the Ko-Dan armada.

Grig is played by an unrecognizable Dan O’Herlihy whom you may know from the fantastic TV-show Twin Peaks (Josie’s late husband Andrew Packard) or as the Old Man from Robocop.

Hey! That alien is up-staging us.

Hey! That alien is up-staging us.

They’re up against incredible odds, but of course end up saving the day, or rather… the galaxy! They later return to Earth where Alex introduces Grig to his mother, to Maggie and to the rest of his extended family. He now has duties, him being a Starfighter and all, but has returned to ask Maggie to come with him. She agrees and to the cheers of the whole trailer-park they fly off into the night.

In the role of Maggie we see the beautiful Catherine Mary Stewart from Weekend at Bernie’s, Night of the Comet and Mischief. You might also recognize Barbara Bosson as Alex’ mom, she did after all have a large role in the hit series Hill Street Blues and also Murder One.

I loved this movie as a teen and found myself laughing and enjoying it now too, as I re-watched it. In 1984 this was the first movie to use CGI to that extent. Apart from make-up and explosions, all the effects were done on a computer. Sure they might look a little dated now, compared to modern day CGI, but the Gunstar still looks awesome. It’s like a boyhood dream come true. You play a video-game and then get chosen by a galactic empire to help them fight evil. I mean, come on… who wouldn’t want that to happen and to top it all, you get to go back and get the girl too!

So until next time my friends… Please raise your hand, those of you who’d like to fly a Gunstar? Yeah… that’s what I thought!


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8 comments on “Peter’s Retro Reviews: The Last Starfighter (1984)

  1. Good stuff!

    Did you catch my recent interview with Catherine Mary Stewart? I asked several questions about The Last Starfighter.

  2. I remember seeing that movie in the theater and being absolutely enchanted by it. Great review, Peter!

  3. Peter Nielsen Jun 3, 2011

    Thank you guys, I’m glad you liked it. Both the movie AND my review. 😉

  4. Terry East Jun 4, 2011

    A great review of one of my favorite movies of the 1980’s. Nice job, Peter. Hopefully, this wouldn’t rule out a podcast for this movie at some point down the line. When I considered myself an aspiring director, I had an idea for a sequel for this movie. And oddly enough, I think it would still work even though the original is now (gulp) 27 years old.

    • Hi Terry– Glad you liked the review! I remember when you first told me about that idea. You should still draft it out as a “hypothetical” treatment.

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