The Last Starfighter (1984)

“Terrific. I’m about get killed a milllion miles from nowhere with a gung-ho iguana who tells me to relax.”

Justin’s rating: 900,000 points — an all-time record!

Justin’s review: 1984 certainly wasn’t lacking for spectacular scifi movies. We got the first iteration of the Dune franchise, 2010, The Terminator, Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension, Ghostbusters, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Starman, The Philadelphia Experiment, Night of the Comet… it was truly an embarrassment of riches. People gobbled up scifi in the ’80s, and studios were eager to feed this growing desire. But perhaps the icing on an already bulging and delectable cake that year must be The Last Starfighter, a film that revels in its gloriously ridiculous premise while being sheer fun from start to end.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this cult classic is how it really latched on to the video game generation that was only born less than a decade prior. By this time, kids were growing up playing arcade cabinets, home consoles, and personal computers, and it was becoming part of their identity and culture. So it’s really smart for The Last Starfighter to latch on to this focal point as a way to connect with that audience. Everyone who plays games knows that the biggest (and perhaps most secret) fantasy that they harbor is to actually jump into these virtual worlds. So we’re cheering on when trailer park fix-it man Alex crushes the top score on a mysterious arcade game — and then is recruited by aliens to help fight an actual intergalactic game of space invaders.

I mean, if it can happen to a star-gazing geek like Alex, it could happen to us, right? Right! My call should be coming any day now.

The Last Starfighter more or less fractures into an A-story and a B-story. In the A-story, Alex gradually comes to grips with his calling to be a starfighter (especially when all of the other ones are killed during a deliberate meteor attack) and getting into sync with his alien navigator. The B-story deals with a robot version of Alex on Earth that’s left there to deceive assassins and fumble Alex’s relationship with his girlfriend Maggie.

Our family recently watched this, as I’m trying to do the good father thing of “forcing my kids to relive my own childhood.” And while The Last Starfighter’s then-amazing-now-antiquated computer graphics are slow and only serviceable, it still was a great time for all involved. There were moments to cheer, a couple gross-out jump scares, a few lines that the kids immediately started repeating to each other, and a general satisfaction with a story that is more concerned with being interesting than being sensible.

It’s definitely not a timeless movie — if nothing else, the CGI is going to date it horribly in the decades to come — but you can see a shining beacon of ’80s optimism and adventure throughout its runtime. This isn’t a film to impress adults, but rather to leave an indelible impression among kids who saw their secret fantasy come to life. That’s probably why the last shot is of Alex’s younger brother climbing up to play the Starfighter video game and earn his own ticket to the stars. So keep playing those video games, kids. The fate of the universe may just depend upon it.

Poolman’s Rating: Video game nerds everywhere: rejoice my brethren, this is our movie.

Poolman’s Review: Remember when we were all kids (hey, some of us still are, I guess), and we latched onto our toys and TV shows? Come on, you remember the Transformers craze, and how every little boy went around making that crazy “ch-ch-ch-ch” transforming sound and trying to mimic Shockwave’s voice or look like a car? Or perhaps you were one of the kids who tied a bandana around his head and a garbage can lid to his back so you could be a Ninja Turtle? Whatever your particular vice was, the escapist way kids become their fantasies is awesome, and it’s something I find myself really missing as an adult (well, mostly adult). If you want that feeling again, have I got the movie for you…

Terribly dated, corny, and cheesy, The Last Starfighter is outstanding. It’s the story of a young man named Alex who lives a going-nowhere life in a backwater trailer park playing the Starfighter video game near his trailer. He gets better and better at the space combat game, eventually being drafted by an intergalactic mercenary named Centauri to fight in the real-life craft that the game simulates (the GunStar) in a last ditch battle against the Ko-Dan Armada. If this sounds weird to you, you’re right, it is. But hot damn, it’s fun.

The movie plays two fish-out-of-water games at once. The first is Alex’s story of the confused kid from Earth who gets swept up in the middle of a war amongst alien races bound together against a superior foe. The second is the story of “Beta”, the simuloid beta unit who gets left on Earth to replace Alex. See, the forces of good are awful kind, and they elect to leave a robot in Alex’s place so his family and friends won’t even know he’s missing. Too bad he’s clueless with Alex’s hot-to-trot girlfriend Maggie, and takes his head off in front of Alex’s little brother Louis so he can repair his own malfunctioning ear. The gags with Beta were great, and he’s another fun part of this flick.

So off Alex goes into space to fight the good fight. He meets his pilot (Alex is recruited as a gunner), Grig, yet another great character along for the ride. This reptiloid is another memorable face, as he fights for the freedom of his “wifeoid and few thousand Griglings”. He’s one of my favourite characters from way back when, and my brother and I still to this day quote the “gung-ho iguana” line at each other. Alex and Grig train briefly together before facing the Armada by themselves, while Beta fights bounty hunters looking for Alex back on Earth.

You can really tell this movie is the perfect balance between “look at the cool scifi universe we’ve invented” and “we don’t take ourselves too seriously”. The Starfighter world is really cool, filled with the most imaginative aliens since Star Wars, and is the earliest effective use of 3D computer animation. Don’t get me wrong, Final Fantasy visually blows this out of the water, but the GunStar ship looked cool back then, and it *just* holds up now. But the movie’s filled with all kinds of cheese and over-the-top lines, and it’s a treat to take in.

The Last Starfighter will probably always have its detractors, but for me, it’s always going to be one of those cherished favourites. If I can find it on DVD, it’ll be part of my permanent collection, I’m sure. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to find my furry underwear and plastic sword, it’s time to go play He-Man!

Kyle’s Rating: I base my machismo on Robert Preston. Which explains a lot, yeah?

Kyle’s Review: My interest here is not so much in The Last Starfighter, which is an excellent 80’s movie that will resonate greatly amongst most who grew up back then and will seem horrifically dated to those born in the past decade. The effect, I guess you could say, is similar to how people will respond to The Nails’ “88 Lines About 44 Women” in wildly differing ways depending upon their senses of humor and sexual histories. Can you dig it?

I never really finished the first sentence of that last paragraph. I was going to launch into this thing about how, when I was a (confused) kid, I got The Last Starfighter and Enemy Mine mixed up all the time. So I can remember, very clearly and with much embarrassment, trying to explain to one of my earliest crushes (who ended up with a former soccer teammate: coincidence?) how The Last Starfighter was this totally awesome movie where a videogame-lovin’ kid gets drafted into this intergalactic conflict and then crashes on a planet and becomes pregnant with an alien baby but becomes like “My Two Dads” with this other alien who was initially his mortal enemy but then they become best friends. Oh, and Robert Preston from The Music Man was all crazy cool in it. I wonder why that relationship died out in the sixth grade? (Although I should mention that this particular girl was the recipient of the Greatest Snowball Toss in the History of the World, which unfortunately ended its legendary arc in her right eye socket)

The imminent DVD release of The Monster Squad has me thinking about those films of the 80’s that were so darn influential and memorable at the time but sort of faded away. I mean, there are movies like Tron and of course the good Star Wars episodes that will (seemingly) endure forever. I happen to think The Last Starfighteris right on the cusp of ultimate respectability, which is probably the best place to be. Just mainstream enough that you could probably find it fairly easy to rent or buy, but plenty cult enough to blow some elitist film idiot out of the water with your “weird yet culturally informed” film suggestions.

Actually, I think modern gaming freaks could easily dig on this sort of “Pong”-esque ancient relic that illustrates how far films and gaming and gamers participating in galactic conflicts have come in a couple decades, especially since The Last Starfighter retains a charm that makes it stand out amongst other weak attempts at 80’s scifi. Think of it as an old emulated NES game downloaded for nostalgia and/or random kicks, and you should be able to dig it, too! Hooray for the 1980s, yeah?


  • What exactly IS that stuff the Zandozan keeps dropping? Drool? Plaster?
  • The hitchhiker is Mark Alaimo, who would later go on to Star Trek: DS9 fame as Gul Dukat.
  • Speaking of Star Trek, Wil Wheaton (later Wesley Crusher on TNG) was in this movie as a friend of Louis, but his scenes were cut. His name still appears in the end credits.
  • During the pilots briefing, when Lance is exiting the room, Slim Pickens is describing the contents of the pilot’s survival kit. This is an audio clip taken from Dr. Strangelove.
  • When Beta takes his head off, it’s more than a little reminiscent of the Evil Bill and Ted robots from Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.
  • The entire Ko-Dan Armada consists of one capital ship and a few squadrons of light fighters? What kind of threat is that?
  • The alien script seen on the computer screens in the movie is actually Hebrew with some variations.
  • The “Star Car” that Centauri drives is based on the DeLorean automobile, including its gull wing doors and its stainless steel construction.
  • This is the first movie to do all special effects (except makeup) on a computer. All shots of spacecraft, space, etc. were generated on a Cray computer.
  • A real The Last Starfighter arcade game by Atari, Inc. is promised in the end credits, but was never released. However a video of the gameplay can be found on YouTube. Atari made a version of the game for their home computer market, but the game was never marketed. Ultimately, it was renamed and, after removing the Last Starfighter references, sold under the name Star Raiders 2, a sequel to the very popular and ground-breaking game Star Raiders.
  • In 2004, The Last Starfighter was also adapted as an off-Broadway musical.

Groovy Dialogue:

Grig: I’ve always wanted to fight a desperate battle against incredible odds.

Grig: Death is a primitive concept. I prefer to think of them as battling evil – in another dimension!

Ko-Dan Officer: What do we do?
Kril: [eyepiece flipping dramatically into place] We die.

Alex: One GunStar? Against the whole armada? It’ll be a slaughter!
Grig: That’s the spirit!
Alex: No, MY slaughter!

Alex: Terrific. I’m about to get killed a million miles from nowhere with a gung-ho iguana who tells me to relax.

Centauri: The amusing thing about this, it’s all a big mistake. That particular Starfighter game was supposed to be delivered to Vegas, not some fleaspeck trailer park in the middle of tumbleweeds and tarantulas. So it must be fate, destiny, blind chance, luck even, that brings us together. And as the poet said, the rest is history.

Beta: Oh, save the whales but not the universe.

Centauri: Alex! Alex! You’re walking away from history! History, Alex! Did Chris Columbus stay home? Nooooo. What if the Wright Brothers thought that only birds should fly? And did Galupa think that the Ulus were too ugly to save?
Alex Rogan: Who’s Galupa?
Centauri: Never mind.

[repeated line]
Alex: Back to sleep Louis, or I’m telling mom about your Playboys!

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