The Last Starfighter (1984)

Last_starfighter_postWhenever a film becomes popular, you can just tell that there will be producers looking to capitalise on that success, and then the clones start populating theatres in short order. In this case, somebody decided they wanted to make their own Star Wars film, and the end result was The Last Starfighter. To this film’s credit, the producers made something of an effort to make this film more original, but more often than not comes across as a bad Star Wars clone with frequent hints of Tron, and a worse plot.

The story revolves around Alex Rogan, a teenage country boy living in a trailer park who spends all of his time on an arcade game called “Starfighter”, and after becoming the game’s highest-scoring player, he is recruited by the game’s creator, who escorts him to the planet Rylos. There he learns that the characters from the game are real, and the game itself was a simulation designed to test the abilities of potential soldiers, so now he finds himself saving the universe from the advances of the Ko-Dan Armada and its leader Xur.

Right off the bat, this absolutely sounds like a Star Wars clone, complete with two sides, an unlikely young hero who goes out and wins the war for the good guys, and a lavish space setting. It has many of the things you love about the original Star Wars, but with a much weaker plot and worse characters. At least the arcade game gives the film something of a more original plot, but it plays out it much the same way. It doesn’t help that the film starts out like a boring teen movie before we move onto the actual plot of the film.

The characters aren’t much, but at the very least they’re played by decent actors. The film’s main character may be a blatant expy of Luke Skywalker, but at least the actor portraying him, Lance Guest, at least manages to play the role decently. Robert Preston, in his final on-screen appearance, gives by far the best performance in the film, but that’s mainly because I’m pretty sure that he can act circles around everyone else in the film. I like his character, the lovable travelling salesman type who doubles as an army recruiter, and he’s obviously the best-written character in the film, if mainly because all the others are walking clichés with decent actors.

It almost seems as if I think this was a bad movie, but it’s not, although it would have been terrible without the visual spectacle. Much like Tron before it, this film was one of the early examples of CGI being used as extensively as it would be today. In fact, much of the film has been rendered with CGI, mainly the battleships, battle scenes and the sci-fi environments of the film’s secondary world. The film also looks quite polished from beginning to end, and this film is one example where good production values and abundant special effects (both typical traits of big budget Hollywood films) actually help compensate for a film with a bad plot.

While it’s obvious that the film took far too many cues from Star Wars and Tron, it at least manages to use those elements in a manner that makes it somewhat unique, or at least remotely entertaining. The film itself is essentially like the kind of old arcade game that it depicts at the first act – it has a wafer thin plot, but it makes for solid entertainment, at least for a while.

  • Score: 65%
  • Grade: C
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