1984’s The Last Starfighter, energetically directed by Nick Castle from a script written by Jonathan Betuel (MY SCIENCE PROJECT POWER!!!), was one of my favorite films as a little kid, and much to my surprise, it still holds up as an example of a solid, low-budget Star Wars/Star Trek rip off that knew how to have just the right amount of fun even if it was never designed to be staggeringly original from a story perspective. I don’t care how “cheesy” and “dated” and “old” some people might find this film – I love it, and I’d take it over any number of $200 million CGI bullshit extravaganzas that have been clogging up multiplexes. I can’t wait to show my own son this movie when the time is correct; I suspect he’ll enjoy it with the same sense of wide-eyed-glee that I did when I was a kiddie. Alex Rogan (Lance Guest, engaging with that great smile) is your average trailer park teenager who just so happens to be a whiz at the one arcade game that is hooked up near his home. After breaking all of the records in the game, he’s dramatically recruited by an inter-galactic squadron of aliens (think Green Lantern) in an effort to get him to fight in their epic space battles.
Along with Tron, The Last Starfighter was one of the first movies to use major sequences with CGI, and while the film certainly shows its age, it’s incredible to think that a movie of this nature was made for “only” $15 million back in the day. There are some exciting space dog fights, terrific practical make-up and special effects, and a wonderful sense of humor during the passages on Earth that while corny at times, feel like the perfect combo of sci-fi action and teen comedy. A mild theatrical success in theaters during the summer of ‘84, this cult classic would go on to have a major shelf life thanks to the VHS explosion of the mid-80’s, and the low-tech charm and gee-whiz spirit of the entire endeavor still feels entirely of its time, the sort of movie that could never get made in today’s slicked-up cinematic climate. The cool supporting cast featured Robert Preston(!) in his final film role doing a riff on his con-man character from Music Man, Dan O’Herlihy, Catherine Mary Stewart (an early crush…), Norman Snow and Kay E. Kuter. Fun tidbit: Castle was the original Mike Myers in John Carpenter’s classic Halloween.