My love for “The Last Starfighter” was cultivated through late night cable television in the early nineties, where I was oblivious to its existence for many years. Yes, it’s a major rip off of “Star Wars: A New Hope,” but that’s what’s so entertaining about it. It embraces its derivative functions, and runs with it to deliver a fun kids space opera that’s simple, but exciting. Director Nick Castle’s “The Last Starfighter” has rapidly become one of my favorite action films of all time as it twists the silliness in to a riveting and rousing fight between an underdog and a galactic force of evil.
Lance Guest plays Alex Rogan, a small town boy who lives in a trailer park with his mom and brother. He’s one of the few normal denizens of the park among a community of eccentric and simple folks, and really garners no bigger ambitions. Other than defeating his favorite arcade space shooter “Starfighter,” and aiming to take the top slot as the highest scorer. After one fateful night in the park playing the game, he manages to reign victorious, defeating the shooter’s big villain. Little does he realize that the arcade is really a recruitment device for the mythical galactic starfighters that was accidentally put on Earth. Topping the scores and defeating the main enemy of the game has sent out a signal that he is a gifted starfighter with the ability to defend the galaxy and his home planet with an army of starfighters.
When a high ranking commander sabotages the starfighter force, eliminating all hope to intercept an invasion on the planet, it’s up to Alex and his mentor, a reptilian alien and navigator named Grig. Together they stand between the evil Ko-Dan Armada, and co-pilot the mythical Gunstar fighter ship. “The Last Starfighter” is an ambitious science fiction film that really strives to stand on its own two feet, while aping from the “Star Wars” atmosphere of classic serial whimsy. The tale of Alex Rogan is like something out of “The Lone Ranger” where he and his sidekick have to take on impossible odds and rely on their cunning to come out ahead.
And while the computer effects that illustrate the epic space battles between the Gunstar and Ko-Dan Armada are painfully dated, there’s a real charm behind the sequences that will suck you in and almost make you forget how ancient the CGI is. I really wanted to see more behind the mythos of the starfighters, and their long legacy as heroes that are more centered on cunning, speed and brains than brute force. Obviously due to the budget the exploration of their world is scant, but star Lance Guest perfectly transforms Alex in to an everyday guy who becomes a massive hero pushed in to an extraordinary world. Castle’s film is filled with enthusiasm and awe, giving “The Last Starfighter” potential to explode in to an entity that could have eventually torn apart from “Star Wars.” That said, even as a single installment, “The Last Starfighter” is a wonderful adventure film that never slows down, and packs in the action for all ages until the very end.