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SCI-FI SUNDAYS:THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984)

Today sees MoM launching yet another fantastic new series – Sci-Fi Sundays. The weekly series begins with Jonathon Dabell reviewing The Last Starfighter (1984) starring Lance Guest and Dan O’Herlihy.

SCI-FI SUNDAYS:THE LAST STARFIGHTER (1984)

Of the many Star Wars rip-offs and homages out there, The Last Starfighter is one of the most enjoyable – some would even say the most enjoyable. Written by Jonathan Betuel and directed by Nick Castle (who, if you didn’t know, was the guy who played Michael Myers in the original Halloween), the film is a fast, well-acted and thoroughly agreeable slice of space hokum.

Bored of his dreary trailer-park existence, teenager Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) dreams of going to college and making something of his life. He and his girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart) plan to move to the city together where they can broaden their horizons. The highlight of Alex’s day is playing on ‘Starfighter’, a Space Invaders-style video game located beside a wall in the trailer park.

Alex finds himself feeling out of place as he lines up alongside the other pilots assembled to protect the universe

Alex finds himself feeling out of place as he lines up alongside the other pilots assembled to protect the universe

One evening, Alex sets a new record whilst playing ‘Starfighter’. Later that night, a mysterious stranger named Centauri (Robert Preston) arrives and asks Alex to take a ride in his car. The car turns out to be a spaceship, and Centauri whisks Alex into outer space to the faraway planet Rylos.

Here Centauri explains that the ‘Starfighter’ video game was actually created as a test to find the best starfighter in the galaxy. When he set the new record, Alex proved himself to be an exceptional talent. Now the people of Rylos want Alex to join their other starfighters in a battle against the Ko-Dan Empire, aggressive marauders who are invading planets across the universe one by one. Alex is given command of the spaceship Gunstar, teamed up with a navigator named Grig (Dan O’Herlihy), and sent into combat in the battle of a lifetime.

The Last Starfighter benefits greatly from the involvement of old-timers Preston and O’Herlihy. This was Preston’s final role, portraying a star-travelling variation of the character he played in The Music Man. O’Herlihy is unrecognisable beneath layers of alien make-up, but still manages to bring warmth and humour to the lovable character of Grig. The characterisation throughout the film is pretty strong overall.

Alex in the pilot's seat ready to save the universe; Grig looks on from the co-pilot's seat behind.

Alex in the pilot’s seat ready to save the universe; Grig looks on from the co-pilot’s seat behind.

Alex is basically Earth’s version of Luke Skywalker, a bored youth stuck in a tedious dead-end existence. Flying off to the far reaches of space to defend the universe against tyranny is exactly the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he has been waiting for.

The film was one of the first to use extensive CGI. The space battles sequences have an obvious computerised quality to them, similar in style to the effects used in Tron. It might look a bit primitive to modern eyes, but still conveys the outer space setting and technology effectively.

Thundered along by Craig Safan’s score, and packed with neat little touches of humour and detail, The Last Starfighter is a prime example of exactly how a Star Wars homage should be done.

Original theatrical poster for The Last Stafighter.

Original theatrical poster for The Last Stafighter.

MoM Rating: 7.5/10

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