The Last Starfighter
|The Last Starfighter|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Nick Castle|
|Produced by||Gary Adelson
Edward O. Denault
|Written by||Jonathan R. Betuel|
Catherine Mary Stewart
|Music by||Craig Safan|
|Edited by||Carroll Timothy O'Meara|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Box office||$28,733,290 (North America)|
The Last Starfighter is a 1984 American space opera film directed by Nick Castle. The film tells the story of Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), an average teenage boy recruited by an alien defense force to fight in an interstellar war. It also featured Robert Preston, Dan O'Herlihy, Catherine Mary Stewart, Norman Snow and Kay E. Kuter.
The Last Starfighter, along with Disney's Tron, has the distinction of being one of cinema's earliest films to use extensive computer-generated imagery (CGI) to depict its many starships, environments and battle scenes. It is one of the first films to use CGI to represent "real-life" objects instead of a digital graphics.
The Last Starfighter was Preston's final film role. His character, a "lovable con-man", was a nod to his most famous role as Harold Hill in The Music Man. There was a subsequent novelization of the film by Alan Dean Foster, as well as a video game based on the production. In 2004, it was also adapted as an off-Broadway musical.
Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is a teenager living in a trailer park with his mother (Barbara Bosson) and little brother, Louis (Chris Hebert). Alex's main leisure activity is playing Starfighter, an arcade game where the player defends "the Frontier" from "Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada" in a space battle. Eventually he becomes the game's highest-scoring player. A short time later, he is approached by the game's inventor, Centauri (Robert Preston) who invites him to take a ride. Alex does so, discovering the car is actually a spacecraft. It turns out Centauri is a disguised alien who takes him to the faraway planet Rylos. So his family and girlfriend, Maggie Gordon (Catherine Mary Stewart), don't notice his absence, an android duplicate named Beta is left to take his place.
Upon his arrival, Alex discovers that the characters and ships in the Starfighter arcade game represent an actual conflict between the Rylan Star League and the Ko-Dan Empire; the latter is led by Xur (Norman Snow), a traitor to whom the Ko-Dan Emperor has promised control of Rylos itself. The game was designed as a test to find those "with the gift"; Alex is expected to pilot an actual Starfighter spacecraft called the Gunstar. He also discovers that the Frontier is an array of satellites creating a force-field that protects Rylos and its surrounding planets from invasion. Xur has given the Ko-Dan the means to breach it.
Before Alex can fully understand and dispute his induction, a holographic projection of Xur appears and reveals he has discovered an infiltrator in his ranks. The spy's torture and execution is broadcast. The display is witnessed by Xur's father, Ambassador Enduran (Kay E. Kuter), the Starfighter commander. Xur then proclaims that once Rylos's moon is in full eclipse, the Ko-Dan Armada will begin their invasion and not even the Starfighters will be able to save them. Scared by everything he's seen, Alex asks to be taken home, which Centauri reluctantly does. Back on Earth, he gives Alex a communications device to contact him, should Alex change his mind. Alex tries to give it back, since he won't be changing his mind, but Centauri insists, and then leaves. Meanwhile, the Starfighter base is attacked- a saboteur eliminates the base's defenses, causing heavy damage and killing all of the Starfighters save for a friendly reptilian navigator named Grig (Dan O'Herlihy) whom Alex befriended during his visit. All the Gunstars are destroyed, save for an advanced prototype that Grig was servicing in a different hangar.
Once home, Alex discovers Beta and contacts Centauri to come and retrieve him. Just as Centauri arrives, Alex and Beta are attacked by a Zando-Zan, an alien assassin in Xur's service. After a short laser battle, Centauri shoots off its right arm. Centauri and Beta explain to Alex that the only way to protect his family (and Earth) is to embrace his ability as a Starfighter. Centauri also explains that there will be soon be more Zando-Zans arriving, intent on killing Alex. Before Alex can reply, the Zando-Zan, mentally controlling its severed arm, almost shoots Alex, but Centauri jumps in the way and returns fire, incinerating the alien. Alex and Centauri fly back to the ruined base. Alex finds Grig, but Centauri apparently dies from his injuries shortly after they arrive. Alex and Grig prepare the Gunstar to battle the Ko-Dan Armada by themselves.
As Alex continues his training under Grig's tutelage, Beta continues to have difficulties in maintaining his impersonation of Alex—particularly with Maggie. This comes to a head when the two are out on a date and Beta discovers that a small group of Zando-Zan spies have set up a communication center from their spaceship outside of the trailer park and are relaying information back to Xur. Beta is forced to reveal everything to Maggie, who doesn't believe him at first. But the Zando-Zan discover the pair and Beta is shot, exposing damaged circuitry, causing Maggie to realize the truth. The pair steal a friend's pickup truck and charge it at the Zando-Zan ship. After telling Maggie to jump, Beta crashes the truck into the ship, destroying it and sacrificing himself. Shocked by what she has learned and by Beta's heroic sacrifice, Maggie looks to the skies and proclaims her love for Alex.
Back in space, Alex and Grig attack the Ko-Dan mothership, crippling its communications. During the battle Alex keeps the upper hand, using the tactics he mastered playing the video game. Soon, however, his weapons are depleted. Desperately, he activates a new secret weapon on the Gunstar, the "Death Blossom", which destroys the rest of the Ko-Dan fighters. Lord Kril (Dan Mason), blames Xur for this defeat. After relieving Xur of command, Kril orders him executed, but Xur kills the sentries escorting him from the bridge. He then flees just before Alex's final attack on the ship cripples the guidance controls, causing the massive ship to fall into the gravitational pull of Rylos' moon, where it crashes and explodes.
Alex is proclaimed the savior of Rylos and hailed by its people. Alex then learns from Enduran that the Star League is still vulnerable: The Frontier has collapsed and Xur escaped. He will continue to be a threat as long as he still lives. Enduran invites Alex to stay and help rebuild the League, adding that he will have the help of an "old friend". To Alex's surprise, an unknown alien approaches, revealing himself as Centauri, who explains he was not dead, but in a healing stasis. After some urging by Centauri, Alex agrees to stay. He returns to Earth, dramatically landing his Gunstar in the trailer park. Grig tells Alex's mother and the people of the trailer park of Alex's heroism in the Rylan War and that he will be a Starfighter of great potential, who will teach future Starfighters.
After explaining to his friends and family where he was, Alex reveals that his services as a Starfighter are still needed by the Star League. He then asks Maggie to come with him. Maggie's grandmother (Meg Wyllie) gives her blessing and Maggie returns with him to Rylos. Louis is inspired to join Alex and begins playing the game, so that he too can master it.
The Last Starfighter is one of the earliest films to make extensive use of computer graphics for its special effects. In place of physical models, 3D rendered models were used to depict space ships and many other objects. The Gunstar and other spaceships were the design of artist Ron Cobb, who also worked on Alien, Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian.
The computer graphics for the film were rendered by Digital Productions on a Cray X-MP supercomputer. The company created 27 minutes of effects for the film. This was considered an enormous amount of computer generated imagery at the time. For the 300 scenes containing computer graphics in the film, each frame of the animation contained an average of 250,000 polygons, and had a resolution of 3000 × 5000 36-bit pixels. Digital Productions estimated that using computer animation required only half the time, and one half to one third the cost of traditional special effects. The result was a cost of $14 million for a film that made about $21 million at the box office.
Not all special effects in the film were done with computer animation. The depiction of the Beta unit before it had taken Alex's form was a practical effect, created out of materials and produced on-set. The Starcar created by Gene Winfield and driven by Centauri was also a real prop.
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Craig Safan's score for the film calls for an unusually large orchestra, including six trumpets and six trombones, which are used simultaneously to play the main theme in twelve-part harmony.
Southern Cross album
Southern Cross released a soundtrack album at the time of the film's release (later reissued on CD in 1987). Although Craig Safan co-wrote four songs for the film with Mark Mueller, only two were included on the album.
In 1995 Intrada issued an expanded album which omitted the songs, presented the music in chronological order, and included the complete versions of "Centauri Dies," "Death Blossom, Ultimate Weapon" and most notably "Into The Starscape" (on the original release it cuts out at the point in the film when Louis whoops at the sight of the Gunstar taking off on the video game screen and in real life; in the film the music continues over the end credits). In 2015 the same label released the complete score (legal issues prevented inclusion of the Safan-Mueller material on either Intrada release).
The Last Starfighter was a financial success, earning over $28 million on an estimated budget of $15 million.
Based on 29 reviews, Rotten Tomatoes ranks The Last Starfighter at a 76% "fresh" rating. Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half out of four stars, stating that while the actors were good, The Last Starfighter was "not a terrifically original movie," but was nonetheless "well-made". Halliwell's Film Guide described the film as "a surprisingly pleasant variation on the Star Wars boom, with sharp and witty performances from two reliable character actors and some elegant gadgetry to offset the teenage mooning." Gene Siskel included the film on his list of "Guilty Pleasures", describing it as "a Star Wars rip-off, but the best one".
The Last Starfighter's popularity has resulted in several non-film adaptations of the storyline and uses of the name. Alan Dean Foster wrote a novelization of the film shortly after it was released (ISBN 0-425-07255-X). In the same year as the release of the film, Marvel Comics published a comic book adaptation of the film by writer Bill Mantlo and artists Bret Blevins and Tony Salmons in Marvel Super Special #31. The adaptation was also available as a three issue limited series. In 2004, it was also adapted as an off-Broadway musical debuting at the Storm Theatre in New York City.
In 1984, FASA, a noted sci-fi tabletop game maker, created a gaming system for The Last Starfighter.
A real The Last Starfighter arcade game by Atari, Inc. is promised in the end credits, but was never released. If released, the game would have been Atari's first 3D polygonal arcade game to use a Motorola 68000 as the CPU. Gameplay would have been taken from game scenes and space battle scenes in the film and would have included the same controller that was used on the first Star Wars arcade game. Ultimately, it was not released because the arcade machine would have had a sale price of $10,000, which the vice president in Atari considered too high.
Home computer and console
Home versions of the game for the Atari 2600 and Atari 5200 consoles and Atari 8-bit home computers were also developed, but never commercially released under the Last Starfighter name. The home computer version was eventually renamed and released (with some minor changes) as Star Raiders II. A prototype exists for the Atari 2600 Last Starfighter game, which was in actuality a game already in development by Atari under the name Universe. This game was eventually released as Solaris.
A freeware playable version of the game, based on what is seen in the film, was released for PC in 2007. This is a faithful reproduction of the arcade game from the film and features full sounds effects and music from the game. The creators of this game, Rogue Synapse, have also built a working arcade cabinet of the game.
In February 2008, production company GPA Entertainment added "Starfighter – The sequel to the classic motion picture Last Starfighter" to its list of projects and two months later the project was reported to be "stuck in the pre-production phase".  It was still there as of January 2012. Hollywood directors including Seth Rogen and Steven Speilberg have expressed interest in creating a sequel or remake, but allegedly author Jonathan R. Betuel has indicated that he does not want another film made.  Consequently, no new Starfighter film is currently planned.
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- Crossing the Frontier: Making "The Last Starfighter" (behind-the-scenes retrospective), Universal Studios Home Video, 1999.
- Ohio State University CG history page
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- Halliwell's Film Guide, 13th edition – ISBN 0-00-638868-X.
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- The Last Starfighter at the Grand Comics Database
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- The Last Starfighter for NES at MobyGames
- Download page for freeware version of The Last Starfighter videogame
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