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The Last Starfighter – 1984 It was 1984. The original Star Wars trilogy had just completed, with Return Of The Jedi having left an awful taste in everybody’s mouth after the gee-whiz fireworks of A New Hope, followed by the masterful chiaroscuro of The Empire Strikes Back. Indeed, I think a good case can be made for TESB as the best science fiction film ever made, and for ROTJ as one of the worst. Maybe it was the unsatisfactory resolution of the Star Wars trilogy that predisposed me to appreciate this goofy, well-meaning film that came out the next year.
There isn’t much to The Last Starfighter, but what there is is great fun. If you can praise Breaking Away as the best film ever shot in Indiana (it is leagues better than the histrionic Hoosiers), you can similarly praise The Last Starfighter as the best film whose protagonist lives in a dead-end trailer park. But what a trailer park! there is community, romance, challenge, and galaxy-saving, all within the [terrestial] confines of a few scant country acres.
Alex Rogan lives in said dead-end trailer park. All of his friends are going off to college, but he missed his chance at a scholarship and is stuck serving as a handyman for the Starlight Starbright Trailer Park. His widowed mother and porn-addled little brother are no help at all. The only bright spots in his dismal existence are his girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart, my favorite among the Starlets Referred To By All Three Names), and the Starfighter, a stand-up arcade game at the park’s office where the player defends “the Frontier” from “Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada”. Eventually he becomes the highest scoring player of the game. Thereafter he is visited by the game’s inventor Centauri (Robert Preston, basically reprising his role as Harold Hill from The Music Man). Centauri whisks him away to Rylos, an embattled planet, where Alex learns that Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada are real, and a real threat.
The Rylosians attempt to recruit him as a Starfighter, an elite corps of fighters who maintain the Frontier against the a rogue Rylosian noble and his Ko-Dan handlers. Alex begs off, and Centauri returns him to Earth, but when the Ko-Dan threaten people dear to him; his mother, Maggie, and other people in the Starlight Starbright Trailer Park, Alex mans up and saves the Universe.
Yeah, it’s a coming-of-age story, one of the oldest ever. But The Last Starfighter accomplishes for Alex Rogan in one film what the Star Wars trilogy fails to deliver for Luke Skywalker in three.