"Greetings, Starfighter. You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada."
A trailer park teenager played by the then-24 Lance Guest, all Alex Rogen wanted was to break away (as Kelly Clarkson might say today) with his best girl, Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart). The poor guy's only relief from the everyday grind of fixing everyone's appliances in the trailer camp was the Starfighter video game on old man Otis' porch. But things change for Alex the night he "busts the record" and discovers that the game is actually a recruiting tool for an interstellar war between, well, you guessed it. (See above.)
Picked up in a flying car that looked suspiciously like a certain DeLorean a year later, Alex is whisked into the stars by the shady Centauri (Robert Preston) to join the fight. Understandably reluctant to suit up for a mission where "game over" means more than just needing another quarter, Alex's world back home doesn't seem so bad anymore. That is until a successful attack by Xur and his army makes Alex ... well, the last starfighter. Now a target back on Earth, Alex returns with little choice but to make a go of it.
Fans looking at the film's glorious-looking Blu-ray edition and seeing the words "25th Anniversary Edition" stamped across its front know two things: (1) That time does indeed fly and (2) every aspect of Starfighter's incredibly creative story. Simplistic enough for a high-concept pitch, director Nick Castle and screenwriter Jonathan R. Betuel took it ten steps further and filled 101 minutes with some really cool ideas and fun dialogue. The Beta Unit put on earth to double for Alex only to discover he was a decoy. Centauri switching from his "Excalibur test" to the more modern technology to seek out the chosen one. The bonus Death Blossom feature on Alex's GunStar that was both a carnival ride and cooler than any smart bomb ever used on Defender.
Most importantly though, The Last Starfighter is filled front-to-back with really likable characters. Alex is sympathetic to the point that his concerns about his real life and actual death never make his complaining turn him into a pill. Centauri is perfectly played by Preston as a salesman we would have loved to have seen in Glengarry Glen Ross. (Or did see already in The Music Man.) The eternally fetching Stewart may have continually put a burn on Alex's heart, afraid to leave town with him, but it was all in the name of staying with her Granny. Maggie may have just been "the girl" in all of this, but she gets to play some fun scenes with the inexperienced Beta Unit ("I'm kinda new at these gland games") and Stewart got to play her own game the following year in trying to beat "DMK"'s Tempest record in Night of the Comet. And through it all, Alex's new friend and first-mate, Grig (Dan O'Herlihy), looking like a lizard planet's version of The Thing, is a wonderful companion to share your impending demise with.
Discount anyone who praises or dismisses The Last Starfighter as just "silly" or "dated." Castle's film holds up remarkably well now, 26 years later, because it is absolutely earnest in telling its tale, helped along by Craig Safan's lovingly heroic and melancholy themes. It's Superman-like opening credits don't exactly mask the fact that Lance Guest is a dead ringer for young Clark Kent, Jeff East. But at least that is one question we can avoid answering for the hopeful sequel on the horizon. Such as: Just what was up with Lord Kril's monocle? Was Xur's prized scepter with expanding spike really compensating for something else? Did Billy Mitchell own the previous record on the Starfighter machine? How good does a "master spy" blend in with the Ko-Dans when he's the only one besides Xur with (what Bill Cosby might call) the reverse mohawk and Metalunan forehead? And did Galoka think that the Ulus were too ugly to save?
Hopefully if the new Starfighter movie gets off the ground, it will not serve as just a bridge to a new hero where Alex Rogen gets killed off early. That would stink. The 1984 film was out right in the middle of the arcade craze, just a few years after Tron and we're finally getting that sequel. Appropriately enough, both films were among the first to use CGI technology. How the GunStars and their challengers could be presented in 2012 would be a sight to see indeed.