The Last Starfighter has a wonderful life (1984)
Excerpted from a review by Dan Craft – The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois) July 14, 1984
“The Last Starfighter” is not the film that’s going to rescue those of us who feel our brains constricting from overexposure to the bubble-headed escapism that Hollywood has instilled — alongside the air-conditioning and daily matinees — in our bijous this summer.
Too many bucks are being made mining the rich vein of juvenilia running through the landscape of America’s pop culture.
Happily, though, “The Last Starfighter” is probably the most readily agreeable of the countless recent film forays into technically refined, intellectually bereft mass audience entertainment, “Indiana Jones,” “Gremlins” and “Ghostbusters” notwithstanding.
The film’s success is particularly gratifying in light of the fact that it comes to us almost entirely sans the usual hype, hard sell or pre-sold appeal we’ve come to expect of our box-office blockbusters.
To my knowledge, Burger King hasn’t even begun hawking the official “Last Starfighter” drinking glass collection yet.
Give them a little time, though. Once the word gets out about this disarming, crowd-pleasing little sleeper, the merchandising onslaught will most assuredly start.
Assuming the “nothing new under the sun” dictum still holds, you’re probably going to be reading a number of reviews that will charge “The Last Starfighter” with wholesale cinematic cribbing, particularly of the Steven Spielberg/George Lucas inventory, including the “Star Wars” trilogy, “Close Encounters” and “E.T.,” not to mention such non-Spielberg/Lucas entries as “Tron” and the “Star Trek” movies.
While it is true “Starfighter” contains assorted elements that will strike many as familiar, director Nick Castle and writer Jonathan Betuel have revitalized those elements into something more than just the usual melange of dreary cliches.
The film tells the tale of Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), a young man with a severe case of lower-middle-class ennui: living with his mother and younger brother at the ramshackle Star Light-Star Bright trailer court, Alex dreams of making something significant of his life, while his carousing peers and girlfriend seem content with merely living for the moment.
Defeated at every turn in realizing his dream (very much a la James Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life”), Alex’s life suddenly takes a turn for the fantastic when he sets a record score on a video game called The Last Starfighter.
Later that night, Alex is confronted by a man named Centauri (Robert Preston), who rockets into the trailer court behind the wheel of a car most assuredly not of this world.
Centauri, it turns out, is the inventor of the Starfighter video game — a fast-talking, slightly irresponsible intergalactic rogue who has come to recruit Alex to help fight a fate-of-the-universe-type battle in another world by virtue of his newly proven video-game prowess.
Centauri whisks Alex off to another world (in the car, yet — shades of “E.T.’s” aerial bicycles!), leaving a somewhat ill-prepared robot double of Alex behind fashion.
The remainder of the film juxtaposes Alex’s adventures in another galaxy with the robot Alex’s misadventures trying to adapt to a new life as a resident of an earthbound trailer court, deftly crisscrossing their respective plights at several junctures.
To reveal more would impair a lot of the charm and freshness generated in this unpretentious, witty little movie, directed by Castle with the surest of hands, and infused with such a likable set of characters and such an uncloying measure of charm that you can hardly help but sit through it with a beatific smile plastered on your face.
Nimbly-paced and special-effects-riddled, the film’s circuits are never overloaded in the self-defeating way that Spielberg permitted in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
Employing the computer-generated animated effects technique first implemented with only marginal success in “Tron,” “Starfighter” possesses the epic scope of “Return of the Jedi” at a fraction of the cost .
Newcomer Lance Guest makes an engaging protagonist in his dual role as both the flesh-and-blood Alex and his circuits-and-wires counterpart, while the evergreen Robert Preston has a devilishly grand time performing a science-fiction twist on his “Music Man” role as the perennial huckster with a heart of gold — in this case, a sort of bush-league Obi-Wan Kenobi in a fedora.
Although the role isn’t big, Preston’s irresistible presence is felt throughout.
And hidden behind a “Planet of the Apes”-style mask as Alex’s alien co-starfighter, another veteran actor, Dan O’Herlihy, also scores with a characterization that depends almost solely on the eloquence of his voice.
Warm, funny, hip, and put together with great skill by some promising newcomers who seem to respect audience intelligence without feeling the need to pander to it, “The Last Starfighter” is the summer of ’84’s best excuse yet for putting reality on hold (if put it on hold again you must).
The Last Starfighter movie trailer
Look! Up in the sky! It’s The Last Starfighter’s Lance Guest!
From 16 magazine – 1984
Picture yourself playing your favorite video game, then suddenly watching it come to life and finding yourself right smack in the middle of it. Sounds pretty unreal, right?
That’s exactly what happened to 23-year-old Lance Guest — well, actually 18-year-old Alex Rogan, the character Lance portrayed in this summer’s sci-fi offering, The Last Starfighter.
Although this was Lance’s first starring movie role, you may also remember him from Halloween II, in which he played Jimmy, opposite actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Some of his other credits include the television series Lou Grant and St Elsewhere (in which he had recurring roles), the TV movie Confessions Of A Married Man, plus numerous stage productions.
How has he managed to accomplish so much at such a young age? Ever since Lance was a freshman in high school, he’s always wanted to act. After graduation, he set out for UCLA where he majored in theater, and began to do some serious acting in a few local productions.
From then on, it was more stage work for Lance with a detour here and there into movies or TV until he was finally seen in Halloween II by director Nick Castle (The Last Starfighter).
Nick immediately thought Lance would be the perfect Alex, for he felt that Lance had “a kind of innocence, shyness, yet determination,” that was essential for the right portrayal of Alex Rogan, who would suddenly be faced with the task of saving the universe!
Lance himself felt akin to the role. “When I first read the script, I felt an immediate connection with Alex’s character.” He continued, “Alex is a kid with potential, but his socioeconomic environment is holding him back. He wants to move on and to make something of himself.
“When he suddenly finds himself whisked off Earth, out of a realm in which he knows what is reality, every single thing amazes him.
“Yet, with all the excitement of being a Starfighter and flying about the universe, there is still present the honest human emotion, the fear and the wanting to return home to his family. Being a hero for Alex, while fun, isn’t all that easy.”
But being a star, for Lance, is easy. Now that he finally has some free time on his hands, Lance will be enjoying himself by keeping his 6’2″, 155-pound frame in shape with some of his favorite sports such as surfing, swimming or playing tennis. He’ll also be able to practice playing the guitar while he ponders a few movie offers that have come his way.
So, after years and years of striving for success, Lance has finally arrived to dazzle you with his dark good looks and gorgeous blue eyes — and aren’t you glad he did!?