Plot: This adventure saga mixes an update of the old system of “recruiting” sailors by shanghai with the fantasy of saving the universe by being a star at computer games. It turns out that one particular arcade game is really a test, put on earth by very advanced beings from another planet, to find someone good enough to be “The Last Starfighter.” And the only one to meet that challenge is Alex, who lives in a trailer park with his mother and younger brother, and who has just found out that he did not get the loan he needed for college.
Centauri (played with magnificent panache by Robert Preston) is the outer-space recruiter who takes Alex to the Starfighter deployment center on his planet and explains that Alex is the only one left who has the skill to be the Last Starfighter. Alex refuses, and is on his way back to Earth when all of the other Starfighters are destroyed by the evil Ko-Dan. When the bad guys come after him because they know he is the last remaining threat to them, he agrees to stay and fight.
Centauri thoughtfully leaves behind a “courtesy replacement simuloid,” a robot that has Alex’s looks, so his family won’t worry. The simuloid, however, has no idea of how to behave like an Earthling, and gets into all kinds of trouble.
Meanwhile, Alex is paired with Grig, a reptilian-looking alien navigator (under all of that latex is a remarkably expressive Dan O’Herlihy). Alex worries, “I’m just a kid from a trailer park.” “If that’s all you think you are, that’s all you’ll ever be.” Because all of the other Starfighters have been killed, Alex must face opposition leader Zor alone. “It will be a slaughter!” “That’s the spirit!” “No, I mean us!” But he is successful, and returns to Earth to collect his devoted girlfriend and take her back with him.
Discussion: This movie has a lot of action and special effects. The efforts of the “simuloid” to understand life on Earth provide some good slapstick. The relationship between Alex and Grig is handled nicely. The movie is no one’s idea of a classic, but kids who like space-age shoot-’em ups will enjoy it, and with the caveats noted below, it is a good family movie.
Questions for Kids:
· Why does Alex change his mind and agree to fight?
· How can he tell which are the good guys and which are the bad?
Connections: This was the last film performance by Robert Preston (“The Music Man”). Aside from Preston, the movie’s greatest asset is the production design, by Ron Cobb of “Alien,” “Star Wars,” and “Conan the Barbarian.” For a much more thoughtful and mature depiction of bonding between a human and an alien, see “Enemy Mine.”