The Last Starfighter, 1984.
Directed by Nick Castle.
Starring Lance Guest, Dan O’Herlihy, Robert Preston, and Catherine Mary Stewart.
Arrow’s new Blu-ray of The Last Starfighter features a new restoration based on a 4K transfer as well as a batch of new interviews and two new commentary tracks. They also ported over some old bonus content and tossed in a nice booklet and a poster, making this a worthwhile purchase for fans.
As 80s sci-fi films go, The Last Starfighter is one of the better ones to ride the enormous wave created by Star Wars. Sure, the story follows the same Hero With a Thousand Faces template that George Lucas tapped into, but it’s still a fun ride. It’s also notable for its extensive use of starship and space battle CGI a good two decades before such a technique became commonplace, although, yes, the graphics are roughly the equivalent of 90s era videogames. They’re probably a step above what Disney achieved with Tron.
Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is the protagonist of the story. He lives in a trailer park with his mother and younger brother and finds an escape from his mundane existence in an arcade game called Starfighter. He’s really good at it, and when he achieves a high score, he’s visited one night by an alien named Centauri, who reveals that the arcade game is really a test to recruit pilots for the Rylan Star League’s war against the Ko-Dan Empire.
Alex is whisked off for an adventure, but a lookalike android named Beta is left behind to cover for his absence. The story bounces between Alex’s training with a reptilian pilot named Grig and android Alex’s attempts to fit in with humans, which takes a turn for the worse when it’s an assassin arrives on Earth to take out the android, thinking it’s the real Alex.
The secondary storyline gives Alex’s girlfriend Maggie something to do other than disappear for most of the film, which is nice considering the fact that many older films often make female characters nothing but sidekicks. While Alex is trying to save the galaxy, she has her own part to play, even though she’s just as reluctant about the adventure as her boyfriend was before he was taken to the stars. The story builds toward the kind of feel-good climax you’d expect, setting up a sequel that never arrived.
This new Blu-ray edition from Arrow Video, which is doing for minor classics what Criterion has been doing for major ones, features a new restoration of The Last Starfighter from a 4K scan of the original camera negative. The previous Blu-ray from Universal was a disappointment on the video front, with an image that was digitally scrubbed to such an extent that much of the detail was washed out, so this edition is a welcome upgrade for fans of the film.
Arrow also included a bunch of new bonus features on this disc, along with a print booklet that has an essay by film historian Amanda Reyes as well as an intriguing rarity: an Omni magazine article written by science-fiction author Greg Bear that was never published. Bear wrote an introduction that sets up the piece in the booklet, and he recorded a new discussion of his experience that plays over images from the digital effects facility he visited, as well as clips from the film. In retrospect, it’s amazing that Omni never published the article, since it discussed nascent technology that was poised to forever change filmmaking.
Other new interviews include chats with actress Catherine Mary Stewart, who played Maggie, composer Craig Safan, special effects supervisor Kevin Pike, screenwriter Jonathan Betuel, and arcade game collector Estil Vance, who led a project to recreate the Starfighter arcade game shown in the film as a real game. Atari was actually slated to do such a thing when The Last Starfighter came out, but the project never reached fruition.
The new interviews all run about 7 to 12 minutes each and total close to an hour of conversations. Some of them are audio-only with clips from the film playing over them. I assume those were recorded remote because of COVID. They’re all standard fare, although there are some nice nuggets to mine from them, such as Betuel’s description of his vision for a sequel. Ballyhoo, which created many bonus features for Shout! Factory’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD sets, put together these new interviews.
The other new bonus features include a pair of commentary tracks, one with actor Lance Guest and his son Jackson and the other with Mike White of the Projection Booth podcast. The first track is a fun listen for those who enjoy hearing wistful nostalgia (it has its uses, although an entire commentary track’s worth is a bit much for me), but the second one is a must-listen for fans. White leaves no stone unturned as he not only discusses the movie in great depth but also discusses related tangents, such as author Ernest Cline’s Armada novel that – ahem – borrows heavily from this movie. I highly recommend White’s podcasts for movie fans – his Jaws episode runs nearly three hours and will likely provide new info even for hardcore fans of that film.
There’s also a third commentary track with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb. It’s a holdover from past editions, but it’s still a worthwhile listen. Castle and Cobb are clearly friends, which has its pluses and minuses in this track. On the upside, they’re fun to listen to and they easily prompt each other to discuss anecdotes from the making of the movie. On the downside, they sometimes lapse into two of the cardinal sins of commentaries: describing what’s on screen and falling into silence.
A pair of archival featurettes running close to an hour total were also ported over from earlier releases. A big batch of image galleries, including 44 stills from an alternate ending, were brought forward too. All of the archival stuff is worth checking out, especially if you’re new to this movie. I have the previous Universal Blu-ray and can confirm that everything on that disc was ported over, but I’m not sure about earlier releases.
Arrow also included a poster as well as a reversible sleeve, if you’re into alternate case artwork.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★