The Last Starfighter

The Last Starfighter
The Last Starfighter

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Nick Castle
Produced by Gary Adelson (producer)
Edward O. Denault (producer)
John Whitney, Jr. (associate producer) (as John H. Whitney, Jr.)
Robert E. Swanson (consulting producer) (uncredited)
Written by Jonathan R. Betuel
Starring Lance Guest
Robert Preston
Catherine Mary Stewart
Dan O'Herlihy
Norman Snow
Music by Craig Safan
Cinematography King Baggot
Editing by Carroll Timothy O'Meara (credited as C. Timothy O'Meara)
Studio Warner Bros.
Universal Studios
Lorimar Productions
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release date(s) July 13, 1984 (1984-07-13)
Running time 108 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $15,000,000 (estimated)
Box office $28,733,290 (North America)[1]

The Last Starfighter is a 1984 science fiction adventure film directed by Nick Castle. The film tells the story of Alex Rogan (played by Lance Guest), an average teenage boy recruited by an alien defense force to fight in an interstellar war. It also featured Dan O'Herlihy, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Preston, Norman Snow and Kay E. Kuter.

The Last Starfighter, in addition to Disney's Tron, has the distinction of being one of cinema's earliest films to use extensive computer-generated imagery (CGI) to depict its many starships, environments and battle scenes. This CGI technique, for the time, was a great leap into the future compared to contemporary films such as the previous year's Return of the Jedi, which still used static physical models shot by moving film cameras.

The Last Starfighter was Preston's final film role. His character, a "lovable con-man", was a nod to his most famous role as Harold Hill in The Music Man.[2] There was a subsequent novelization of the film by Alan Dean Foster, as well as a video game based on the production. In 2004, it was also adapted as an off-Broadway musical.



Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), is a teenager living in the Starlight Starbright trailer park with his widowed mother (Barbara Bosson) and younger brother (Chris Hebert). He learns he failed to qualify for a scholarship, ruining his hopes of going to a university and leaving the trailer park. Outside of his job of being the handyman, he relaxes by playing Starfighter, a stand-up arcade game where the player defends "the Frontier" from "Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada" in a space battle. Eventually he becomes the highest scoring player of the game. Shortly afterwards, he is approached by the game's inventor, Centauri (Robert Preston) who invites him to take a ride. Alex does so before discovering that the vehicle is actually a spaceship; moreover, Centauri is a disguised alien who whisks him off to the far away planet of Rylos, leaving his family and girlfriend, Maggie Gordon (Catherine Mary Stewart). So that his absence goes unnoticed, an android named Beta (Lance Guest in a dual role) is left in his stead.

Upon his arrival, Alex discovers that the images and territories in the Starfighter arcade game represent an actual conflict between the Rylan Star League and the Ko-Dan Armada; the latter is led by Xur (Norman Snow), a traitor to whom the Ko-Dan Emperor has promised control of Rylos itself, in return for showing his forces how to break through the Frontier, an array of planetary-scale force fields that protect Rylos and its surrounding galactic territories (including Earth) from invasion. The game was designed as a test to find those "with the gift"; Alex is expected to pilot an actual Starfighter spacecraft called the Gunstar. The Rylan command is angered with Centauri, as the video game recruitment was unauthorized and it is against Rylan law to recruit from planets that are nonmembers of the Star League. They order Centauri to return Alex to his homeworld and refund the money he spent on the game.

Before Alex can fully understand and dispute his induction, Xur appears (via a holographic projection) inside of the Starfighter base and reveals he has discovered an infiltrator in his ranks and proceeds to broadcast his death by torture to the entire base, including his father, Ambassador Enduran (Kay E. Kuter), the Starfighter commander. He then proclaims to the people of Rylos that once Galan (Rylos's moon) is in full eclipse, the Ko-Dan Armada will begin their invasion and not even the Starfighters will be able to save them. When Alex asks to be taken back home, Centauri reluctantly does so, but leaves him with a means by which to contact him, should Alex change his mind. After they leave, the Starfighter base is obliterated, after a Rylan loyal to Xur sabotages the base's automated defence system.

Once home, Alex discovers the android who assumed his identity and contacts Centauri to come and retrieve it. When Centauri returns, he kills a Zando-Zan, an assassin hired by Xur to kill Alex. Centauri warns Alex that Xur knows his identity and placed a price on his head, and that more Zando-Zans will keep coming to Earth until Alex has been murdered. Alex now realizes his only hope is to return and defeat Xur to save his own life. Centauri was mortally wounded fighting the Zando-Zan, but manages to survive long enough to return Alex to the ruined Starfighter base. Alex meets up with one survivor named Grig (Dan O'Herlihy), a friendly reptilian alien whom he met earlier. Centauri apparently dies shortly after arriving, but Grig (who was a close friend of Centauri's) insists that there is no time to mourn. After Grig gives Alex a brief tutorial on the workings of a Gunstar they set out in the Gunstar to battle the Ko-Dan Armada. Just as the ship is blasting off, Grig reveals to Alex that all the other Starfighters perished in the earlier attack and that all the Gunstars were destroyed, save for the one they are in - which Grig explains is a new experimental fighter. Thus, they are flying off to battle the armada all on their own.

Meanwhile, Beta remains on Earth in order to fool Xur into thinking that Alex is still there, despite knowing that this makes him a target. While out on a romantic retreat with Maggie, Beta obliviously spurns her advances and she begins to suspect something is wrong with him. At that moment, Beta is attacked by another Zando-Zan, who realizes his true identity and retreats to warn Xur. Beta reveals to Maggie that he is an android meant to temporarily replace Alex and then chases after the Zando-Zan. Beta sacrifices himself by ramming a truck into the Zando-Zan's ship, preventing it from sending a message to Xur.

A moment of hesitation from Alex when they encounter their first hostile contact leaves him doubting his ability to be a formidable Starfighter, but Grig reminds him that Xur is power hungry and even conquering Rylos is not enough for him; thus Earth is in great danger should the Ko-Dan Armada succeed. Alex devises a plan of hiding inside the caves of a meteor so that they can sneak-up behind the armada after it passes them by and decides it is worth trying.

Alex and Grig attack the Ko-Dan flagship, crippling its communications system; catching the Ko-Dan fighter wings off-guard. The battle reaches a fevered pitch; Alex keeps the upper hand, using the "lone fighter-against-hordes" tactics he mastered by playing the coin-operated video game. Soon, however, his ammunition is depleted. Desperately, he activates a secret untested weapon installed in the Gunstar: "Death Blossom", which destroys all the remaining Ko-Dan fighters. Lord Kril (Dan Mason), captain of the Ko-Dan flagship, blames Xur for this turn of events. After relieving Xur of command, Kril orders him executed. Instead, Xur takes advantage of Alex's attack and kills the sentries escorting him from the bridge. As Alex attacks and disables the flagship, Xur flees in an escape pod, and the gravity of Rylos' moon is too strong for the flagship to evade; thus it is destroyed when they crash on the Galen Moon.

Alex is proclaimed the savior of Rylos, only to discover from Enduran (who escaped from the Starfighter base before its destruction) that the Star League is still vulnerable: The Frontier has collapsed and Xur escaped, and will continue to be a threat as long as he still lives. Alex is then approached by Centauri, who had entered a state of deep hibernation while his body healed. Alex agrees to stay and recruit other Starfighters, rebuilding the Legion. He returns to Earth, dramatically landing his Gunstar in the trailer park. Grig tells Alex's mother and the people of the trailer park of Alex's heroism in the Rylan War and that he will be a Starfighter of great potential, who will teach future Starfighters.

After explaining to his friends and family where he was, Alex reveals that his services as a Starfighter are still needed by the Rylan Star League. He then asks Maggie to join him in space. Maggie's grandmother, Granny Gordon (Meg Wyllie) gives her blessing to her granddaughter, and Maggie returns to Rylos with him. As the Gunstar departs, Alex's brother Louis watches the video game attract mode the animation of which matches Alex's Gunstar taking off. Louis was delighted to meet Grig and also wanted to join Alex on Rylos, but the Gunstar could only accommodate one passenger. Louis then begins to play the Starfighter game in hopes of one day joining Alex.



The Last Starfighter is one of the earliest films to make extensive use of computer graphics for its special effects. In place of physical models, 3D rendered models were used to depict space ships and many other objects. The Gunstar and other spaceships were the design of artist Ron Cobb, who also worked on Alien, Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian.

The computer graphics for the film were rendered by Digital Productions on a Cray X-MP supercomputer. The company created 27 minutes of effects for the film. This was considered an enormous amount of computer generated imagery at the time.[3] For the 300 scenes containing computer graphics in the film, each frame of the animation contained an average of 250,000 polygons, and had a resolution of 3000 × 5000 36-bit pixels. Digital Productions estimated that using computer animation required only half the time, and one half to one third the cost of traditional special effects. The result was a cost of $14 million for a film that made about $21 million at the box office.[3]

Not all special effects in the film were done with computer animation. The depiction of the Beta unit before it had taken Alex's form was a practical effect, created out of materials and produced on-set. The StarCar created by Gene Winfield and driven by Centauri was also a real prop. [4] It was later reused in the film Back to the Future Part II as a car parked on one of the streets in the 2015 future setting.

A new, digitally remastered version presented in anamorphic wide screen is now available. The new transfer has improved color and sharpness, and is shown regularly on television.

However, the more mundane sequences of the film unexpectedly received more attention themselves. Test audiences enjoyed the comical struggles of Alex's android impostor at the trailer park so much that the producers decided to shoot more of these scenes, which they felt gave this science fiction film a unique flavor.


Craig Safan's score for the film calls for an unusually large orchestra, including six trumpets and six trombones, which are used simultaneously to play the main theme in twelve-part harmony.

Southern Cross released a soundtrack album at the time of the film's release (later reissued on CD in 1987).

Side One:

  1. Main Title (2:30)
  2. Outer Space Chase (2:52)
  3. Into the Starscape (3:50)
  4. The Planet of Rylos (2:04)
  5. Death Blossom: Ultimate Weapon (3:37)

Side Two:

  1. Incommunicado (Craig Safan/Mark Mueller) - Clif Magness (3:08)
  2. Never Crossed My Mind (Craig Safan/Mark Mueller) - Clif Magness (2:45)
  3. Return to Earth (3:28)
  4. The Hero's March (2:16)
  5. Centauri Dies (3:08)

In 1995, Intrada issued an expanded album, which omitted the songs credited to Safan/Mueller/Magness, and included the complete versions of several cues, including "Into the Starscape" (on the original release it cuts out at the point in the film when Louis whoops at the sight of the Gunstar taking off on the video game screen and in real life; in the film the music continues over the end credits).

  1. Main Title (2:31)
  2. Alex Dreams (1:44)
  3. Centauri Into Space (05:59)
  4. Rylos (2:01)
  5. Centauri Dies (6:51)
  6. Target Practice (2:17)
  7. Alex's First Test (2:51)
  8. Beta's Sacrifice (6:07)
  9. Death Blossom; Ultimate Weapon (4:44)
  10. Big Victory March; Alex Returns (5:44)
  11. Into the Starscape (7:21)


The Last Starfighter was a financial success, earning over $28 million on an estimated budget of $15 million.[5]

Critical reviews have been mixed, but generally positive. Based on 26 reviews, Rotten Tomatoes ranks The Last Starfighter at a 73% "fresh" rating.[6] Roger Ebert gave the film two-and-a-half out of four stars, stating that while the actors were good, The Last Starfighter was "not a terrifically original movie [but was nonetheless] well-made".[7]


The Last Starfighter's popularity has resulted in several non-film adaptations of the storyline and uses of the name. Alan Dean Foster wrote a novelization of the film shortly after it was released (ISBN 0-425-07255-X). In the same year as the release of the film, Marvel Comics released a three issue mini-series adapting the film to comics format. In 2004, it was also adapted as an off-Broadway musical debuting at the Storm Theatre in New York City.

A real The Last Starfighter arcade game by Atari, Inc. is promised in the end credits, but was never released. If released, the game would have been Atari's first 3D polygonal arcade game to use a Motorola 68000 as the CPU. Gameplay would have been taken from game scenes and space battle scenes in the film and would have included the same controller that was used on the first Star Wars arcade game. Ultimately, it was not released because the arcade machine would have had a sale price of $10,000, which the vice president in Atari considered too high.[8]

Home versions of the game for the Atari 2600 and Atari 8-bit home computers were also developed, but never commercially released under the Last Starfighter name. The home computer version was eventually renamed and released (with some minor changes) as Star Raiders 2. A prototype exists for the Atari 2600 Last Starfighter game, which was in actuality a game already in development by Atari under the name Universe. This game was eventually released as Solaris.[9]

In 1984, FASA, a noted sci-fi tabletop game maker, created a gaming system for The Last Starfighter.

In 1990, an NES game titled "The Last Starfighter" was released, but it was actually a conversion of Uridium for Commodore 64, with modified sprites, title screen and soundtrack.[citation needed]

A freeware playable version of the game, based on what is seen in the film, was released for PC in 2007. This is a faithful reproduction of the arcade game from the film and features full sounds effects and music from the game. The creators of this game, Rogue Synapse, have also built a working arcade cabinet of the game.[10]

The Last Starfigher T-Shirt was recently added to the collection at


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