You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the Frontier against Xur and the Kodan Armada.
These seemingly innocuous words displayed across an arcade cabinet as an unseen voice declares them are, in fact, a glorious call to arms that plainly explain all you need to know about the 1984 sci-fi adventure The Last Starfighter. A simple and straightforward tale, The Last Starfighter captured the imaginations of audiences across the country as one lone child of Earth was selected to become the first Terran to join the Star League, leaving behind his trailer park life for adventures beyond the stars of human comprehension. Director Nick Castle (The Boy Who Could Fly) and writer Jonathan Betuel (My Science Project) had their work cut out for them separating their story from any other Star Wars-like film hitting theaters with theirs releasing just months after Return of the Jedi stormed theaters. Frankly, these two odysseys of space travel couldn’t be more dissimilar, despite involving male protagonists tapped to engage a foreign invader in order to save their loved ones. Speaking as a fan of both, The Last Starfighter never had a chance to escape the comparison, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of its own appreciation, evidenced by the cult following it’s generated over the decades. Nearly four decades later, Arrow Video releases a 4k restoration that not only offers an impressive audio/visual presentation but is jam-packed with bonus features any fan of the cult classic will be unable to resist. No need to call next play as anyone can ride along with reluctant hero Alex Rogan as he takes on a dangerous foe threatening all life as we know it.
High school senior Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) wants more than the life of a trailer park resident. He dreams of going to a proper college, far away from the park, but a rejection for a loan seems to leave that dream in the dust bin. Frustrated, he decides to take a spin on the Starfighter game set up at the local store, only to find himself beating the high score and setting a record. That enough seems to brighten his spirits, until a mysterious man appears looking for the person who beat the record. Alex rightfully takes credit and the man introduces himself as Centauri (Robert Preston), creator of the game, offering Alex an incredible prize for such an achievement. Curious and with little to lose, Alex accepts, only to find himself transported to the distant planet Rylos, currently under siege from the Kodan Armada. Suddenly, Alex must decide which he wants more: to return to the trailer park or to seize the opportunity to become something more.
Certain films from the 1980s will always stand out to me, no matter how time looks backward on them, because of how they shaped my personality. Films like Flash Gordon (1980), Clue (1985), Little Shop of Horrors (1986), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), The Princess Bride (1987), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Willow (1988), Beetlejuice (1988), and Batman (1989) remain stalwart companions whether it be in my musical taste (Little Shop, Vietnam), comedy (Clue, Big Trouble), views on heroism (Willow), or that one should be ready to take advantage of an opportunity when it strikes (Flash Gordon, Starfighter). The fact that Alex Rogan’s tale inspired within me a longing to become something greater than myself makes sense when you consider that that Betuel drew inspiration from T. H. White’s The Once and Future King to craft Starfighter. The novel is a retelling of the King Arthur myth, tracking a tale of heroism being thrust upon an unsuspecting and often reluctant individual. As full of spectacle as Starfighter is, the fact that the film tracks Alex’s emotions as he struggles to decide what he wants and who he wants to be makes even the more outrageous elements palatable. Though a sci-fi romp of sorts, Starfighter resonates because of Alex and, in concert, Lance Guest’s performance, which takes so seriously every step of the narrative that you can’t help, as an audience member, to get swept up in Alex’s journey. Even though the for-the-time cutting edge computer graphics don’t hold up quiet as well compared to current standards, Castle’s direction and Craig Safan’s (The Legend of Billie Jean) score makes you forget all of that, taking you for a ride that feels just as fresh as it did so long ago. I can’t begin to describe to you how the moment Death Blossom occurs remains just as badass and imaginative now as did when I was a kid. (When the film reached that particular sequence, I brought my five-year-old in the room to see it and his jaw dropped with an audible, “wooooow.” Parenting win.)
Even with all of my nostalgia pre-loaded, I was not prepared for the restoration cultivated by Arrow Films. The original 35mm camera negative was scanned, graded, and restored to create a picture that is crisp and clean. The artifacting which appears in some restorations or remasters is largely absent, making the story far more immersive without that additional by-product of time. Although it’s worth noting that some digital artifacts are more noticeable in the bonus features. In terms of sound, you’ve got three options — that’s right: three. You can listen to the film in 2.1, 4.1, or 5.1, giving you a variety of controls over how you listen to the action. Like an idiot, I forgot to check the audio settings until I was well into Alex and Grig’s (Dan O’Herlihy) battle against the Armanda, which I think says something about how strong the 2.1 presentation is. Even with my 5.1 set-up, it still felt engaging and exciting. When I switched it to 5.1, it was like a whole new ballgame as laser strikes began to pelt me from all angles. I didn’t test the 4.1 option, but be advised that this audio mix was originally created to go along with the film’s 70mm release, so watching the film on the 4.1 setting may be about as close as some of us (myself included) get to seeing The Last Starfighter in theaters.
Adding to the enjoyment is a collection of bonus materials that appeal to cult fans and general cinephiles alike via six new featurettes that explore the casting process, the score creation, script inspiration and execution, special effects, the design process for the CG portions, and a fascinating look at an individual who created their own working Starfighter cabinet game. Each one averages 10 minutes in length (mostly over/under) and focuses on a singular perspective of the creation of the film. In so doing, anyone who partakes in these will come out with a greater sense of understanding and appreciation for the film proper. Is this the goal of just about every set of bonus materials released? Yes. Do they all do it so wonderfully? No. Whereas many bonus materials just want you to know more tidbits, each featurette, developed in collaboration with Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, offers a serious deep-dive into the individual production aspects so that you come out more of a scholar than when you entered. For example, in the featurette with Betuel, “Incredible Odds: Writing The Last Starfighter,” not only do you get the story about how he was inspired in part by The Once and Future King, but also how a pizza place he would stop by to grab a soda had a sole arcade cabinet that always was busy with one person. Didn’t matter what time he stopped by. This incidental detail formed the basis for the film, which took him a total of four days to write before it was ready to be sent to his manager for shopping around Hollywood. He discusses how, during shooting, they knew that they had to walk a line within the genre so that they didn’t give off the impression that they were trying to copy anything informally from Star Wars. For long-time fans, Betuel also teases out what he thinks a sequel would look like narratively and, frankly, I’d be on board to see it come to light. In another featurette, “Interstellar Hit-Beast: Creating the Special Effects” with special effects supervisor Kevin Pike, you are walked through the various effects that had to be conceived, constructed, developed, and put into action in order to make the whole film feel absolutely authentic and grounded. One fun portion of this segment is the explanation of the arm gag that precipitates Centauri’s deadly wound in defense of Alex. It’s one thing to know consciously that Starfighter is a mixture of CG and practical effects, but to get a sense of just how complicated each piece is to make them comes across as real is entirely impressive. In combination with these new featurettes, two new audio commentaries, the 4k restoration, audio options, as well as all the archival materials offered with the 25th anniversary release, there’re more than enough bonus materials to make the decision to purchase an easy one for any Starfighter fan.
Admittedly, there are some films from our childhood which, once grown past, should remain there, films which were instrumental in carving out your identity yet are so locked in the time they were made that they themselves never grew past that moment. Thankfully, The Last Starfighter isn’t one of those films. Its location could be anywhere, that feeling of stagnant growth is entirely universal, and the appeal of going on an adventure that whisks you away is, to a grand degree, something which sticks with you through the mundanity of adulthood. There is adventure to be had out there in the stars, we just tend to forget that as we grow older. A film like Starfighter reminds us that we only have to grab hold of the opportunities afforded us. So, go on, why not have next and see what happens.
The Last Starfighter New Special Features
- Restoration from a 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Uncompressed 2.0 stereo, 5.1 DTS-HD MA and 4.1 audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio commentary with star Lance Guest and his son Jackson Guest
- Audio commentary with Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast
- Maggie’s Memories: Revisiting The Last Starfighter – a new interview with actress Catherine Mary Stewart (9:28)
- Into the Starscape: Composing The Last Starfighter – a new interview with composer Craig Safan (12:21)
- Incredible Odds: Writing The Last Starfighter – a new interview with screenwriter Jonathan Betuel (9:28)
- Interstellar Hit-Beast: Creating the Special Effects – a new interview with special effects supervisor Kevin Pike (10:15)
- Excalibur Test: Inside Digital Productions – a new interview with sci-fi author Greg Bear on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter (7:46)
- Greetings Starfighter! Inside the Arcade Game – an interview with arcade game collector Estil Vance on reconstructing the Starfighter game (7:25)
- Theatrical and Teaser Trailers
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matt Ferguson
- Limited Edition O-Card – FIRST PRESSING ONLY
- Limited Edition Reversible Poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork – FIRST PRESSING ONLY
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes and sci-fi author Greg Bear’s never-before-published Omni magazine article on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter – FIRST PRESSING ONLY
The Last Starfighter Previously Available Features
- Heroes of the Screen – archival featurette
- Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter – archival 4-part documentary
- Image Galleries
- Archival audio commentary with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb
Available on Blu-ray October 27th, 2020 from Arrow Video.
To purchase, head to MVD Entertainment.
Be advised that Barnes & Noble is having a 50% sale on Arrow Video products until November 30th, 2020.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.