Retro Review: The Last Starfighter (1984)

The Last Starfighter is one of many films that tried to profit off of the success juggernaut that was Star Wars. Gene Siskel, of Siskel and Ebert fame, called it a Star Wars rip-off , but the best one. As a kid I had no idea it was inspired by anything. All I knew was that it had awesome special effects, had a cool video game theme to it, and was pretty much the story of what I wanted my life to be at 8 years old.

I picked this up a year ago on Blu-Ray and I was not very happy with it. The “awesome” special effects looked incredibly dated and the crisp visuals showed glaring cinematography flaws…I was sad because it was such a much beloved film of my childhood and it had not aged very well. Then I found a copy on VHS and decided to give it another go. Not only was the magic back, the film looked so much better. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but there are some movies that just aren’t meant to be viewed outside of their original format. Something is lost in the translation…..like the soul of the movie is missing.

The story is one you’ve seen before….a reluctant hero is thrust into a life or death situation, rallies to save the universe, gets the girl, and aliens and humans rejoice. The story isn’t what makes The Last Starfighter so great. The characters are very likable, relatable, and the villains are that perfect 80’s space age creepy. For it’s time it had out of this world effects, being the second movie following Tron to use CGI exclusively. While this doesn’t have the same “wow” effect over time, I still remember being absolutely floored by Alex getting to live through his favorite arcade game (something else today’s kids won’t understand). The arcade was THE destination in the 80’s and including a cool, space themed game in the movie was pure genius.

Overall, The Last Starfighter is a perfect slice of early 80’s nostalgia. Not only does it win you over with its charm, it is a good example of a movie overcoming the inspiration (Star Wars) and becoming something magic in its own right. This is definitely not one to be missed, but do yourself a favor and watch it on VHS if you have the capability.

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