Viking Night: The Last Starfighter
By Bruce Hall
February 22, 2017
I’m always a little bit excited and a little bit wary when I fire up a movie that I haven’t seen since I was a kid. I remember seeing The Last Starfighter when it first came out, and I might have seen it once on home video since then. It’s been so long, in fact, that all I was able to remember of the film was a vague impression of “meh,” along with some memories of the visual effects. You see, the older you get, the harder it is to clearly remember things that happened that long ago. It’s a little like trying to remember my eighth birthday.
Twenty years ago, I could have told you every detail. Now, I’m not so sure. Didn’t I have a Star Wars cake? Of course I did. Every boy that age has a Star Wars cake. Or was that my brother? I have no idea. All I remember now about the big o-eight is that I must have had one, or I’d have been scarred for life. Past that, your guess is as good as mine. I just close my eyes and pretend Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams were there along with James Bond and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
Yes. That sounds like something that would have happened in the ‘80s.
Another thing that happened in the ‘80s was that everyone in Hollywood wanted a piece of that sweet, sweet Star Wars cash. Every studio under the sun was flinging noodles at the wall, trying to capture their own sci-fi magic, and The Last Starfighter is definitely one of a long list of knockoffs. In fact, let’s just go ahead and get that one out of the way. Yes, this movie is a Star Wars knockoff. Absolutely. I’m pretty sure they even directly lifted some of the “pew-pew” sound effects for the space battles.
But I wouldn’t hold that against the film. Star Wars itself was itself a proud mélange of many different inspirations. For me, the question isn’t whether a film like this is derivative - that’s a given. The question is, does it take the same old ideas in any new directions? I’m happy to report that it does...but not at first. Maybe it’s the kid in me, too deeply steeped in the pop culture currents of the late 20th century to look at anything objectively.
As such, the opening credits for The Last Starfighter felt immediately reminiscent of the opening credits to 1978’s Superman. And the theme music felt like an uninspired paint by numbers facsimile of a sci-fi theme, based on unused manuscripts fished out of the dumpster behind John Williams’ house. I did notice, however, just as I would have in 1984, that the visual effects at this point were way more impressive than I was expecting. In fact, Starfighter would go on to become quite controversial for its visual effects.
But more on that in a moment.