Throwback Thursday: The Last Starfighter

“Greetings, Starfighter! You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the Frontier against Xur and the Kodan Armada…”

So begins another of the hero cycle stories that JT and I discussed in our last podcast: 1984’s The Last Starfighter. Like its predecessor of a few years earlier, Star Wars: A New Hope, Starfighter is the tale of a young man on the cusp of adulthood dreaming of a future much different from his present circumstances.

Alex Rogan spends his free time playing a video game called The Last Starfighter. One night, to the excitement of his small community (which just reinforces everyone’s boredom), Alex defeats the video game. Before long, a strange man shows up to catapult Alex into a situation he could never have imagined. Unlike Luke Skywalker, Alex Rogan is a more reluctant hero. He just wants to make a life for himself away from the trailer park where he’s been living with his mother and little brother. He could never have imagined where fate would take him.

Whereas the Star Wars movies are meant to emulate the serials of yesteryear, The Last Starfighter is based more upon Arthurian legend with the video game standing in for Excalibur. They still share a lot of hero cycle similarities: the older mentor, a call to adventure, challenges and temptations, and a transformation of the main character. Both Luke and Alex end up a little wiser and more mature by the end of the story.

The Last Starfighter never achieved the popularity of Star Wars, making just over $6 million in its first weekend. Starfighter has decent special effects, but is much more low budget. The movie has a quaint early 80s vibe that will feel very familiar to anyone who lived through that time. Star Wars, on the other hand, will always feel somewhat more exotic with all the locations standing in for other planets in the ‘galaxy far, far away’ mentioned in the opening crawl.

What really stands the test of time with The Last Starfighter is, at least for me, the heart of the story. Alex could be any one of us; stuck in a place we want to escape where each day is nothing but a disappointing replay of the one before. A big difference between the two main characters is that Alex just wants to make a life for himself, whereas Luke dreams of epic adventures. Relating to Alex is easier for me since my dreams were probably not quite as grand as Luke’s. And, at the time The Last Starfighter was released, I’d already taken my first steps into my unknown future to face what might have been my destiny all along.

If you haven’t seen The Last Starfighter and are a fan of sci-fi, I recommend checking it out. Especially since rumors are circulating that a sequel may be in the works.

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