The Last Starfighter came out 30 years ago today and started the movement towards CG special effects with it’s, at the time, cutting edge special effects. Seemingly stuck in his lowly trailer park forever, Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) gets the chance to become an intergalactic hero when he beats his local Starfighter arcade machine, which is really a test to determine if someone is skilled enough to pilot a Gunstar space fighter for the Star League. There’s a bunch of behind the scene facts and trivia behind the film, so let’s get into it.
There is no actual Starfighter game: Although it’s pretty much the main plot point of the film, there was never an actual Starfighter game either in arcades or on home consoles. The technology did not exist to create the 3D graphics displayed in the film but Atari was working on much cruder versions for the 5200 but they never got past the prototype phase. A version was eventually adapted into the Atari game Solaris:
A group of fans created a freeware version of the game from the film that can be downloaded here: http://www.roguesynapse.com/games/last_starfighter.php
Wil Wheaton appears briefly in two scenes: The future Wesley Crusher originally had a speaking role in the film as Alex’s brother Louis’ friend, but all of his lines were cut for the final version of the movie. You can still see him in an early scene at the trailer park and in the crowd during the finale when Alex and Maggie head back to Rylos with Grig.
The movie was shot in just forty days: The screenwriter, Jonathan Beteul, was working as a cabbie before getting hired to write the script while director, Nick Castle, had only directed one film prior to The Last Starfighter. It was only one of the first starring roles for Lance Guest, who had previously appeared in Halloween II and St. Elsewhere. It was unfortunately the last movie for Robert Preston, who plays the huckster alien salesman Centauri. He was best known for his similar role in The Music Man, Harold Hill, and played Centauri as basically an alien version of Hill. Preston also voices the intro of the Starfighter game and it’s classic tagline of “Greetings Starfighter, you have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada”
The special effects were done on a Cray X-MP supercomputer: Although they are kind of primitive by today’s standards, the CG of The Last Starfighter required the most powerful supercomputer at the time, a Cray X-MP to generate the effects. These same supercomputers are what Michael Crichton described in Jurassic Park, the book, as the only systems capable of the complex genetic engineering that creates the dinosaurs. $14 million of the movie’s $15 million budget went to the CG effects, of which there is 27 minutes.
The “Beta” scenes were filmed and added later: While Alex is fighting the Ko-Dan armada with Grig, Centauri leaves a robotic copy of Alex, the Beta Unit, on Earth so no one gets suspicious that he’s gone. The Beta scenes were not originally going to be in the film but test audiences loved the few scenes that were in the film, so more were added. Lance Guest had to wear a wig because he had cut his hair after the main filming had ended.
The Last Starfighter beat Back to the Future to the punch with it’s “DeLorean”: Centauri’s “Star Car” is heavily influenced by the DeLorean but was created by the prop department. It had the same body style and gull wing doors.
There are a number of parodies and other media: Team America parodied the Star Car scene and Clerks: The Animated Series parodied the plot in it’s episode that was also Bad News Bears and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. There was also a novelization, Marvel comics adaptation and even an off-Broadway musical. An actual sequel may be on the way as the production company GPA Entertainment added “Starfighter” to it’s projects but it seems to have gotten caught in development hell.
Craig Safan was specifically chosen to do the score: Safan used an unusually large orchestra for the epic Last Starfighter score, including six trombones and six trumpets that play the main theme in twelve part harmony.
Safan later went on to do the scores for Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, Stand and Deliver and provided a bunch of music for Cheers.