The Last Starfighter
Star Wars is essentially a video game, summed up by Yogurt in Spaceballs expressively: “The ring? The ring is bupkis! I found it in a box of Cracker Jack!”
The Last Starfighter depicts a trailer park in farmland California, where Alex (Lance Guest) counters his boredom with the arcade game Starfighter. An inhabitant of the planet Rylos, whose name is Centauri (Robert Preston), lands to recruit Alex. And so the video game becomes real.
And how. The filmmakers are expert in every department of their craft. The makeup does not forget Sir Ralph Richardson’s advice: “Ask y’self, is it human?” Dan O’Herlihy as the saurine Grig in his spacesuit resembles John Glenn in orbit, which is to say the performance is quite a triumph of art. The comic inspiration of the space creatures is easy and natural.
It has been remarked with a curious note of disdain that Centauri’s space vehicle greatly resembles the amphibious Lotus in The Spy Who Loved Me. One goes underwater, the other into outer space. The joke is on James Bond’s Aston Martin DB-5, which has revolving license plates for several countries. Castle introduces a close-up of a California license plate reading “RYLOS,” then shows you the car on a rural road with Centauri under it making repairs.
It would be sufficient to point out for those in the know that somewhere between the blank page and the sound stage the screenplay has become a Robert Preston vehicle, except that everything about this film is wonderful, acting, special effects, etc.
Alex wears a white undershirt, plaid shirt and jeans. This is not, however, a mechanical application such as you find among the faux Cockneys of Masterpiece Theatre, but a genuine evocation of rural California that startles the town mouse at first glance.
Alex is inducted into the Rylosian space service on a conveyor belt where his uniform is handed to him, while on Earth a simulacrum is taking shape under the blankets in his bed and won’t come out till it’s finished, a gag derived from Invasion of the Body Snatchers but pausing to inculcate Kafka’s The Metamorphosis in an eerie shot. He returns to Earth briefly, and converses with his android doppelgänger.
Then it’s on to the starfight against a foe who introduces his head à la Méliès by holographic projection in the Rylosian HQ to parley (it’s tremendous, the head). The starfight utilizes computer imagery founded on comic books, and culminates in the Death Blossom, a defense mechanism whereby the last starfighter revolves his craft around its center to obliterate surrounding foes at all points of the compass, which would have delighted Joseph Campbell with its mandala effect.
The last scene brings Alex back to Earth (as well as the airy-fairy finale of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which is deflated here most comically) in the classic manner of The Day the Earth Stood Still, for example.
Which reminds me of a story told by the original Luke about a town whose economy rested on the manufacture of many-breasted idols...
The “challenge” sequence, in which various old pros teach Gregory Hines a thing or two, is very remarkable, but the impromptu dance fest fleshes out the true picture of the artist’s life, the drudgery and group shows, all the marshaling of inspiration to no avail, until suddenly there is Hines inventive in a jazzy turn with sharp movements, a new language, then more of the boredom, the half-wits, undecided talents, pressures, memories, etc.