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Film: The Last Starfighter
"Greetings, Starfighter! You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the Frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada."

What if you got a really high score in a video game, and the game came to life? Well that's sort of what happens in The Last Starfighter, which serves as both an exploration and a deconstruction of wish fulfillment.

Alex Rogan has spent his whole life stuck in his family's trailer park, but his wish to leave it turns into more than he bargained for when the space-shooter arcade game he manages to beat turns out to have been a test to find the best space pilots in the universe. When Alex discovers that the actual Star League chose him to fight against the very real Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada, he refuses to go along with it. When Alex demands to return home, he finds an android duplicate of himself, Beta, having a tough time playing the role of Alex in the trailer park. After he reluctantly returns to space, the fun really begins.

The Last Starfighter created all of its spaceship effects shots using only computer-generated images (one of the first films to do so), but since it did so during the very early days of CGI, said effects stand out as such. A Cray X-MP rendered all of the film's CGI; as a bit of perspective, the 800 MHz Pentium III processor available to consumers fifteen years later — or the average smartphone of 2012 — matches the processor power of what was then the most powerful supercomputer in the world.

Tropes:

  • 2-D Space: The at-the-time brand new CGI effects allowed for a rare aversion of this trope; the battles are fought in a very noticeable 3D environment.
  • Actual Pacifist: The novelization features the League as such. They had some real trouble recruiting soldiers - and finding a politician to read them a speech.
  • And You Thought It Was a Game: Alex (and everyone else in his town) thinks the Starfighter video game is just that. He's quite surprised to learn that it's a recruitment tool.
  • Arc Words: "Greetings, Starfighter! You have been recruited by the Star League to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada!"
  • Archnemesis Dad: An Inverted Trope here — the Big Bad's father is the Big Good.
  • As You Know: Ambassador Enduran uses this trope almost by name — "as you all know" — as he mentions to the Starfighters what the Frontier is, why it's important, and how, because of a dark betrayal (he means Xur), the Frontier will soon collapse. Naturally, the audience and Alex are hearing this for the first time.
  • Ascended Fanboy: Alex goes from being the best at a video game to being the best (and only) Starfighter.
  • Battle Chant: When Ambassador Enduran gives a pep talk to the personnel of the Starfighter base, he concludes by saying "Victory or death!". They all start chanting "Victory or death!" in unison.
  • Beam Spam: The Death Blossom attack fires both beams and missiles in all directions to take out the enemy fleet.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: It's telling that Grig, a purple lizard-like humanoid, is perhaps the most normal-looking of all the aliens in the film. And then, of course, there's the Bogati whose tentacle-thing Alex accidentally steps on.
    Alex: I'm sorry. It was an accident, I didn't mean to step on your... whatever that is.
  • The Caligula: It's implied that Xur's treachery and megalomaniacal tendencies are the result of something being very messed up in his head.
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: After Alex initially refuses The Call, Xur sends an assassin after him. Beta's sacrifice and Centauri's near-sacrifice show him that his only chance of survival is with the Star League.
    Beta: At least up there, you have a fighting chance in a Gunstar.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Xur. And everyone knows it. The only reason the bad guys even listen to him is because he holds vital information. Once they use it, they get him off the bridge so they don't have to listen to his raving anymore.
  • Casting Gag: In either this or a very weird case of timing, Catherine Mary Stewart played a video game-obsessed girl in Night of the Comet, which was made and released around the same time.
  • Catch-22 Dilemma: A tactical variant, lampshaded by Alex when Grig explains the plan of attack against the Ko-Dan Armada.
    Alex: Wait a second. We knock out the turret to get the fighters. But to get the turret, we've gotta get through the fighters. We're dead.
  • Chew the Scenery: Not one moment of Xur's onscreen time is wasted without a chunk of scenery getting toothmarks.
  • Christmas Rushed: Gets an In-Universe mention.
    Rylan Bursar: Return the money, Centauri.
    Centauri: Return the money! Are you delirious? Do you know how long it took to invent the games? To merchandise them? To get them in the stores by Christmas?
  • Colony Drop: The Ko-Dan command ship destroys Starfighter Command by firing a volley of small asteroids at it with a mass accelerator.
  • Cool Car/Cool Starship/Flying Car/Transforming Mecha: Centauri's, which took the angular wedge design of the DeLorean, turned it Up to Eleven, then made it a transforming starship.
  • Cool Old Guy:
    • It's not made clear how old Centauri is, but he's definitely Seen It All and has copious advice for Alex.
    • Otis gives Alex advice about making something of his life and helps give him the motivation to accept The Call when it makes its return trip.
  • Cool Old Lady: Maggie's grandma.
  • Cool Spaceship: As the first sci-fi film to have all its space scenes rendered in CGI, all the ships are fairly cool. Alex's Gunstar is the top of the line, however: a Super Prototype with advanced weapons and shielding systems that can take out an armada all by itself.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: Louis is not afraid at all when Alex's Gunstar lands; he thinks it's awesome.
    Louis: Woooo! All right, we're being invaded!
  • Cranial Processing Unit: When the Beta unit (robot) impersonating Alex takes off its head, the head can continue to talk normally.
  • Crazy Cultural Comparison: As Alex and Grig fly through the tunnels of an asteroid, Grig mentions that it reminds him of home. That leads to a chat comparing their species' differences in families, dwellings, and games... which inspires Alex to suggest hiding as the Ko-Dan Armada goes by, then make a surprise attack on them.
    Grig: Your plan might really have worked. What a pity there are no Starfighters left to carry it out.
  • Curse Cut Short: Alex, when Centauri's Star Car first takes off.
    Alex: Ohhhh, Shh- (Engine Roars)
  • Dare to Be Badass: Centauri's reponse to Alex's Refusal of the Call:
    Alex: Listen, Centauri. I'm not any of those guys, I'm just a kid from a trailer park...
    Centauri: If that's what you think, then that's all you'll ever be!
  • Deadpan Snarker: Beta, surprisingly - the clone is snarkier than the original.
    Beta: (rolling his eyes) Oh. Save the whales but not the universe.
  • Defictionalized: A fan game that attempts to recreate the arcade game depicted in the film was released 23 years after the movie. The Atari release planned along with the movie never materialized, despite being mentioned in the credits.
  • Description Cut: Happens right after Xur shows the execution of the master spy for all of the Starfighters to see.
    Centauri: Heh... so! You still wanna go... and miss all the excitement?
    [Cut to Centauri and Alex in the car, returning to Earth]
    Centauri: Little brat.
  • Dies Wide Open: Centauri, after his heroic sacrifice to save Alex from an assassination attempt.
  • Disappeared Dad:
    • When Alex shows Grig a family photo, it is of himself, Louis, Maggie, and both of his parents, but his dad never appears elsewhere in the movie and his mom is obviously working to support the family. It is unclear if he left or died.
    • Maggie appears to have nobody but Granny, with no mention of her dad or her mom.
  • Disney Death: Centauri
    "Me, die? Miss all of the excitement? Oh, no. I was merely dormant while my body repaired itself."
  • Do Not Adjust Your Set: Xur's introduction at the Starfighter base, when he takes over all their communications.
  • The Eighties: Primarily the video gaming culture that had spawned that decade.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Alex returns to the Starfighter base to find it in ruins, with the majority of the personnel dead and all but one of the Gunstars destroyed.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Xur, oh so very much. It's amazing the hull of his command ship was able to withstand his vast scenery chewing.
  • Evil Laugh: Xur at the end of his speech to the Starfighter base personnel. He also does it in the faces of the Ko-Dan commanders and the First Officer is all for throwing him out the airlock right there and then.
  • Evil Wears Black: Xur wears a black outfit.
  • Face Death with Dignity / "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: By one of the villains.
    Ko-Dan Officer: We're locked into the moon's gravitational pull! What do we do?
    Commander Kril: We die.
  • Face Palm: A rather unusual one by Beta when he sees a Zandozan landing on Earth, since his head is on the desk. It's sort of a third-person face palm.
  • The Faceless: Beta before shaking hands with Alex. This apparently is some sort of DNA extraction / analyzer, as Beta is growing a new face - Alex's - that night.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional:
    Centauri: Alex! Alex! You're walking away from history! History! Did Chris Columbus say he wanted to stay home? Nooooo. What if the Wright Brothers thought that only birds should fly? And did Galoka think that the Ulus were too ugly to save?
    Alex: Who's Galoka?
  • Fatal Family Photo: One might expect Grig showing Alex the photos of his family to lead to this, but instead it helps Alex realize what he's fighting for.
  • Fictional Video Game/Licensed Game: Atari Inc. was originally slated to develop arcade and home video games based on the movie (the game(s) were even mention in the closing credits). They were cancelled for various reasons, including the sale/division of Atari Inc. into Atari Games and Atari Corp. The home computer game was eventually released (with minor changes) as Star Raiders 2.
  • Final Speech: Centauri's big death scene. Or so we think.
  • Follow the Leader: Star Wars, which director Nick Castle admits in the DVD Commentary, and that there was some work to try to distance the movie from both those movies and movies by Steven Spielberg.
  • The Game Come to Life
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: Rylos and the Ko-Dan sets were set up this way, as told in the DVD Commentary.
  • The Greys: What Centauri looks like without his human mask.
  • Guy in Back: Inverted and Deconstructed. The hero is a gunner, not a pilot, which would traditionally be the rear position. However, the Gunstars are so sophisticated that the rear position is for navigation rather than piloting; the ship pretty much flies itself.
  • Hand Wave: "Oh, I won't bore you with the details." Complete with a literal hand wave.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Beta. Centauri, who gets better.
  • Hologram Projection Imperfection: While Xur's Huge Holographic Head is appearing in the Starfighter base, it flickers and distorts.
  • I Choose to Stay: After saving the galaxy, Alex and Maggie leave Earth to seek their future in the stars.
  • I Have No Son: Xur's father disowns him for his monstrous crimes.
  • I Know Mortal Kombat: The movie is an explicit justification of this trope; the video game is designed to be a training and recruitment tool.
  • I Like Those Odds: One Gunstar against the entire Ko-Dan armada. Grig likes the idea, but subverts the trope in that he thinks it'll be a Bolivian Army Ending.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Earth isn't advanced enough to even know about the Star League, much less participate. Centauri retorts that it's irrelevant.
    Centauri: Earth's in danger too, isn't it?
  • I Wish It Were Real: Except that when it does turn out to be real all Alex wants is to go home again.
  • Keystone Army: The Ko-Dan mothership coordinates all of its fighter craft via a single communication turret. This allows them to act with unparalleled efficiency and coordination, but if taken out, reduces them to near helplessness.
  • Kill and Replace: Zandozan assassins do this to a local cop and a hitchhiker.
  • Large Ham: Xur, to the point that even his Ko-Dan allies find him annoying.
  • Losing Your Head: The Beta unit can remove (and replace) its head, which can still remotely control the body.
  • Macross Missile Massacre: Coupled with Beam Spam, Death Blossom is a Desperation Attack that fires all of the Gunstar's weaponry at once.
  • Meaningful Echo: When Alex repeats the attraction line from the video game, just before readying to attack the actual armada.
  • The Mothership: The Ko-Dan mothership is the home of their fleet and also serves the role of The Battlestar.
  • Mouth Stitched Shut: True for Ko-Dan mooks, who speak with a synthesized voice. Formerly true for high-ranking Ko-Dan officers, where it's readily apparent where the stitches used to be.
  • The Musical: This was adapted into an off-Broadway musical. Seriously, this exists. (If you're curious, the Death Blossom is simulated using a swiveling rolling chair.)
  • Nice Guy: Alex, who's sick of being selfless. He's constantly helping the hapless trailer park residents with their problems, but never has any sort of time for himself. When he gets rejected for a college tuition at a university he was interested in (possibly forcing him to go to the local city college), he suffers a Heroic BSOD.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Alex is convinced to return to Rylos and be a Starfighter only because Xur and the Ko-Dan send an assassin to Earth to kill him and prevent him from returning to Rylos and being a Starfighter.
    • Then there's this:
      Commander Kril: (reading the incoming message) The last Starfighter is...
      Xur: Dead! The last Starfighter is dead! Nothing can stop us now!note 
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Grig mentioning Centauri's "old Excalibur (Test) tricks"note  when he finds out how Alex was recruited.
    • Centauri's Famous, Famous, Fictional mention of Galoka and the Ulus.
  • Novelization: Written by Alan Dean Foster. Most noted for a vastly expanded showdown against the Ko-Dan, including "refueling" the Gunstar by flying it near the surface of a star.
  • Oh My Gods!: Centauri tells Alex Rogan, "May the luck of the Seven Pillars of Gulu be with you at all times."
  • Only Mostly Dead: Centauri was just going into a deep sleep while his Healing Factor kicked in.
  • The Only One:
    • Alex Rogan escaped the Ko-Dan Armada's destruction of Starfighter Command by Colony Drop because he was off-planet at the time, having refused to become a Starfighter in the first place.
    • The Gunstar he ends up piloting was in a separate hangar because it was an advanced prototype.
  • Parental Obliviousness: There is no sign that Alex's mother notices anything wrong with Beta, who's pretending to be him.
  • Passing the Torch: As Alex and Maggie head into space, his younger brother, Louis steps up to the Starfighter video game, and watches as the Gunstar flies into the stars. It's implied that Louis might join his brother among the stars.
  • Perfect Pacifist People: The Star League, who had to recruit from hundreds of member planets to find a roomful of warriors who "possess[ed] the...gift". The novelization even describes the League President as turning queasy at hearing their Battle Cry.
  • Photoprotoneutron Torpedo: The checklist that Alex runs down with Grig while they ready their Gunstar for battle includes "particle beams" and something called "proton poles". In the novelization, Grig says that the real names involve science too advanced to translate, so he uses the game terms for the sake of convenience.
  • Poor Communication Kills: A key difference between Xur and the Dangerously Genre Savvy Ko-Dan is their reaction to a partial transmission.
  • Porn Stash: "Back to sleep, Louis, or I'm telling Mom about your Playboys!" (Followed by...)
  • Precision F-Strike.
    Louis: What the shit?!
    Beta: I said back to sleep, Louis, or I'm telling Mom about your Playboys!
  • Present Peeking: Referenced by Centauri.
    Centauri: (to Alex) Hey, are you kind of kid who reads the last page of a mystery first? Who pesters the magician to tell you his tricks? Who sneaks downstairs to peek at his Christmas presents? Noooo, of course you're not.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Most of the Starfighters are from a race of Cthulhumanoids that are noted for their love of fighting. Given their still tiny number, this is only relative to the rest of the pacifist Star League.
  • Race for Your Love
  • Ramming Always Works: Combined with Taking You with Me in both cases.
    • Beta crashes his borrowed truck into the assassin's spaceship.
    • Commander Kril gives the obligatory order of "Ramming speed!" in an attempt to run over Alex's stationary Gunstar.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Averted with Centauri's true form, which has red eyes but is not evil.
  • Refusal of the Call. Followed by Xur And The Ko-Dan Armada Know Where You Live.
  • Ridiculously Human Robot: Beta absorbs Alex's DNA and thereby copies him with near perfection, but has a hard time learning all of the humans' customs. Like the tongue in the ear thing.
  • Robotic Reveal: Beta is shot by the assassin, revealing his robotic insides to both his attacker and Maggie.
  • Robot Me: Beta is a duplicate of Alex intended to cover up his absence from Earth.
  • Robot Names: "Beta" is not a name, but a designation for a type of robot.
  • Rousing Speech:
    Alex: (depressed) Otis, I just never have a chance to do anything around here.
    Otis: Things change. Always do. You'll get your chance! Important thing is, when it comes, you've got to grab it with both hands, and hold on tight!
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale:
    • The Frontier is an energy field that encapsulates (or at least cordons off) an entire section of the known galaxy. The energy field is projected by field generators that are placed, at best, ten kilometers apart. That would be a septillion (10 to the power of 24) generators per square light year of barrier, with a few billion of those for one third of the galaxy. The novelization changes this to state that the Frontier is a political designation and that, rather than knowing how to defeat it, Xur instead knows the location of the Star League base. Also, it changes the destruction of a force field to the traitor giving the enemy the codes for the League No Warping Zone generators.
    • The Ko-Dan command ship's Colony Drop against the Star League base. Leaving aside the pinpoint accuracy required to hit a particular planetary target from space distances, the Frontier is apparently well within Rylos' star system because otherwise it would've taken tens of thousands of years for the meteorites to hit at sublight velocities.
    • The distance from the Rylos to the Frontier is apparently really short as well, given the brief flight in the Gunstar. Grig says they'll be there in "twenty klicks" and that he'll have a solution to getting past the fighters to hit the command ship before they do. When he finishes speaking, an alarm sounds, and they're at the Frontier.note 
  • Seize Him: Commander Kril gives this order to the Ko-Dan soldiers after Emperor Xur screws up.
  • Sentry Gun: An array of automatic defensive turrets protects the Star League's base, and do quite well at it until they are sabotaged.
  • Serious Business: Getting a high score in a video game is so important that it gets the entire trailer park's attention. Given Alex' complaints about how boring his hometown is, it may well be the most exciting thing around.
  • Sequel Hook: Xur escapes.
  • Simulation Game: The Starfighter game is a simulation of the real thing.
  • Small Town Boredom: Alex lives in a trailer park with so little to do that a video game is considered the pinnacle of excitement.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: Centauri is a space version, peddling video games around the galaxy but conveniently failing to mention that they are a recruitment tool.
  • Sound Effect Bleep: What is surely a truly spectacular string of profanity from Alex is conveniently drowned out by the noise from his and Grig's Gunstar taking off.
  • Space Fighter: The Gunstars and Ko-Dan fighters. The Gunstars apparently operate without the support of a battlestar-equivalent.
  • Stay with the Aliens: Alex remains with the Star League to help them rebuild and to train their next generation of Starfighters.
  • Super Prototype: The Gunstar that Alex and Grig use is the only fighter to survive the assault, since it was a work-in-progress kept in a special hangar.
  • Synthetic Voice Actor: Most of the aliens that are not largely human in appearance have heavily filtered voices, with the notable exception of Grig.
  • Taking the Bullet: Centauri does it to save Alex from a Zandozan energy bolt.
  • Tech Marches On: Grig's amazing photo album - thousands of pictures stored in a device you can hold in your hand/tentacle/pseudopod! It seemed an impossible dream from the vantage point of The Eighties. Although slideshows on our modern phones, cameras, PDAs, etc. don't go that fast (unless specifically programmed to do so).
  • Translator Microbes:
    Alex: You speak English?
    Rylan Officer: No, you hear English thanks to the translation device.
    • Viewers with good ears can tell when the device becomes active, because the background chatter switches instantly from Rylan to English.
  • The Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer: Alex manages to be an exceptional Starfighter, despite having grown up in a trailer park on Earth.
  • Vertical Kidnapping: Attempted when an alien assassin is sent to kill Alex.
  • A Villain Named Zrg: Xur fits, pronunciation-wise.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Xur, once his allies have had enough of his bizarre personality.
    Xur: How dare you! I am the Emperor of Rylos! I and I alone command this entire arm— (guards begin to drag him away) Release me! I command you! YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS WITH YOUR LIVES!
  • Villain Exit Stage Left: Xur, during the impact strikes of the Gunstar. Saved for the Sequel that never happened.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The Xandoxan assassin is a shapeshifter.
  • Whooshing Credits
  • You Owe Me: Beta to an absent Alex during his Heroic Sacrifice.
  • You're Not My Father: Inverted. Xur mocks his familial relationship to his father, who in turn disowns him.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: While Xur believes himself the leader of the Ko-Dan armada, he is in fact useful to them in exactly one way: by having the codes to the Frontier. Once he's served that purpose, he is rapidly shunted aside. Earlier, the Ko-Dan second-in-command whispers to Kril, "How long must we endure this fool?" Kril motions for him to shut up, since Xur is still in the room.

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alternative title(s): The Last Starfighter; Last Starfighter
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