I’m succumbing to the Throwback Thursday phenomenon, in order to encourage myself to post more regularly on this blog. It is the perfect excuse to watch a classic sci-fi movie, and share my thoughts with you. To start, I’m going with a true throwback.
“Throwback” can have several definitions; for me, the key to a “throwback” is that it takes you emotionally back to an earlier, formative or idyllic time in your life. Maybe it takes me back to Friday pizza and movie nights with my family, before I started the rotation of sleepovers with my friends; we’d go to Pizza Hut or a local pizza joint (or later have a delivery from Dominos), then stop by the video store on the way home. Surprisingly, I don’t remember my brother and I fighting much over what to watch, since we had pretty similar tastes.
I’m not going to give you some story about the profound impact The Last Starfighter had on me the first time I saw it, which was undoubtedly on one of those Friday movie nights. The Last Starfighter is not a profound movie. What it is, is a fun movie. It is the kind of movie that makes a kid love sci-fi.
The Last Starfighter may be one of the most “relatable” sci-fi movies you’ll watch. Alex Rogan, the primary protagonist, is a kid growing up in a California trailer park. He isn’t satisfied going to City College, where he’ll be surrounded by the same people who torment him in college; unfortunately, his loan which would allow him to go away to university is denied. Alex’s girlfriend is the girl next door (played by Catherine Mary Stewart); his little brother, Louis, is the perfect blend of charming and annoying, much as my own little brother was when we were growing up.
The one pastime Alex seems to get away with is playing the “Starfighter” arcade game in his trailer park. In a scene that should make any gamer swell with pride, the whole trailer park gathers around as Alex sets the record on the machine; what none of them realize is that the arcade game is actually a trainer/recruitment tool for Star League, defenders of the galaxy. Centauri, a recruiter who accidentally left the video game in the trailer park, picks up Alex to take him to Star League, leaving a Beta Unit (a robotic duplicate) in Alex’s place.
From this point on, Alex plays the reluctant hero perfectly. There’s no, “I feel like I could take on the whole Empire myself,” in The Last Starfighter; even when Alex has an idea about how to defeat the whole Ko-Dan armada himself, he want to get home to his mother and girlfriend, and only decides to be “the last starfighter” when he realizes that Ko-Dan agents have already come to Earth in attempt to assassinate him, and will surely return, possibly killing someone dear to him in their attempt to kill Alex.
It’s easy for sci-fi to feel grandiose – after all, we’re dealing not with petty day-to-day affairs, but with galactic issues that may mean destruction of survival for entire civilations, species, and planets. Heroes are often of some sort of royal lineage – Paul Atreides, Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker, Star-Lord/Peter Quill – and even if they are initially unaware of their ancestry, destiny intends them for major roles. Alex Rogan seems like the kind of hero who would have Friday pizza nights with his mom and brother, watch a movie, then go play the Starfighter game for a while. Even when he understands the magnitude of his situation, he hesitates at first due to his obligations to his family and girlfriend, and his desire to pursue his (literally) earthly goals. Many of us have fantasies about a higher, cosmic calling that finally reveals our place in the universe; Alex Rogan is the hero we can all relate to, as he gets the opportunity and doesn’t let it go.