The Last Starfighter (1984)… Some told me before I watched it for the first time that it shared a similar “hero’s journey” structure to Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977). “Be all you can be”, basically. But as I watched, and the story drew me in further and further, realization dawned on me: The Last Starfighter told this lesson better than A New Hope! I don’t know which blew up worse: the Death Star or the mind of this long-time Star Wars fan!
Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) dreams of leaving his quiet town where everyone depends on him for mundane and menial tasks. He spends what little spare time he has playing a lone arcade game called “Starfighter”. He places top score and soon after meets Centauri (Robert Preston); a smooth-talking alien. Centauri attempts to recruit Alex to join a real-life ongoing battle in the stars which the game secretly guides the good guys — the Rylan Star League — to new potential starfighters. Alex, hesitant after witnessing the execution of a spy in the enemy ranks of the Ko-Dan Empire, must decide if he’ll join the fight as the last starfighter or sit this out while the bad guys grow more powerful and perhaps bring the fight to Earth someday.
Shoot For The Stars!
The Last Starfighter presents a lead character with dreams; that’s very clear from the moment we see Alex check his mail in the hope of a scholarship to somewhere; anywhere. He wants to go places, see and do things. They don’t even have to be epic, world-changing, things. The poor guy just wants to experience living. Again, one could claim “so did Luke Skywalker, ya rip-off artists” and it’s not an unfair thought. Something needs to separate Alex from Luke.
Like Luke Skywalker, Alex is a reluctant hero… and yet one character is more so than the other. Luke is reluctant for the first act of A New Hope; the rest of it, he’s a willing, if not eager, participant. Once his uncle and aunt are dead, he sees no other road than to go with Obi-Wan Kenobi and become a Jedi. He’s good to go!
Alex, however, is reluctant for at least two acts of his story. Though enthralled with this strange new world of the Rylan Star League, he succumbs to fear and turns his big chance down. Out of fear of death, and perhaps of his own potential. People tell him exactly what he should want to hear, that he could be the greatest starfighter ever. He could travel, be a hero, and finally escape his World of Tedium. And yet when presented with his shot, he doesn’t “grab it with both hands and hold on tight“, he backs away.
And the two hero journeys have an interesting parallel! In life, you either do or don’t have at least one person (or more) encouraging you to “shoot for the stars”; to go for something big. Luke Skywalker has many people in his life (if you include the deleted scenes) who write off that he’ll go nowhere; except Obi-Wan Kenobi. The old Jedi strongly encourages Luke to go with him to Alderaan and become a Jedi. Then there’s Alex who has four people — his mother, Otis, girlfriend Maggie, and Centauri — encouraging his dreams to do great things. But when the chance comes, he alone holds himself back.
Many good stories involve a hero or heroine who doubt themselves at first only to take their shot after all and make a difference. That is a life lesson worthy of any tale!
And that is the point of this movie: to go for it, whatever it is that you dream. To not let fear keep you grounded when you shoot for the stars. Alex even tries to convince Centauri — or is it himself — that nothing great can be expected of a kid from a quiet trailer park; to which Centauri counters: “If that’s what you think, then that’s all you’ll ever be!”
There is a difference between The Last Starfighter and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope… One does a better job than the other with its moral. Luke Skywalker’s doubt of pursuing more in life once the chance comes doesn’t last long. For Alex Rogan, there’s more sense of doubt and a choice to make. Both characters ultimately shoot for the stars and become more than they ever imagined; but the moral of The Last Starfighter is something anyone and everyone can get behind. Go for your dreams! Give it your best try! And as is true of life and any good sci-fi space fantasy: shoot for the stars. You never know how far you might make it!
Does The Last Starfighter inspire you to achieve your dreams? Comment below! Check out a Geek News Now article about the potential sequel to The Last Starfighter! Also, subscribe to Geek News Now and give its Facebook page a like!