The Last Starfighter showed a new generation of video game maniacs the one secret their mothers didn’t want them to know: if you practice really hard, spend enough quarters, and get really good at video games, you just might end up becoming the savior of an entire galaxy. Try shoving that one back in Mom’s face the next time she tells you to play outside.
The movie opens in a desert trailer park, where young Alex Rogan is the best there is at the hot new video game, Starfighter. It’s a welcome break from normal life, which includes living with a kid brother and their single mom, getting turned down on a college application, and dreaming of getting out of trailerville with girlfriend Maggie. When Alex breaks the Starfighter record one night, his dream unexpectedly comes true. Centauri, the game’s inventor, comes to the park to make a business proposition to the young champ. But the minute Alex steps into Centauri’s “car,” he’s whisked away out of town, off the planet, and into outer space.
As it turns out, the Starfighter game was actually a recruiting tool, and Alex is expected to join the real Star League in fighting Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada. Alex wimps out and goes home, but Xur’s forces aren’t willing to let him stay neutral. When an alien assassin shows up at the trailer park, Alex realizes he has no choice: he’ll fly his Gunstar into battle (with alien Grig as his co-pilot), even if, through a tragic series of events, he ends up as the last Starfighter left.
With all the appeal of a “Star Wars meets Tron” concept, The Last Starfighter was a must-see for young boys in 1984. Unfortunately, they were just about the only ones in the theater. Despite its clear hopes for a sequel, The Last Starfighter was indeed the first and last of its kind. But that didn’t stop a generation of video gamers from dreaming that one day, their Pac-Man and Donkey Kong skills would earn them the right to save the galaxy from maze ghosts or barrel-throwing apes.