Skip to comments.Stars Remember ‘The Last Starfighter’ Three Decades Later
Posted on 07/15/2014 5:38:22 AM PDT by Jack Hydrazine
On July 13, 1984, the young stars of The Last Starfighter saw their careers blast off into outer space, as a friendship was born that carries on three decades later.
Today marks the 29th anniversary of the original theatrical release of the groundbreaking sci-fi classic The Last Starfighter, so we figured its a perfect time to take a fun look back at the film through the eyes of its stars, Lance Guest and Catherine Mary Stewart, both of whom attended a Q&A panel at the second Blood at the Beach Convention in Virginia Beach in 2012.
Guest plays Alex Rogan, a dreamer and video game master who learns that he is actually the titular hero in an interstellar war that inspired his favorite video game. At the panel, he talked to the intimate audience about how he got into acting and how his previous work in the horror sequel Halloween II (1981) lead directly to Guest becoming The Last Starfighter.
I was pretty serious about acting by the time I was out of high school, he recalls. I went to college and I was a theater major, and I started working before I graduated from college. I went to an open call once and this casting director said Do you have an agent? I said No, and he said Well you should have one. I said Okay, tell me about it, and she called up some agents and they called me. It was kind of straight forward. I expected it to be a lot harder than that. I was about 20 years old.
I grew up in a place where nobody was into movies, I didnt grow up in L.A. or anything, so I didnt think about doing movies, I just thought about being a theater actor. Then I moved to L.A. and it was like Oh theres people who make movies here.
The first movie job that I ever booked was Halloween II, and the producer of Halloween II (John Carpenter) is really good friends with the director of Last Starfighter (Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers in Carpenters original Halloween). Nick was saying Hey, Im looking for this guy for this movie, and he was editing Halloween II with John and Nicks like Wait, whos that guy? So I kind of got Starfighter and Halloween II together. One lead to the other thanks to Nick.
Catherine Mary Stewart plays Maggie, Alexs more grounded all-American girlfriend, and she remembers getting the role as her career was just taking off.
I did theater in high school, she said. I started when I was about 7. I was a serious dancer from Canada originally, and I was in a company called Synergy there and we did lots of travelling. So I decided to pursue that in London after I graduated from high school. I went to a performing arts school with a focus on dance called the London Studio Center. I went there for a couple of years, and while I was there, I went to an open call for a movie called The Apple. They were looking for dancers.
As I was dancing away at my audition, the director spotted me I guess, and said Do you act? I said Yes I do, and went through this whole audition process with them and ended up with the lead role for this movie. That was my transition from the dance realm to acting. After London I moved to Los Angeles and the first movie I did was with Lance in The Last Starfighter. My storys a little bit more of a fairy tale I guess.
Catherine was appearing on the daytime soap Day of Our Lives when she got her part in Starfighter, and she went on to star in the cult favorite Night of the Comet and the comedy classic Weekend at Bernies, which was filmed in Wilmington, North Carolina, among many other projects.
Be sure to click here for our full interview with Catherine Mary Stewart about making Weekend at Bernies and spending weekends in Duck!
After going through the early audition process for Starfighter, Catherine and Lance first met during a script reading prior to filming.
During the call backs, said Catherine, we were paired together. I think we had a really good chemistry. We were up against the hot young actors in Hollywood of the day. Ally Sheedy was up for a role.
Lance added a few other notable names he recalls also auditioning, including Jennifer Jason Leigh and Eric Stoltz.
We were cast, said Catherine, and it just felt very, very comfortable and natural for me, from the very beginning, shooting with Lance. It was kind of organic.
Guest agrees that there was a special chemistry between the actors, who have remained close friends for the last 30 years since filming together.
It really worked out well, said Lance. It was just sort of simple and not complicated, and our director, especially with our scenes, he wasnt pumping up the energy in our scenes. We had romantic scenes and comic scenes.
Catherine adds, It was fun loving, not really heavy duty romantic.
Lance remembers the fast pace of filming with a challenge to get used to.
It was pretty quick, he said. Thats what I remember, it was always like Hey, lets get it. Alright we got two takes, lets move on.
To which Catherine adds, But Lance is also a perfectionist. He is such a professional. He wanted to have it perfect and right every time, and I was just kind of like This is fun! I dont have to work on a soap opera today. He had an enormous amount of pressure on him because he was carrying the film.
I worked for maybe three weeks on it, and I just had the best time. The atmosphere on the set was so pleasant and supportive. Nick Castle, the director is kind of like a big kid himself. It was a joy for me to go to work every day, but again I didnt have the enormous pressure that Lance did. I didnt think of it in the multi-dimensional way that he thought of it.
Lance adds, I was very serious, so I was constantly trying to rehearse with every actor that would rehearse with me, including 70-year-old Robert Preston, dragging him out of his trailer. The cool thing about him is that hes like a really tough guy, but he never was like No, leave me alone, Im old. He was just like Whenever youre ready kid, lets go. So he was really, really cool that way. So was Dan (OHerlihy), who was a good theater guy too.
I got in a car wreck on the day that I was supposed to shoot the beta unit twin scene in the bedroom, and that was the audition scene for me, so that was the scene I knew the best from four months earlier. I got in a car wreck that morning on the way to work and I was like two and a half hours late because I wrapped my car around an island or something. It was really bad. I guess I was nervous or something. When you (Catherine) mentioned having a lot of pressure, I was just thinking, Yeah, I guess there was.
While The Last Starfighter might be unfairly dismissed by some as simply a knock-off of Star Wars set closer to home, the stars say their film stands on its own.
Who thought that 30 years after the fact wed have people that are still crazy about the movie, said Catherine. That doesnt necessarily happen for a play, because the audience is there for a night, they love it, and then they leave.
Adds Lance, The weird thing is that actors 20 or 30 years older than us, they had to depend on revival houses to really continue the movies on, and once in a while theyd show them on TV, but now with our current cable, DVD and stuff, you can literally watch the same movie your entire life if you want to.
And pass it down generation to generation, says Catherine. The Last Starfighter is a perfect example of a movie that the original audience now has kids themselves, and its such an approachable movie to pass down to your kids. I love it. Its gratifying.
Of the comparisons to Star Wars, Lance replied, I was more of a Star Trek fan than I was a Star Wars fan, so I was not really a Star Wars person. When they would compare my character to Mark Hamills character I thought, although Star Wars is funny, that we had a more tongue in cheek attitude.
No one can deny that the computer generates imagery (CGI) used in the film was beyond state-of-the-art and quite ahead of its time 30 years ago, as The Last Starfighter was the first movie ever to do almost all special effects on a computer.
All the stuff in the trailer park was just a trailer park, Guest recalls of filming, and the soundstage stuff was at MGM. Inside the ship was (done with) green screen. I had this gyroscope cage that I sat in, and instead of moving the camera, they moved me. When Centauri and I land, that was on a stage filled with fake rocks. The ending scene was all just flat with green screen, and they just filled in all the stuff later.
On the iconic final scene, Catherine adds, When the spaceship lands in the trailer park, they just had this giant fan blowing dirt on us, because it was a dirt trailer park. And the director was just like Look up there, you see this giant space ship, because there was nothing there. That was all put in afterwards.
In the film, the heros training for saving the universe turns out to be the arcade-style video game hes been playing every day for years, and though Atari did produce prototypes at one point, the game itself never existed.
The video game (in the movie), explains Lance, was Im sure taken from Space Invaders or any of those shoot-things-out-of-space 2D things that they had back in those days. All it was is a frame with a phony joystick and some phony buttons with lights on them. And there was a TV monitor, and it would just play a tape. The game had already been played out. All I had to do was sort of lip sync if you will the video game prowess. I had to sort of memorize the visuals, but that was it.
So did the last Starfighter himself take away any souvenirs from the set?
Shoes, replies Lance. Adidas. And I think I got a couple pairs of 501 Levis. When I say shoes, I mean several pairs. I think I gave some to my brother.
Brought together by fate in a working relationship, that initial chemistry between Lance and Catherine blossomed into a great friendship that carried on after filming ended and continues even now.
Lance and I are still friends today, said Catherine. We both live in New York at the moment with our families, so we get together on occasion. And its fun to go to these conventions together, because were buddies.
Fans of The Last Starfighter have been begging for a sequel for almost 30 years, and the stars say they are more than ready to reprise their roles three decades later.
There were talks, Guest says when asked about the possibility of a sequel. We were approached by some creative folks, and think theyve written scripts, but getting a movie made in Hollywood is a pretty daunting task. A lot of elements need to come together and the studio has to bankroll it.
Its set up perfectly, Catherine says of the ending of the original film. We would love to do a sequel, but we dont really have the power to decide that.
Looking back on their otherworldly time together making The Last Starfighter, Catherine sums it up best.
We got into it at the most fun time, she said. There were a ton of movies being made and a ton of money out there. It was a wonderful time in the business. And there were stories being told that were simple and character driven and original. Something special to me about The Last Starfighter is that its just a sweet, simple story about two people in a fantastical situation, but its a metaphor that every young kid can relate to.
The Last Starfighter Theatrical Trailer
The Gunstar is probably my favorite starfighter.
As for being a “knockoff of Starwars,” it actually had more in common with the “Sword in the Stone.”
I loved that movie at the time. It’s a little dated now but it could be remade and people would probably flock to go see it again.
Holy crap I’m OLD! I remember when that movie came out! Great fun! Robert Preston was a hoot in that movie.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I would imagine that today it would look REALLY cheesy for first time viewers, but I remember it fondly.
Paper model of gunstar you can download for free.
Watch old and new versions of Tron.
“The Last Starfighter”, “The Flight of the Navigator”, “Little Giants” and “The Sandlot” are 4 of my Favorite Movies! Clean and Wholesome.
The Last Starfighter is a good movie, funny, and clean! I would not trust anyone in Horrorwood to do a remake. I had it on VHS. Have to see if I can find one on cd.
Preston was great.
That’s actually lampshaded in the movie. The lizard alien who partners with the main character asks the “recruiter” alien (Preston’s character):
“Up to your old Excalibur tricks again, eh, Centauri?”
Iirc. This was the first movie that used computer graphics for the space ships - no models. Proto-CGI.
I loved that movie at the time. Its a little dated now but it could be remade and people would probably flock to go see it again.
If someone was to do to this what they did to Tron it could be amazing. And I wonder what every happened to Alex and Maggie, hint, hint...
They have it on blueray at the library near where I work. ;-)
It’s interesting to note the similarity between the Gunstar and the “Babylon 5” Starfury.
You beat me to the comparison.
BTW, I own Tron in both versions. The stories are completely different between TLSF and Tron, but I can see a remake/sequel could be massive fun on the same level. i.e. time has passed, nobody knows what happened back in the day, the hero has been off planet for a long time and the danger has returned
As a side note, every time I go to my dentitst I'm reminded of "Flight of the Nav." because of that weird light that is suspended from the ceiling and can be moved around in any direction and shined in my mouth. It looks like that robot thing in the Navigator.....
BTW, if they are marking the 29th anniversary of the movie, is there any doubt they plan on releasing a “sequel/remake” on the 30th anniversary?
Yep. Another from that period is "Electric Dreams". Great soundtrack, too.
As they hurtle into battle with the huge enemy force,
the terrifed Alex says, “It’ll be a slaughter!!”
His alien copilot exults, “That’s the spirit!”
Whoever is the copy editor needs to be “lead” off of a short pier.
Yeah, Centauri being accused of being up to his “old Excalibur tricks” is a reference to the Arthur legends.
It has charm. It’s a graceful little tale that is just fun.
It's a piece of history ... first use of CGI rather than models for the exterior space-battle scenes. Calling it "dated" is like calling 2001 "dated". I think the effects are quite remarkable, particularly considering the state of computer technology in 1984.
I agree. I loved the bit with the device that when worn you had an instant translation of the language the other person is speaking. I think that technology might be right around the corner.
Secondly, you point about hollywood remakes.
My all time fav Sci Fi is The Day the Earth Stood Still. I watch it frequently, maybe not to the end, but whenever I’m overly tired and need to watch something to push sleep.
I looked forward to the remake, only to hear that instead of concern for Earth harnassing nuclear power that might jeopardize the universe...It’s (are you ready) our neglect of our planet.
Never went to see it.
It was escapism designed for kids who played video games. Who didn’t imagine themselves being in Alex’s shoes as they played Star Raiders or one of the other popular space games?
Which is why studio suits frequently over ride the director BS messages. Not enough to overcome California weirdness but enough to be marketable.
It is only when traditional, conservative, non-freakazoid stories sneak past that blockbusters really flower.
Left wing messages fail to make money.
The dumbest plot contrivance ever.
“You’re destroying your planet which endangers intelligent life... So we’re going to exterminate intelligent life to protect it.”
Al Gore was a screenwriter?
I’d like to have seen more of the thunderbolt starfury that came in near the end and was in crusade. I wish crusade would have been allowed to live and not screwed with. Those cosmic bowling bellhop uniforms were comical.
Some aspects of it are obviously dated; special effects, clothes and hair. But IMO, the thing that makes it good is the script and the character interactions. Nice tongue in cheek humor. It was just fun.
“dated” = would like to see a remake in this situation...
Bump to a great movie.
It had an important balance between screenwriting and special effects. Preston was mostly a stage actor, having received two Tony Awards, the most memorable for The Music Man. The director of the film version demanded him, though the studio wanted it to be played by Frank Sinatra. Really.
His performance was outstanding. It has a 7.7 rating on IMDb.
Conversely, the actor who played Xur (flicks stiletto scepter), Norman Snow, has done some TV work, but his picture is hard to find on the Internet.
The first Starfighter I saw was in 1957 at Tyndall AFB. Cigar shaped with razor sharp wings whose leading edges were protected when they were parked.
I like Last Starfighter the way it is. I like Rollerball, 2001, and King Kong just the way they were originally made. I wish George Lucas hadn't meddled with Star Wars.
I LIKE old movies. The changes in the art and science of movie making are themselves interesting to me.
I'm a huge fan of "Starfighter" AS IS and I love the "Flight of Nav." too. "Rollerball" is great also and some movies shouldn't be messed with.
If Hollywood writers would get their noses out of the snow perhaps we could have great original movies again.
I always liked the special effects.
Robert Preston was such a ham in that film.
This story was written last year. I don’t know if anything was done this year for its 30th anniversary.
Alex, “No! MY SLAUGHTER!”
Why is that?
I happened to watch it this weekend and was impressed. It’s just a good story. One thing that stood out was that the girl responded to her guy’s heroism by choosing to be with him and to follow him, and that this happened without irony.
I totally agree. I watched THX1138 the other day and was not pleased with Lucas’s “improvements”. The original has such a subtle genius to it that you wonder how the same guy could have chosen to screw it up like that. Apparently the only version Lucas has allowed to be released on DVD is the updated one. The original can only be seen on VHS or I guess maybe laser disk.
"So I kind of got Starfighter and Halloween II together. One lead to the other thanks to Nick."
Lead [leed] - verb in the present-tense.
Led [led] - verb in the past-tense.
Lead [led] - noun.
Led Zeppelin  - awesome.