Release Date(s)1984 (May 30, 2023)
Studio(s)Lorimar Productions/Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
The Last Starfighter was a modest success when it opened in the summer of 1984. With comparisons to Star Wars firmly laid by critics at the time, the film had an even better afterlife on cable and on home video. One of the first films to take full advantage of the burgeoning field of computer generate graphics, it’s also considered a bit of a pioneer. Today it’s fondly remembered as a laid-back and enjoyable space opera of sorts, but with genuinely likable characters and story dynamics that work better than many of its contemporaries. Directed by Nick Castle (the original Michael Myers), and featuring conceptual art and design by the late, great Ron Cobb, The Last Starfighter is an evergreen title for a certain generation (and older) of moviegoers who first saw it and were blown away by its cutting edge special effects and won over by its enjoyable (and well-executed) premise.
Located in the middle of nowhere USA is the Starlite Starbrite trailer court, a small, tight-knit community of mobile home inhabitants. Among them is the teen-aged Alex (Lance Guest), a bright and resourceful young man who helps his mother and the community with their problems. Dreaming of one day leaving the trailer park behind, he spends much of his free time with his girlfriend Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart), parked in front of the Starfighter arcade game. In the game, he pilots a Gunstar spaceship and fights off the invading forces of Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada for the sake of “The Frontier.” One night after a record-breaking high score, he is visited by Centauri (Robert Preston), an alien who takes him to meet the Rylan Star League. Learning that the game he’s been playing has actually been a test of his skill for joining their cause and taking up the fight against the Ko-Dan Empire with the help of a fellow pilot named Grig (Dan O’Herlihy), Alex finally takes to the stars to defend not only alien worlds, but his own as well.
The Last Starfighter was shot by cinematographer King Baggot on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex cameras and lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1 (as well as 2.20:1 for 70 mm exhibition). Arrow Video previously released the film on Blu-ray in 2020 and have returned for its Ultra HD debut, utilizing a 4K restoration of the original camera negative, graded for High Dynamic Range (Dolby Vision and HDR10 options are available). Arrow’s Blu-ray release was a massive upgrade over its predecessor, which contained an ancient master riddled with DNR. The jump to UHD might not be quite as dramatic, but it’s still a worthy upgrade. A tighter, finer sheen of grain with a high bitrate that ranges from 85 to 95Mbps is on display, with only minor speckling but good stability. The new HDR grades deepen the palette with richer swatches of red, blue, and green. Contrast is also improved with deeper blacks and impressive shadow detail. As mentioned in the previous Blu-ray review, the dated CGI blends with the live action elements much better than it did in lower resolution. Overall, it’s a much more crisp and organic presentation, one that will likely be considered the definitive one going forward.
Audio options include three English DTS-HD Master Audio tracks: 5.1 (the original DVD remix), 4.1 (the 70 mm theatrical mix), and 2.0 (the stereo theatrical mix). Subtitles are also provided in English SDH. The inclusion of the 4.1 mix is icing on the cake. It’s marvelous in terms of staging and low frequency activity, particularly when it comes to the rumbling of spaceships and the deeper tones of Craig Safan’s marvelous score. The 5.1 mix is missing a music cue at around 28:40, which was also present on Universal’s Blu-ray release as well. Dialogue is clear and precise on all tracks. The stereo track is the less expansive option as a few moments are lacking in surround quality, but its inclusion is still welcome. The 4.1 option is definitely the way to go.
The Last Starfighter on 4K Ultra HD sits in a black amaray case alongside a 40-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, the essays “I’m a kid from a trailer park”: Blue Collar Heroes in Outer Space and the American Dream by Amanda Reyes and The Machineries of Joy by Greg Bear, and restoration details. The double-sided insert features the theatrical teaser artwork on the reverse and new artwork by Matt Ferguson on the front, which is replicated on the slipcover. The following extras are included on the disc:
- Audio Commentary by Lance Guest and Jackson Guest
- Audio Commentary by Nick Castle and Ron Cobb
- Audio Commentary by Mike White
- Maggie’s Memories: Revisiting The Last Starfighter (HD – 9:28)
- Into the Starscape: Composing The Last Starfighter (HD – 12:20)
- Incredible Odds: Writing The Last Starfighter (HD – 9:27)
- Interstellar Hit-Beast: Creating the Special Effects (HD – 10:14)
- Excalibur Test: Inside Digital Productions (HD – 7:46)
- Greetings Starfighter! Inside the Arcade Game! (HD – 7:24)
- Heroes of the Screen (SD – 24:19)
- Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter (SD – 32:02)
- Image Gallery: The Cast (SD – 26 in all)
- Image Gallery: Starfighter Arcade Game (SD – 42 in all)
- Image Gallery: Starfighter Command (SD – 216 in all)
- Image Gallery: The Starcar (SD – 82 in all)
- Image Gallery: The Gunstar (SD – 76 in all)
- Image Gallery: Ko-Dan Armada (SD – 89 in all)
- Image Gallery: Alternate Ending (SD – 44 in all)
- Image Gallery: Anatomy of a Starfighter CGI (SD – 37 in all)
- Image Gallery: Promotion and Merchandise (SD – 29 in all)
- Theatrical Trailer (Upscaled SD – 2:47)
- Teaser Trailer (HD – 1:33)
- Easter Egg #1 (SD – :48)
- Easter Egg #2 (SD – :55)
- Easter Egg #3 (HD – 2:17)
This release carries over all of the previous bonus materials from the film’s various DVD and Blu-ray releases, including Arrow’s previous Blu-ray. The first audio commentary features Lance Guest and his son Jackson recording remotely. They watch the film with Lance reminiscing and his son asking him questions as they go along. The second audio commentary, which is carried over from the LaserDisc and every disc release since, features director Nick Castle and conceptual designer Ron Cobb discussing the film as they watch it together. The third and final audio commentary features Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast who goes over the film’s content and provides background details on the cast and crew.
Maggie’s Memories features an interview with actress Catherine Mary Stewart about getting the role of Maggie, working with Lance Guest, and dealing with the special effects. Into the Starscape features an interview with composer Craig Safan who speaks about composing music for a film with early CGI, writing the main theme, and learning from John Williams. Incredible Odds features an interview with writer Jonathan Betuel about working with Lorimar and Nick Castle, how the script was written, its comparisons to Star Wars, and the possibility of a sequel. Interstellar Hit-Beast features an interview with special effects supervisor Kevin Pike about working on his first big movie, how he approached his work, and detailing the various effects. Excalibur Test features an interview with Greg Bear about the company Digital Productions who produced the film’s CGI, detailing various aspects of the work that the company produced. Greetings Starfighter! interviews arcade game collector and console creator Estil Vance about building a real Starfighter arcade cabinet and how and why a real game was never released. Heroes of the Screen is an archival featurette about the making of the film, featuring interviews with most of the main cast and crew. Crossing the Frontier is a multi-part documentary about the making of the film from the original LaserDisc release. The image galleries are carried over from the original DVD release.
All of the Easter eggs can be found within the Extras menu only. To find Easter Egg #1, press right when Greetings Starfighter! is selected, which will take you to a brief bit of footage used for the arcade game in the film. To find Easter Egg #2, press right when Audio Commentary by Lance Guest and Jackson Guest is selected, which will take you to an outtake from Crossing the Frontier in which Lance Guest checks out the aforementioned custom-built arcade cabinet. To find Easter Egg #3, press right when Audio Commentary by Nick Castle and Ron Cobb is selected, which will take you to a humorous commentary outtake of Lance Guest bringing actor Cameron Dye into the recording booth to explain a half-told joke that he tells in the film.
Arrow Video ups the ante of their previous Blu-ray release of The Last Starfighter with a wonderful UHD presentation. The film itself is like a warm blanket—perfectly cozy and a much-needed shot of good ole positivity. With a nearly perfect presentation and a wonderful assortment of extras new and old, this is definitely the kind of upgrade that fans of the film will appreciate. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons