The Superversive in Film: The Last Starfighter

We return once more to that period between the late ’70s and mid ’80s when that last flourish of old-school pulp sensibility arose in the form of feature films out of Hollywood done by then-rising names in the business. This time, it’s The Last Starfighter, another Space Opera made possible due to the success of Star Wars.

This film, like Tron, falls into that “Boy’s Own Adventure” style of adventure where our hero–although an adult–still speaks and acts like the boys this film is intended to entertain. That means the film’s style of presentation is in harmony with that audience also: earnest, sincere, and uncomplicated- but not simple.

The reason this is superversive is that this film’s story, as with many stories aimed at boys, is about the necessity of accepting responsibility- not just for yourself, but on behalf of those depending upon you. For an emerging generation of boys, soon to become men, this learning how to face difficult and dangerous realities even when you would rather run because if you don’t no one else will.

A careful review of the story’s narrative shows this to be the case. The critical events that make our hero into the titular character comes about due to succumbing to that very fear and running from the responsibility that his previous actions–qualifying as a Starfighter gunner–put upon him. Today some would cry about this being unfair,
or unjust. That doesn’t matter; it’s a job that men need to do, like it or not, because not doing it means far, far worse for everyone- man, woman, and child. Stories like this are necessary for boys, because this reality is their future as men in one form or another.

Which brings up another, understated but no less critical point: at no point does our hero get dumped on for taking up his burden and doing his duty. The others that benefit by his actions appreciate what he risked for their sake, and it is this acknowledgement that completes the superversive elements of this story. No one wants to risk life and limb for ingrates, and no society so ungrateful benefits from such deeds for long as it subverts that fundamental institution of any healthy society and culture. The audience of the day rewarded this handsomely, making it one of the latter day classics with lasting influence. It still holds up today. Recommended.

  • “Stories like this are necessary for boys, because this reality is their future as men in one form or another.”

    Well put. My wife is a very gentle soul who doesn’t want out son exposed to “violence.” I’ve tried to explain that A, there’s a difference between “violence” and “fighting” in a movie and B, boys need stories about bad guys losing and good guys being heroes.

  • Robert Blume

    Good review. Great movie.

  • Christopher R. DiNote

    I’ve always loved this movie. After a few years in the military, it actually took on a greater meaning for me. 1) the relationship between Grig the veteran and Alex the young hotshot kid, 2) leaving home to take on something greater than yourself and the environs you grew up in, 3) the shady recruiter 😉 – 4) tons of Air Force and Navy fighter pilot jokes come to mind, and 5) since I’ve married and become a father, the scene that holds the greatest impact is one you might not think of at first – at the end, Alex comes back to the trailer park to say goodbye to his family and to ask Mags to come with him – his family doesn’t get what he’s been through and experienced and secondly, Mags hesitates, but ultimately decides to go with him – what’s important from the perspective of a boy growing into a man, is that he was willing to sacrifice his happiness for something that needed to be done, and it fell to him to do it – he didn’t walk away, hide, or shirk, or place his own wellbeing above duty, and secondly, despite the unknown, the danger, the fear, the sacrifice, she decides to stand by her man. As silly and as unbelievable this seems today, over the past 18 years of my career I have seen these things play out in real life – not as happily or clean-cut as the movie, but the very first time you come back from a deployment, and you see spouses and kids run to their dad or mom, yeah it’s real, or, it can be real. And when you come back from a deployment alone, your car battery is run down because the idiot you left the keys with left something turned on, you have to walk all your gear by yourself and you head straight to the bar….something hits you at that point.

    • Nate Winchester

      “I’ve always wanted to fight a desperate battle against incredible odds.” -Grig