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28 Things We Learned from ‘The Last Starfighter’ Commentary

You know Nick Castle as “The Shape” in ‘Halloween,’ but did you know he also directs kids movies?
The Last Starfighter
By  · Published on March 15th, 2012

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Kevin Carr puts a quarter in the slot and winds up listening to the commentary track for arcade-themed cult hit, The Last Starfighter.

Jeremy’s still hobnobbing around Austin at the South by Southwest Film Festival, so he doesn’t have time to listen to a commentary track. He’s watching too many movies for the first time. So I’m stepping in to travel in time back to 1984 to have another go at The Last Starfighter.

If you’re a child of the 80s like me, a lot of your movie-going interests were defined by the Star Wars movies. But once those movies wrapped up in the first third of that decade with the prequels (and alleged sequels) more than a dozen years away, a great void was left. I was about thirteen years old when The Last Starfighter came to theaters in the summer of 1984, and it tapped into the same wonder and excitement that the first three Star Wars were about. I was looking for another story about a very average teenager who comes from nowhere special to fight in an interstellar war against some really bad dudes.

The thing that made The Last Starfighter different from every other movie of that decade was its then-groundbreaking and now-rudimentary use of digital effects. Only Tron had been so bold with digital environments before, and The Last Starfighter literally gave us something we hadn’t seen before. The 1999 “Widescreen Collector’s Edition” of The Last Starfighter DVD included a commentary with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb. Sure, the commentary includes dated 90s references to pagers and the like, and both Castle and Cobb slip into narration mode from time to time, but it offers some neat tidbits of information from the production.

The Last Starfighter (1984)

Commentators: Nick Castle (director) and Ron Cobb (production designer)

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Final Thoughts

The commentary track to The Last Starfighter definitely has its moments. In particular, it’s most entertaining when Castle and Cobb look back with fifteen years more technology behind them and realize how silly some of the elements of the film are. However, these are endearing because (as Castle points out multiple times) it was part of the film’s charm. Things lose steam at about the half-way point, showing how hard it can be to talk over an entire movie and be insightful. If you do want to give it a listen, I’d suggest clocking out around the 50-minute mark and then jump back in for the ending credits.

Still, this was one of my favorite films to watch as a kid, so knowing all the beats to it makes it possible to still enjoy the film while Castle and Cobb chat throughout. Though I do warn you that the comic relief moments with the Beta unit don’t hold up so well after more than 25 years, and they certainly don’t hold up with the commentary playing over them. (Here’s where you can picture me with my head on the table and shaking it back and forth.) There’s no real surprises to be found, but it offers a keen insight into how even higher profile movies were made in 1984.

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