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4K UHD Review: Arrow Video’s The Last Starfighter (Collector’s Edition) 

The Last Starfighter

The Last Starfighter gets a beautiful Dolby Vision encoded 4K UHD upgrade to an already fabulous set released by Arrow Video on Blu-Ray.  

The Film 

So, my parents got separated during the Summer of 1988.  

My sister and I stayed with my mother.  My father left the house.  My father took with him our massive VHS and Betamax collection.  I’m sure that my father had his reasons but it was a cruel act especially as he knew his son had already had an obsessive love of film. 

Every VHS that I would watch on a regular basis; Star WarsEmpire Strikes BackReturn of the JediBladerunnerBack to the FutureStar Trek: The Motion PictureStar Trek IIGhostbustersYoung Sherlock Holmes48 HRSCondormanEscape from New York… all gone.  Though luck was on my side a tape with two movies on it remained The Man with One Red Shoe and The Last Starfighter

That summer I watched The Last Starfighter at least 100 times – maybe more.  It was comfort food.  Not in an easily digestible way but in a way that truly comforted me.  At a time when my world was rocked, adults kept saying “Everything was fine” and they weren’t, The Last Starfighter was buoyancy.  

More than Luke Skywalker, Alex Rogan’s (Lance Guest) need to escape his provincial life spoke to me more.  I could relate to Alex.  It had nothing to do with the fact that Catherine Mary Stewart was one of my crushes.  Nothing at all.  The film transported me away from my shitty life and shitty circumstances.  For those 100 minutes while I watched The Last Starfighter, everything bad in my life faded away and gave me hope.

After watching The Last Starfighter what kid didn’t wish Centuri (Robert Preston) would say they were chosen to save the galaxy?  It’s a potent concept and for kids in the 80s who were oftentimes handling divorce or worse… this was the type of film that they would eat up.  Three decades later The Last Starfighter still has the power to transport anyone to defend the frontier against Xur and the Ko-Dan armada.

The Transfer

Another huge win for Arrow Video who continues to give fans a reason to upgrade their existing addition.  The Brand new 4K restoration by Arrow Films from the original camera negative is an upgrade in every way.  The image isn’t just sharper (it is) but it’s healthier.  The Dolby Vision encoding on the UHD disc imbues the image with deeper and more subtle black and contrast levels even when matched against Arrow’s 2020 Blu-Ray Release.  Those black levels are so deep they give everything a deeper luminous radiance not present in prior editions.  There is a liquid quality to the image that recalls the best archival 35mm print.  It’s the best the film has ever looked.  

The Extras

They include the following; 

  • Audio commentary with star Lance Guest and his son Jackson Guest
  • Audio commentary with Mike White of The Projection Booth podcast
  • Audio commentary with director Nick Castle and production designer Ron Cobb
  • Maggie’s Memories: Revisiting The Last Starfighter 
  • Into the Starscape: Composing The Last Starfighter 
  • Incredible Odds: Writing The Last Starfighter 
  • Interstellar Hit-Beast: Creating the Special Effects 
  • Excalibur Test: Inside Digital Productions 
  • Greetings Starfighter! Inside the Arcade Game
  • Heroes of the Screen 
  • Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter archival 4-part documentary
  • Image Galleries
  • Theatrical and Teaser Trailers

The archival audio commentary by Nick Castle and Ron Cobb is still a great commentary more than 20 years later.  Castle and Cobb are old friends and have an easy chemistry that makes the commentary an entertaining listen.  They recount the production, creating the CGI, Cobb’s work as the production designer, and how that translated to the FX work, the nuts and bolts of how early era CGI worked, and personal recollections.  The track does sometimes suffer from the dreaded “describing the action on screen” and there is a decent amount of silence.  By far and large the track is well worth your time, especially for Cobb, who is no longer with us, as he’s one of the pillars of Sci-Fi production design of the biggest projects of the 70s and 80s.  

The new audio commentary by Mike White of the Projection Booth Podcast is a great listen.  Unlike the Cobb and Castle commentary, there are no empty spaces here.  White discusses everything from the production, the actors, the behind the scene crew, the FX work, the era this was produced and how it affected the film, the massive undertaking (2 years in fact) of the Computer FX, the careers of Robert Preston, Lance Guest, Catherine Mary Stewart, and Dan Herlihy, Comparisons to Ready Player One (and Ernest Cline’s follow up Armada), at the time critical reviews, a hilarious adaptation that includes a Marvel Comic, a Read-along Cassette, the Novelization (from the King of movie adaptations Alan Dean Foster of course), the lack of a video game and the history behind that, contextual history of the release at the time and the pop culture landscape at the time, the reason why sequel/reboot won’t happen, and much more.  White gives us a great commentary with an overflowing wealth of information and context for this film.  

The other new commentary by Lance Guest and his son Jackson Guest is an entertaining one.  The father and son recount Guest’s experience on the film.  They discuss modern pop culture references (Community, Star Wars, Ready Player One, etc.), Lance being able to see the film in IMAX, working with Robert Preston, Nick Castle, his father who was a Pilot, and much more.  There is a great back-and-forth between father and son on this very entertaining and informative track.  Though like the Castle/Cobb commentary, there are a few silent sections.  

Maggie’s Memories (9:28) – an all-new interview with actor Catherine Mary Stewart.  Beginning with her experience auditioning for the film, Stewart is a lovely interview.  She recounts the production, her time with Guest, the film’s popularity, the gaming culture at the time, the use of CGI and traditional effects, the fun of working with Guest as two different characters, the first screening, and more.  It should be noted the interview was filmed during COVID and done so via Zoom and the quality of Stewart’s side is as such.  

Into the Starscape (12:20) – is a new interview with composer Craig Safan. Safan discusses how he opted for a traditional full-orchestral score rather than the electronic-based one that he had done prior, working on the score during the entire production rather than post, his approach to composing with one major theme rather than multiple themes, the various instruments he used, and more.  It should be noted the interview was filmed during COVID and done so via Zoom and the quality of Safan’s side is as such. 

Incredible Odds (9:27) – is a new interview with screenwriter Jonathan Betuel.  The screenwriter discusses how he came up with the idea of The Last Star Fighter, how he wrote the script in four days, working on the script itself, how quickly the script sold, working with Nick Castle, what the continuation of the series would have been, and more.  The interview is more of a micro-commentary with sections of the film played over Betuel’s voice.  

Interstellar Hit-Beast (10:14) – is a new interview with special effects supervisor Kevin Pike. Pike gives us a micro-commentary for his work, discussing it while select scenes play and behind-the-scenes b-roll footage, and stills.  Pike really goes over the practical work, not just the make-up, he and his crew had to do for the film.  Things like the lights on the sets, the monitors display information, creating the actual gun turret and pilot seat for the Starfighter, and much more.  It’s a great featurette/micro-commentary.  

Excalibur Test (7:46) – is a new interview with sci-fi author Greg Bear on Digital Productions, the company responsible for the CGI in The Last Starfighter. Bear gives us a micro-commentary for the work he was covering during the making of the film, discussing it while select scenes play and behind-the-scenes b-roll footage, and stills.  Bear goes over the coverage that he did as a journalist including bringing Ray Bradbury in, previous productions that used CGI; TronBrainscan, the production offices of Digital Productions, the FX work, the Cray Super Computers they used, and more.

Greetings Starfighter! (7:24) – is an interview with arcade game collector Estil Vance on reconstructing the Starfighter game.  Vance discusses his building of both the game case and the actual game Star Fighter.  Working in his spare time, he is a Physician by day, he created everything from scratch with the help of the internet.  You actually see his handiwork, which is quite impressive, during the video intercut with scenes of the videogame in the film.  

Heroes of the Screen (24:19) – is an archival featurette on the making of the film.  Using b-roll behind-the-scenes footage, stills, and new interviews with Lance Guest, Nick Castle, Catherine Mary Stewart, Screenwriter Jonathan Betuel, and more discuss the entire production of the film including the development, casting, production, FX work, score, the release, and the legacy. 

Crossing the Frontier: Making The Last Starfighter (32:02) – this holdover from the DVD special edition of the film is a great throwback old-school making-of.  Lance Guest hosts this look into the making of the film and specifically the FX.  This is a great look at the FX footage including some great ILM Test footage of X-Wings. 

Image Galleries

All galleries can be navigated by clicking the Next Chapter button on your remote.  These unfortunately do not have a “Play All” Option.  

The Cast – 26 stills and descriptions.

Starfighter Arcade Game – 42 stills, blueprints (from Ron Cobb no less), and descriptions. 

Starfighter Command – 216 stills, including some of Dan O’Herlihy without make-up, the photos for the cave, behind-the-scenes still, up close photos of background aliens, and a lot more.  

The Starcar – 82 stills, Robert Preston and crew behind the scenes, up close on the console and design,  CGI stills, stills of the computers that were rendering the Car when CGI, and more.   

The Gunstar – 76 stills, Ron Cobb’s design mock-ups, digital rendering of the Gunstar, behind-the-scenes stills of the making of the Gunstar’s physical cockpit, and more.  

Ko-Dan Armada – 89 stills, various production stills of Xur and Lord Kril, the various Ko-Dan alien Make-up effects, the Ko-Dan fighters, Ron Cobb’s production designs, and more. 

Alternate Ending – 44 stills of the alternate ending are discussed in all three commentaries.  

Anatomy of a Starfighter CGI – 37 stills of the step-by-step process in order to create a CGI scene in the film.  

Promotional and Merchandise – 29 stills of clothing with production emblems on them, the Action Figure prototypes that never came to be, board games, the eventual Nintendo video game, and the 15th-anniversary celebration.  

Theatrical (2:47) and Teaser Trailers (1:33)

The Final Thought 

Arrow Video’s 4K UHD upgrade of The Last Starfighter continues the label’s streak of truly beautiful 4K upgrades. Highest Possible Recommendations!!!

Arrow Video’s 4K UHD edition of The Last Starfighter is out May 27th

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