The Last Starfighter is a 1984 science fiction adventure film directed by Nick Castle. The film tells the story of Alex Rogan, an average teenage boy recruited by an alien defense force to fight in an interstellar war.
The Last Starfighter, in addition to Disney's Tron, has the distinction of being one of cinema's earliest films to use extensive computer-generated imagery (CGI) to depict its many starships, environments and battle scenes. This CGI technique, for the time, was a great leap into the future compared to contemporary films such as the previous year's Return of the Jedi, which still used static physical models shot by moving film cameras.
The Last Starfighter was Preston's final film role. His character, a "lovable con-man", was a nod to his most famous role as Harold Hill in The Music Man. There was a subsequent novelization of the film by Alan Dean Foster, as well as a video game based on the production. In 2004, it was also adapted as an off-Broadway musical.
Alex Rogan is a teenager living in a trailer park with his mother and little brother. Outside of being a handyman at the trailer park, his sole activity is playing Starfighter, a stand-up arcade game where the player defends "The Frontier" from "Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada" in a space battle. Eventually he becomes the highest-scoring player of the game. Shortly afterwards, he is approached by the game's inventor, Centauri who invites him to take a ride. Alex does so before discovering that the vehicle is actually a spaceship; moreover, Centauri is a disguised alien who whisks him off to a faraway planet called Rylos, leaving his family and girlfriend, Maggie Gordon. So that his absence goes unnoticed, an android named Beta is left in his stead.
Upon his arrival, Alex discovers that the images and territories in the Starfighter arcade game represent an actual conflict between the Rylans Star League and the Ko-Dan Empire; the latter is led by Xur, a traitor to whom the Ko-Dan Emperor has promised control of Rylos itself. The game was designed as a test to find those "with the gift"; Alex is expected to pilot an actual Starfighter spacecraft called the Gunstar. He also discovers that The Frontier is an array of planetary-scale force fields that protect Rylos and its surrounding planets from invasion and that Xur has given the Ko-Dan the means to breach it.
Before Alex can fully understand and dispute his induction, Xur appears (via a holographic projection) inside of the Starfighter base and reveals he has discovered an infiltrator in his ranks and proceeds to broadcast his death by torture to the entire base, including his father, Ambassador Enduran, the Starfighter commander. He then proclaims to the people of Rylos that once Galan (Rylos's moon) is in full eclipse, the Ko-Dan Armada will begin their invasion and not even the Starfighters will be able to save them. Freaked out by everything he's seen, Alex asks to be taken back home. Centauri does so, grumbling the whole way back. Back on Earth, he gives Alex a device by which to contact him, should Alex change his mind. Alex tries to give it back, since he won't be changing his mind, but Centauri insists, and then leaves. After they leave, the starfighter base is attacked, a saboteur eliminates the base's defenses, causing the base to sustain heavy damage, killing all starfighters save for the reptilian alien navigator Grig, and destroying all Gunstars, save for an advanced prototype that Grig was servicing at a different location at the time of the attack.
Once home, Alex discovers Beta and contacts Centauri to come and retrieve him. Just as Centauri arrives, Alex and Beta are attacked by a Zando-Zan, an alien assassin in Xur's service. After a short laser gun battle, Centauri shoots the assassin down and blasts off its right arm in the process. Centauri and Beta explain to Alex that the only way to protect his family (and the Earth) is to pilot a Starfighter. Before Alex can reply, the Zando-Zan, mentally controlling its severed arm, tries to shoot Alex, but Centauri intercepts the blast and returns fire, incinerating the alien. Realizing what he needs to do, Alex and Centauri return to the ruined base. Alex meets up with Grig, but Centauri apparently dies from his injuries shortly after their arrival, and they set out in the Gunstar to battle the Ko-Dan Armada by themselves.
As Alex continues his training under Grig's tutelage, Beta continues to have difficulties in maintaining his impersonation of Alex, particularly with Maggie. This comes to a head when the two are out on a date and Beta discovers that a small group of Zando-Zan spies have set up a communication center from their spaceship outside of the trailer park and are relaying information back to Xur. Beta is forced to reveal everything to Maggie, who is understandably disbelieving at first. But when the Xandoxans discover the pair and Beta is shot, exposing some of his damaged circuitry in the process, she realizes the truth. The pair steal Jack Blake's pickup truck and head full-speed for the Zando-Zan ship. After telling Maggie to jump, Beta crashes the truck into the ship, destroying them both and sacrificing himself. Shocked by what she has learned and by Beta's heroic sacrifice, Maggie looks to the skies and proclaims her love for Alex.
Back in space, Alex and Grig attack the Ko-Dan mother-ship, crippling its communications system; catching the Ko-Dan fighter wings off-guard. The battle reaches a fevered pitch; Alex keeps the upper hand, using the "lone fighter-against-hordes" tactics he mastered by playing the coin-operated video game. Soon, however, his weapons are depleted. Desperately, he activates a secret weapon installed in the Gunstar: "Death Blossom", which destroys all the remaining Ko-Dan fighters. Commander Kril, captain of the Ko-Dan mothership, blames Xur for this turn of events. After relieving Xur of command, Kril orders him executed. Instead, Xur takes advantage of Alex's attack and kills the sentries escorting him from the bridge. He then flees the mother-ship just before Alex's final attack on the mother-ship cripples its guidance control systems, causing it to careen into the gravitational pull of Galan, where it crashes and explodes.
Alex is proclaimed the savior of Rylos and hailed by its people during the victory celebration. Another surprise awaits him when an unknown alien approaches. The alien then applies a special mask to his face, revealing himself as Centauri, who explains he had willed his body into a state of dormancy in order to recover from his injuries. Alex then discovers from Enduran (who escaped from the Starfighter base before its destruction) that the Star League is still vulnerable: The Frontier has collapsed and Xur escaped, and will continue to be a threat as long as he still lives. After some urging by Centauri, Alex agrees to stay and recruit other Starfighters, rebuilding the Legion. He returns to Earth, dramatically landing his Gunstar in the trailer park. Grig tells Alex's mother and the people of the trailer park of Alex's heroism in the Rylan War and that he will be a Starfighter of great potential, who will teach future Starfighters.
After explaining to his friends and family where he was, Alex reveals that his services as a Starfighter are still needed by the Rylan Star League. He then asks Maggie to join him in space. Maggie's grandmother, Granny Gordon gives her blessing to her granddaughter, and Maggie returns to Rylos with him. Alex's little brother Louis is inspired to follow in his brother's footsteps and begins playing the game, so that he too can master it.