The Last Techno-Utopianist

A night in tonight, big day tomorrow, so I checked out whats on the boob-tube this evening. Return of the Jedi (awesome) and The Last Starfighter. Everyone may not be familiar with the second film. It is a pretty bad b-grade flick made to capitalise on the then-recent rise in popularity of video games and the smash hit success of the Star Wars movies. (Although it bugs the shit out of me that it is no longer called Return of the Jedi, but Episode VI. Get your hand off it, George Lucas…)

Anyway, The Last Starfighter is interesting for two main reasons.

1) It was the first film to do all special effects (bar the make-up) with a computer. All the spaceships, space fights, everything. It was done on a Cray supercomputer. That in itself is pretty awesome.

2) Plot: “A videogaming boy, seemingly doomed to stay at his trailer park home all his life, finds himself recruited as a gunner for an alien defense force.” It seems as if most reviewers at the time focused on the film quality, rather than the particular cultural context for which the film is an expression. Virilio would’ve gone nuts over such a plotline. The frontier of the sky and of electromagnetic domain are conquered through a literal upwards mobility by a trailer trash loser (whose girlfriend doesn’t even realise he has been replaced by a robot after he goes off to save the galaxy… very telling).

Playing a video game gets you out of your shitty life? Only in the movies. Along with Tron and War Games, this film captures something about the buzz around video games and computers in the early to mid-1980s.