It is surprising that a ground-breaking movie hasn’t been remade, 1984’s The Last Starfighter doesn’t have a remake even in pre-production. Turns out, the rights holder refuses to let the movie be remade. That still allows some speculation on how the film could be re-done today.
The plot of The Last Starfighter wasn’t complex. Alex Rogan, played by Lance Guest, is a young man living in a trailer park managed by his mother, helping her out. His responsibilities hold him back from having as full a social life with his friends, so he passes what free time he has by playing Starfighter, an arcade video game at the park’s tuck shop where players defend the Frontier from the Ko-Dan armada. To give an idea of how isolated the trailer park is, when Alex breaks the high score, the entire park is there cheering him on.
Turns out, though, that Starfighter isn’t just a video game. Starfighter is a recruiting tool, used by the Rylan Star League to find potential Starfighter recruits. Centauri, played by Robert Preston, placed the video game on Earth much like he placed a sword in a stone on the planet. Alex is contacted and taken to the Star League’s headquarters, where he meets, among others, Grig, played by Dan O’Herlihy. Alex turns down the offer, citing his responsibilities to his mother, and is returned home. While Alex gets back to his life on Earth, a traitor destroys the Star League’s HQ and most of the Gunstars and their crews. One ship remains, a prototype. Word gets to Alex, who leaves Earth to take up the mantle of the Last Starfighter to defend the Frontier from the Ko-Dan armada.
The first question when remaking or adapting is “Why?” Why remake? The Last Starfighter was one of the first movies to use computer graphics for special effects and the first to have CG effects interact with real objects, including actors. The Gunstar was solely a computer generated effect. The Death Blossom, while possible using a physical model and camera effects, is far easier to create using a computer model. The effects are showing their age, though they don’t look as old they should. A remake could use current CG effects, taking advantage of the improvements in technology and technique over the past thirty-two years.
The next thing to look at is how life, culture, and technology has changed over time. Video arcades, while still around, aren’t common. The home console has come a long way since the Atari 2600, with far better graphics and far games available. Alex is more likely to have a current generation game console in his home, reducing the need to go to the tuck shop and spend quarters on just one game. However, modern consoles connect to the Internet, allowing scores to be shared. A video game with code to call home, even a home that’s outside the solar system, isn’t far-fetched. This change doesn’t have an effect on the plot, just how it appears on screen. The only issue is that there are still areas in North America that don’t have high speed Internet access, mostly rural or isolated areas. Satellite Internet does exist, and could be a sell for a trailer park in the sticks, so, with some explanation on screen, the problem can be handwaved away.
The plot itself can stand by itself. The remake may be tempted to expand the cast a bit, add other Starfighters from Earth, turning the remake into The Last Starfighters. The core of the plot is the refusal of the call followed by answering after a disaster, and having two characters turn back on the call isn’t a problem. In the original, though, Alex realizes the scope of the danger from Grig and his willingness to die to save his family. Grig is needed as a mentor figure. Surviving the traitor’s destruction is possible, though. Adding a second Starfighter from Earth gives the remake room for diversity, with additional drama as Alex and the other Starfighter learn to work together.
If the rights were available, it wouldn’t be difficult to remake The Last Starfighter and keep the core of the movie intact. It’ll take an effort by the hypothetical filmmaker, but the simplicity of the original story will help.