All visual effects (not practical effects like make-up and explosions) were made on a Cray X-MP computer.
The "Star Car" that Centauri drives is based on a DeLorean, including its gull wing doors and its stainless steel construction.
The translator given to Alex Rogan on Rylos is the circuit board of a digital watch.
According to screenwriter Jonathan R. Betuel, the idea for this movie came about because he wandered into a video arcade and saw a young boy playing a video game, and also at that time, he read the book "The Once and Future King" by T.H. White, and it occurred to him that what if a video game had been a sword in a stone, and a boy had scored an incredible number in the video game, which sent out a ripple effect across the universe.
A great deal of the scenes with the Beta Unit were shot after main filming was complete, because the test audience liked the comic relief of the Beta Unit scenes, and director Nick Castle decided they added more originality to the "boy gets to go to outer space" story. This is why in many of the Beta Unit scenes, Lance Guest is wearing a wig, he had cut his hair by the time those scenes were shot.
Jonathan R. Betuel was working as a cabdriver when he wrote the first draft of the script.
This was Robert Preston's final movie appearance before his death on March 21, 1987.
The small box-shaped robot, shown after Alex Rogan gets his uniform on Rylos, is a Heathkit H.E.R.O. 1 robot (H.E.R.O. was an acronym for Heathkit Educational RObot). The kit (which required extensive assembly) sold for $1500, while the fully assembled robot sold for $2500.
Soon after Alex Rogan meets Grig for the first time, we see Grig adjusting a device with rotating red beams. This prop is a mainstay of engineering sets, most notably seen in Airplane II: The Sequel (1982).
Robert Preston and Dan O'Herlihy had never meet before this movie. When they finally meet on the set, O'Herlihy was already in Grig make-up, with a full-head mask. O'Herlihy introduced himself, and Preston jokingly replied that of course he recognized O'Herlihy, because he had "one of those faces".
Although Wil Wheaton's speaking scenes were deleted, he can be seen in two scenes, running around the trailer park early in the movie (wearing a red football jersey), and in the final scene, where he is obscured, standing behind Louis Rogan (wearing a blue jacket, possibly over the red jersey).
Atari produced games for its 5200 Super System and 400 and 800 series home computers as a tie-in with this movie, but they never went past the prototype phase (though copies do survive). The game was nothing like the arcade machine Alex Rogan played in the movie. The technology did not exist at the time to produce real-time 3-D polygonal graphics on a home machine. Rumor also has it that Atari produced one prototype Last Starfighter arcade machine, but it since has been lost. An early Atari 2600 program was revamped into the game released as "Solaris".
The voice of the video game that Alex Rogan played at the trailer park was done by Robert Preston (Centauri).
As Alex Rogan leaves the Starfighter briefing to chase after Centauri, just before he runs into Grig, an announcer with a folksy-sounding voice says: "Now, Starfighters, if you will reach underneath your seats, you will find a packet which contains..." in an apparent parody of the survival kit briefing given by Major Kong aboard the B-52 in Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964).
Galoob created prototype action figures for the movie, but they were never produced, because retailers didn't believe the movie would be successful. The figures included Alex Rogan (trailer park and Starfighter outfits), Maggie Gordon, Centauri, Grig, Xur, Kril, a Ko-Dan, the tentacled Starfighter, the two Xando-Xans, and Enduran. They were planned to be released in two-figure packs. Ultimately, the movie was a modest success, but by then, it was too late to produce the toys.
Cinematographer King Baggot stands in as Alex Rogan's father in a family photo used in the movie.
There is precedent for the Starfighter to be in command of the Gunstar, rather than the Navigator. During World War II, the Armée de l'Air (French Air Force) had the Bomb Aimer as the aircraft commander, so he could be in a better position to direct the aircraft. The Last Starfighter follows this practice.
In 2007, a musical based on the movie was performed as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
In addition to the major Star Trek universe roles later played by Starfighter cast members Wil Wheaton and Marc Alaimo, several others in the movie's cast guest starred in various Star Trek franchises. They include Dan Mason, Barbara Bosson, Norman Snow and Geoffrey Blake. But notable among them is Meg Wyllie (Granny Gordon) who played one of the Talosian keepers in the original series pilot, Star Trek: The Original Series: The Cage (1986).
One of Vernon Washington's (Otis) final acting roles before his death on June 7, 1988.
Nick Castle, Lance Guest and Dan O'Herlihy had all previously been in the Halloween movie franchise. Castle played Michael Myers in Halloween (1978), Guest played Jimmy in Halloween II (1981), and O'Herlihy played Conal Cochran in Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982).
Lance Guest was chosen as the lead after director Nick Castle saw him in post-production for Halloween II (1981). He was looking for the right actor to star as Alex Rogan and after seeing Halloween II (1981) during the editing sessions in post, he asked his friend John Carpenter who that actor was. He felt he had the everyman qualities of a young James Stewart, Henry Fonda, or Gary Cooper that he wanted, and subsequently decided to cast him in the role.
According to Twitter in April 2018, a reboot is in the works. A screenplay was submitted by Gary Whitta, who has wanted to make a reboot for many years. Matt Allsopp provided some concept artwork. Both worked on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016).
Everyone on set loved the veteran actor Robert Preston and said what an amazing experience it was working with him, but they all thought he was much older than his actual age 64. He had been a heavy smoker for many years and unfortunately died only four years later at age 68 from lung cancer.
As of 2020, a reboot or sequel to this movie has yet to come to fruition, despite talks of there being one. This is presumably due to legal issues, as Universal, Warner Bros. (successor-in-interest to Lorimar), and screenwriter Jonathan R. Betuel all claim to own sequel/remake rights to the property.
Released a few years after the alleged release of the mysterious arcade game "Polybius", which allegedly caused epileptic seizures and nightmares amongst the children who played it. The existence of this game has never been proven, but there are strong similarities between the plot of the movie and the Polybius conspiracy that is still alive on various online forums.
Nick Castle enjoyed working with Robert Preston, and thought he was fun to work with.
Part of a three-picture contract between Lorimar Productions and Universal Pictures; the second movie being Tank (1984). The third was intended to be a feature film based on Dallas (1978), but that movie was never made.
Ron Cobb who designed the sports car Centauri drives was originally picked to design the time machine for Back to the Future (1985).
When Alex returns home to the Starlight Starbright trailer park, Nick Castle compares this to a child coming home from college, including introducing his family and friends to a foreign buddy (in this case, Grigg) he befriended at school. "This whole section is so corny, but fun. Introducing your alien friend to your folks," Castle says.
The Frontier is basically a "wall in space", a defense grid set up to protect the peaceful systems of the universe and all the peaceful worlds of the Star League from attacks from other species and the Ko-Dan.
The opening shot of the planet Rylos against a starfield was originally conceived to begin as part of the Universal logo, but the stuffed shirts at the studio didn't like the idea of replacing the Earth with another planet. This probably would have gone differently had it been a Warner Bros. production, which is famous for tinkering with its logo at the beginning of films.
During the opening back-up from Rylos to Earth during the opening titles, which Ron Cobb refers to as "a cosmic backwards zoom," Nick Castle points out that the presentation on the DVD (from 1999) is the first time in 15 years it has been presented in the proper format.
On the commentary, Nick Castle praises the unique idea of the film, which he describes: "A clever idea. Take a regular teenage boy and put him in a heroic situation in a space opera." From this point on, Castle spends much of the commentary distancing this movie from the Star Wars films (which is hinged on that very idea). Along with Ron Cobb, he is quick to point out the key differences, including the Earth-bound location and the ability of the Gunstar ship to operate in three full dimensions since there's no concept of "up" and "down" in space.
Initially, Alex Rogan was to be from the suburbs, but Nick Castle changed the location to a trailer park for several reasons. The biggest reason was that pretty much every film from that era that involved Steven Spielberg (including E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Poltergeist (1982)) used the suburbs as a setting. Secondly, Castle wanted a more isolated location and for Alex to have an extended family that allowed the audience to identify with him and root for him.
The iconic "The Last Starfighter" video game that Alex plays (which was planned as a real one but never made it out there during the film's release) was designed to be different than standard video games with 3D graphics and to look more like a real flight simulator.
The characters of Alex and Maggie were originally named Skip and Penny, which Nick Castle had changed because it was too cartoony. Alex was later named after writer Jonathan R. Betuel's son and his brother Lewis was named after Castle's son. Castle also later reveals that producer Gary Adelson's wife (who has a small part as the first Rylan Alex sees at Starfighter Command) is named Maggie, which is likely where Catherine Mary Stewart's character got her name.
Nick Castle bemoans his attempts to do something different than Spielberg and Lucas: "You basically back into George Lucas and Steven Spielberg at every corner...You see all those moments come up and you realize, boy, George really knew what he was doing."
Nick Castle calls the casting of Robert Preston (in his final film role) as Centauri, "one of the greatest castings of the 80s." He later refers to him as "The Music Man (1962) in space" and "the archetypal flim-flam man." Castle notes that he always considered this story to be like a classic musical without music, which is part of the reason he chose someone so theatrical to play Centauri.
A great amount of discussion comes from Centauri's Star Car, which Ron Cobb designed both as a practical and a visual effect. They built the physical one over a VW engine, covering it with sheet metal. This resulted in a car that didn't move very fast and sounded terrible. Most of the Star Car driving shots were undercranked with additional space-age sound effects. The digital care was built from the same plans. Cobb chimes in quite a bit during the effects-heavy scenes on the commentary , particularly the Star Car's first trip through space to Rylos. He points out that the only film before this that used so much computer-generated imagery was TRON (1982), but he also says with quite a bit of pride that this film was the first movie to use motion blurring when the Star Car makes its descent to Rylos, offering an added level of realism to the effects.
The first Rylan that Alex meets is Maggie Adelson, the wife of the film's producer Gary Adelson.
The side-story with the Beta unit that took Alex's place back home was beefed up after test audience responded positively to the humor elements. This led to several key scenes, including Beta taking off his head to fix his ear and the disastrous make-out moment at Silver Lake.
Nick Castle asks where Ron Cobb got the idea to make the Rylans bald with white hair, he suggests it might be because they're meant to be wise. Cobb explained he designed their look to be more light and heroic, and vaguely cat-like with more hair on the sides of their heads. In the end, Cobb simply says, "We were stuck with it."
The character of Grigg, was based on what Ron Cobb calls "a bundle of fringe lizard characteristics." The prosthetics that Dan O'Herlihy had to wear were severely limiting, and he had to exaggerate his facial movements to achieve any sort of emotion through them..
Contains several not-so-subtle allusions to The Wizard of Oz (1939). Nick Castle points out Maggie's braids and checkered blue shirt back home, as well as the floating head of Xur in Starfighter Command.
The largest physical set in this film was Starfighter Command. The largest computer generated set was the seemingly endless Frontier in space.
While Ron Cobb was somewhat wishy-washy on what inspired the look of the Rylans, he specifically says the Ko-Dan race was meant to look Satanic. He added horns on their heads, horns on their chins, red skin and even a monocle on Lord Kril. The Ko-Dan crew members were literally "enslaved in the circuits" of the mothership.
When the Ko-Dan mothership fires meteors through the hole they ripped open in the Frontier, Ron Cobb points out the silliness of not using actual weapons. "I suppose this was so they could have plausible deniability," he says, pointing out that they could have just as easily targeted Starfighter Command with lasers, metal projectiles or other ordinance.
Had a very brief 40-day shooting schedule considering it was a science fiction summer release. This included all the time for green screen work in both the Gunstar and the Star Car.
During the wide shots of Starfighter Command and when Alex's Gunstar hide in an asteroid, Ron Cobb expresses his frustration with the look of the landscapes. He describes the final look as "melted ice cream," which did not render well. The technology was there to develop more photorealistic landscapes, but the production could not afford the time it took to render them.
Nick Castle and Ron Cobb point out that the helmets to the Starfighter uniforms don't actually close and latch, so they're not air-tight. They both admit that while they look cool, this is a serious design flaw for space travel.
The spaceship used by the second Zando-Zan assassin beast was one of Ron Cobb's rejected designs from Alien (1979). It was rejected at the concept stage, so it was never built until he used it for this film.
As the film rolls into the credits, there's an explosion of history and discussion about the concept of the movie itself on the commentary. Both Nick Castle and Ron Cobb point out that this was a giant gamble to do so much in the computer, working on the assumption that they could achieve it. This is what led Castle to hire Cobb, whom he knew through John Carpenter. Cobb had worked on both Dark Star (1974) with Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon as well as Alien (1979) with O'Bannon. Castle jokes that it could have been "Gumby in Outer Space" if the rendered images didn't look any better than the intermediate placeholders. "It's an interesting thing to go into a movie with half the movie as a question mark," Castle says.
The translator that is placed on Alex's collar (on a shirt that he incidentally changes half-way through the film and continues to understand alien languages) is one of several moments during the commentary that Nick Castle and Ron Cobb sheepishly admit to a level of cheesiness or mistakes. "I think we would call it cheesy, now, in the 90s," Castle says. Later, during the Star Car's return to Rylos, Cobb points out a shot where you can see the extended set reflected in the windshield. Castle also points out the goofy wig worn by Lance Guest during a reshoot of that scene after Guest had already cut his hair.