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Strap into The Last Starfighter's wicked Gunstar One

Contributed by
Jul 13, 2018

Welcome back to SYFY WIRE's Flight Deck, where we purposely park a classic spaceship from the hallowed halls of geekdom and examine its merits and design in dry dock, before gently releasing her back into the sterling sanctity of the stars.

Greetings, Starfighter! For this month's installment we're shining a heavy-duty halogen shop light under the hood of the gorgeous Gunstar attack ship featured in 1984's The Last Starfighter as today marks its 34th birthday.

This iconic prototype spacecraft bristling with an insane array of offensive and defensive weaponry also holds the honorable distinction of being the first space-vessel ever fully rendered in CGI.

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The Last Starfighter first swooped into theaters on July 13, 1984 with digital afterburners flaring. Director Nick Castle's ("The Shape" in Halloween) charming space opera was refreshing entertainment in a busy summer crowded with hot hits like Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Conan the Destroyer, The Karate Kid, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

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It was a mild success at the box office, remembered more for its 27 groundbreaking minutes of computer generated special effects than anything, and quietly raked in $28.7 million off an estimated $15 million budget. A sequel or hybrid remake to this fantasy cult flick has been rumored recently from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story's screenwriter Gary Whitta, but nothing concrete has solidified in Tinsel Town yet.

Whitta even recently shared some cool concept images from Rogue One artist Mike Allsopp of the Gunstar spaceship designs that might be familiar to fans!

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Credit: Gary Whitta and Mike Alsopp

This geeky confection told the old-fashioned fable of Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), a reluctant trailer park hero who happens to be selected by the humanoid alien Centauri (Robert Preston) to help fight Xur and the Ko-dan Armada after grabbing the high score on a Starfighter recruitment arcade game in his backyard. Embracing his destiny and joining up with the Rylan Star League, he embarks upon a galactic quest with reptilian co-pilot, Grig (Dan O'Herlihy), and assists in defeating the alien threat inside his advanced attack ship, the Gunstar One.

No ordinary frontline space superiority fighter of the Rylan fleet, the two-man, 20 meter-long Gunstar is equipped with an enviable array of laser bolts, particle beams, and photon missiles that can be deployed in various modes depending on the combat situation.

But nothing is as wildly amazing and intensely satisfying as its special Death Blossom maneuver, where the pilot directs the ship to spew out a head-spinning assault of lethal energy projectiles as the crazy craft does backflips and somersaults in outer space, effectively vaporizing any immediate threats within its spherical range.

Designed by legendary concept artist Rob Cobb of Alien and Conan the Barbarian fame and animated by the maverick team at Digital Productions, the Gunstar's presentation was completely revolutionary and ushered in the age of digital effects along with films like Young Sherlock Holmes and its unsettling stained glass knight.

The exact imaging specifications were conceived with a mammoth (and insanely expensive) Cray X-MP supercomputer and the effects rendered in 3000 by 5000 dpi at twelve bits per channel, an impressive achievement for those simpler times. The magic was conjured up by main programmers Gary Demos and John Whitney, Jr., who had just started their unique SFX company with the pitch of producing digital scene simulations for the motion picture industry.

Not a single miniature was used in the depiction of the spaceships in The Last Starfighter and their amazing work bringing the experimental Gunstar to life remains one of the pivotal moments in Hollywood visual effects history.

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What are your memories of Universal's The Last Starfighter and the gung-ho Gunstar spaceship?