At the time of its release, The Last Starfighter attracted a strong following among critics (if not viewers) because it used state-of-the-art effects to create a world separate enough from Star Wars to escape accusations of plagiarism, yet magical enough to inspire wonder. The passage of time has not elevated it to the level of common cultural reference, nor did it result in the franchise the producers clearly wanted. But the film's efforts toward originality are still appreciable. For one, instead of taking place in the future, The Last Starfighter imagines that intergalactic strife and epic gallantry are concurrent with the humdrum lives of American teenagers in trailer parks, and it shifts between these two realms with ease. It provides a satisfying logical leap for those who have dreamed themselves away into video games. It cleverly substitutes a robot doppelganger for the departed Alex Rogan, creating a deft subplot about the infiltrator's attempts to sidestep suspicion. It casts an eternally wise Robert Preston as an interstellar mentor/tour guide, and a boyishly charming Lance Guest in the hero role that should have earned him a lot more film work. The CGI spaceships look crisp, too, even if they stand a little too cleanly against the background. The best explanation for the popular failure of The Last Starfighter is that it caught the audience on a downtrend away from science fiction, which went through a period in which it was box-office poison compared to escapist alternatives like sleek thrillers and action-adventures.