CD: Last Starfighter, The (1984)

March 26, 2015 | By


LastStarfighter_Intrada2015CDScore: Excellent

Label: Intrada Records

Released:  January 6, 2015

Tracks / Album Length:  22 tracks / (62:36)

Composer: Craig Safan

Special Notes:  Remastered & expanded from 2″ 24 track master tapes.




Intrada’s expanded CD release of The Last Starfighter marks the third time Craig Safan’s landmark score appears on disc, and this time the producers went back to the original 24 track, 2” tape master tapes to present the definitive edition of this special work.

It’s easy to deride the film, being based on an Atari video game, but it remains a fun, well-crafted little flight of fantasy and sci-fi where an ordinary kid is recruited by friendly aliens to essentially save multiple worlds from a power-mongering ogre. Safan was tasked with writing a score in the big Romantic style of Star Wars (1977), since that film made it almost de rigueur to score space with a large orchestra. Those lucky enough to have caught Starfighter on the big screen will undoubtedly remember not only Safan’s sweeping heroic main theme, but what’s best described as the score’s boom factor – big, robust bass notes that thundered within a Dolby Surround Sound auditorium.

Southern Cross Records’ original LP and CD were fairly faithful to Safan’s boom, but the half-hour albums contained about 20 minutes of actual score, with two songs co-written by Safan filling out the LP’s middle. When Intrada reissued the album with an additional 24 minutes of score (minus the songs), that became the definitive release. This new edition adds another 14 minutes of music, and separately indexed a few cues that were previously grouped together to create longer tracks.

The new material ranges from modest to very short cuts, but fans will be pleasantly surprised by the album’s elegant flow, and nothing feels abrupt nor repetitive – the latter being a bit of an issue with the first LP since only the longer, broadly thematic tracks were retained for the album.

The real difference is in the details, or rather the sharpness of the brass and somewhat more resonant bass – all neatly balanced from an already beautifully engineered master recording. Safan’s music has always benefitted from meticulous orchestrating, recording, mixing, and engineering (often credited to Dennis Sands), and Starfighter certainly delivers an epic, classical Hollywood style where brass and strings are deliberately spread across the stereo spectrum to enhance the sense of being in a large amphitheater.

Safan’s main theme recurs in a romantic string version for the romance between boy + girl, as well as the prominent heroic guise with a wide array of brass. Much of the score is brass-heavy, but it’s never oppressive, because alongside the dynamic building blocks within each cue, there’s the careful arrangement of brass groupings which move from a distant herald to a final collective body, adding more colour and range until it’s almost dizzying for the listener at home (and moviegoers in the cinema).

Heard separately on CD, it’s a score that’s aged really well, largely because the producers wanted a more traditional orchestral sound, thereby subjugating synths to strict colour usage, and eliminating the need for heavy drum sequencers which have in some cases significantly dated several 80s action scores. Synths – either as glassy mobile emulations, or pneumatic air pistons (“Hit Beast” and “Centauri Dies”) – add a special colour to Starfighter without drawing attention to the specific electronic instrument and sound pads, and the electronic elements were reportedly performed live with an orchestra, an approach also used by Jerry Goldsmith.

The only way Starfighter could sound better is perhaps as a 24 bit album, although it would be interesting to hear the newly mastered score on a virgin vinyl release, a topic one suspects has come up at Intrada, given the popularity of vinyl and Intrada’s own lineage as a record label. (Both Intrada and Varese Sarabande were very picky about their LP pressings, and it’s not surprising certain first LPs remain top collectibles because of the careful mastering.)

If Intrada were to entertain limited LP pressings, here’s two suggestions: don’t make it heavily expensive, nor extremely limited. The classical nature of Starfighter makes it a natural for an LP release, if not a challenging one to ensure as much of the detail and insanely beautiful resonance of the strings, brass, and synth pads are retained.

The release of The Last Starfighter follows a similar remastered and expanded release of Safan’s classic all-synth score Warning Sign (1985) from Invada Records in the fall of 2014.

A 2015 podcast interview with Craig Safan discussing the release of both scores and other great music is available from’s iTunes, Libsyn, and YouTube channels.



© 2015 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Soundtrack Reviews

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