WASHINGTON, DC–During a speech Monday, President Bush disclosed for the first time the pivotal role the 1984 science-fiction adventure film The Last Starfighter played in his decision to enter politics.
"My whole life, I'd grown up around politics, but it wasn't until that fateful day in 1984, at a matinee screening of The Last Starfighter at the old Orpheum Theater in Midland, TX, that I finally realized that my destiny lay in public service," said Bush, speaking at a Republican National Committee fundraiser at the Washington Hilton. "The movie showed me that no matter who you are and where you come from, you can make a big difference."
The comments surprised the estimated 600 RNC members in attendance, as well as Bush's aides, who expected the president to discuss his proposed tax cut and plan for governing post-war Iraq. Not even his closest advisors knew of Bush's passion for the Reagan-era space epic.
Straying from his scripted remarks, Bush described at length his "lost" years of the early 1980s in Midland.
"I was holding down two jobs, one at an oil well, the other for a third-rate professional baseball team," Bush said. "I had gotten a local girl pregnant, and I spent my weekends watching golf on TV and drinking with my buddies. My dad was vice-president then, and occasionally he'd offer me some vice-presidential stuff to do, you know, just to get a taste for politics. But I was too distracted by other things. Basically, I was your typical unfocused kid."
One idle Saturday, Bush said he purchased a ticket to a matinee showing of The Last Starfighter. The seemingly inconsequential act would have profound repercussions on the young man–and, ultimately, on the entire nation.
"Just minutes into the film, I found myself relating deeply to Alex, the lead character played by Lance Guest," Bush said. "He lived in a trailer park and had little opportunity to advance himself. His only escape was playing video games."
After achieving a record score on a video game called "Starfighter," Alex is contacted by a mysterious man who invented the game. The man, named Centauri, proves to be a space alien whose home planet, Rylos, is under impending attack by a sinister invasion force known as the Ko-Dan Armada. Centauri had invented the game as a means to recruit standout video gamers who could pilot the real-life versions of the Gunstar spaceships featured in the game.
Bush was enthralled.
"Here's this kid, with nothing going on in his life, and it turns out that his only talent, one that seemed so trivial and ridiculous, could alter the fate of the galaxy forever," Bush said. "That really inspired me."
Bush said he could also identify with Alex's initial reluctance to becoming a Starfighter.
"At first, Alex didn't want to do it," Bush said. "He figured, why should he fight for the Star League and risk his life battling an enemy he knew nothing about? But then, when the other Starfighters were killed in an attack on their base and [evil emperor] Zur sent his vicious Zan-Do-Zan assassins to Earth to kill him, Alex began to realize that the only thing standing between the Ko-Dan and universal conquest was himself."
Continued Bush: "I realized that if Alex turned down the chance to be a Starfighter, he would have been assassinated, and Earth would have been destroyed. It made me think long and hard about my own place in the world: Was I making the right decisions? Was I helping people as much as I could? Was I missing out on a chance to save mankind?"
Bush added that he loved the film's breakthrough computer-generated special effects, as well as the fact that Alex had a robot double–something he had dreamed of having in his youth.
Transfixed by the film, Bush would go on to see it seven times that summer, memorizing its dialogue and buying a VHS copy on the day of its release. But The Last Starfighter's most profound impact on Bush was the way it motivated him to leave the private sector and enter politics.
"It made me realize that politics truly was in my blood," Bush said. "Who cares if I wasn't a good businessman or a sharp scholar? Alex was even worse off than me, and look what he achieved."
Bush admitted that, while running for Texas governor in 1994, he kept his Last Starfighter videocassette cued up in his campaign bus' VCR, ready for rewinding or fast-forwarding to his favorite scenes on a moment's notice.
"When my spirits were sagging, I'd watch the scene where Alex tells Centauri that he's just 'a kid from a trailer park,'" Bush said. "Centauri replies, 'If that's what you think, then that's all you'll ever be.' It helped me remember that the only boundaries that exist are those you create in your mind."
Continued Bush: "Or, as Alex says to [his girlfriend] Maggie, 'Don't you see this is it? This is our big chance. It's like, whatever this is, when it comes, you've got to grab on with both hands and hold tight.'"
The fundraiser audience reacted to the Bush speech with near-silence.
"I sort of remember the movie when it first came out, but I never saw it," RNC chairman Marc Racicot said. "As a Bush supporter and GOP policymaker, maybe I should rent it sometime."
Former White House communications director Karen Hughes, a close advisor to Bush in the early days of his presidency, said she had failed to realize the full significance of The Last Starfighter during her time in the administration.
"When I first started working for the president, he would sometimes mention the movie. Once or twice, he even tried to get me to read his Last Starfighter fan fiction," Hughes said. "But I always assumed that his decision to enter politics was shaped by his desire to continue his family's long history of public service. The Last Starfighter. Wow."
Added Hughes: "That probably explains why [Last Starfighter co-star] Catherine Mary Stewart is our ambassador to Zambia."