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Ostensibly, a story about a young pilot who seeks love and struggles for his stern father's approval while learning to fly the Air Force's most advanced fighter jet. In reality, an hour-and-a-half Infomercial for said jet, the Lockheed F-104 "Starfighter".
Air Force pilot John Witkowski Jr. transfers to George Air Force Base to begin training in the shiny new F-104, quickly becoming an ace; but his Congressman father disapproves and attempts to pull strings to get his son transferred out of the Starfighter squadron. John refuses. Meanwhile John goes on blind dates with his married friends who've set him up with a nice farmgirl from Iowa, and he quickly gets shot down. In the climax of the film, a storm disrupts a training exercise, crashing one plane and forcing Witkowski to land at another air base; but it's okay, everyone is recovered safe and sound. At the end, the Starfighter squadron is deployed to Europe; John goes with them, leaving behind his fledgling Love Interest and against the wishes of his father.
Of course, the real star of the film is the F-104 Starfighter. We get lots of Stock Footage of the Starfighter in action and lots of shots of it inactive as well. The films' lead actor, Robert Dornan, went on to become a U.S. Congressman.
Not to be confused with The Last Starfighter.
The Starfighters provides examples of:
- Broken Aesop: If the intent was to play up the awesomeness of the F-104 Starfighter, the Air Force / Lockheed made a really poor choice of film crew. Their complete failure to include any interesting plot developments means that what little drama there was in the movie was provided entirely by the infamous operational/maintenance dangers of the Starfighter itself. The movie includes three Starfighter accidents, two caused by inclement weather - which was such a danger to the F-104 that NATO pilots in Germany and Italy called it "the Flying Coffin." Of course, the film might have been trying to head off those complaints by depicting a US Senator concerned about the plane's accident record, and showing how cool the plane was anyway.
- Even going by the film's interpretation, the US Air Force doesn't seem inviting.
- Don't Explain the Joke: The base commander makes a joke about never being able to hit the dummy plane targets, the flight leader mentions that maybe if they paint a swastika on it he'll be able to shot it down in seconds, before telling everyone that the Base commander had a high kill count during WWII for anyone that couldn't figure it out.
- Ear Worm: The incidental music consists of several incongruous slabs of jazzy muzak - including the classic "baaah, bah-bah-bah" song - played for minutes on end as the heroes refuel their planes.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Averted if you expect the movie to be a space opera. Very much played straight if you know your airplanes. Lots and lots of Starfighter footage indeed.
- Inherently Funny Words: The poopie suit.
- Truth in Television: The poopie suit was called as such that the pilot sweated so much in the suit, it smelled like he pooped in it. The other nickname for the flight suit was "the body condom".
- Ironic Echo / Genre Blindness: Stanley Kubrick used the same refueling footage in Dr. Strangelove, released the same year. Of course, he saw the sexual connotations of the refueling that Mike and the 'Bots did, but the Irony Blind military did not.
- The Jazz Singer: John's father was a bomber pilot during World War Two, and he wants his son to follow in his footsteps instead of piloting fighters. John Jr. is determined to follow his own path despite his father's wishes.
- Bombers Vs. Fighters. And the film is quick not to diss the bombers.
- Notable Original Music
- Scenery Porn: the F-104.
- Shallow Love Interest
- Short Distance Phone Call: Running Gag in the film -- one pilot in the officer's club calls another pilot, who answers the call in the next phone booth over. First pilot talks the second into doing the first a favor to clear the way for a date; second agrees, and hangs up. The first pilot walks over to the second pilot and finishes explaining the details, then walks off. The second pilot goes "Hey!" a second later. (Bob's the second pilot the first time, and the first pilot the second run through the gag.)
- Stock Footage
- Soundtrack Dissonance