The Voyager II space probe of 1977 carried a gold phonograph record with a message of peace and an invitation to visit Earth. A planet responds, sending a small scout vessel, but it is immediately shot down by the U.S. government. It crashes to Earth in Chequamegon Bay, Wisconsin, and the glowing ball of energy inside makes its way to the home of recent widow Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen). It observes photographs of her late husband (Jeff Bridges) and uses a lock of his hair to re-create his body, to her horror as she watches.
He has seven small silver spheres and uses one to contact his homeworld, telling them Earth is hostile and his spacecraft is wrecked, and arranges to rendezvous with them in Arizona in three days. With the second sphere, he creates a holographic map of the U.S. and forces Jenny to take him to the rendezvous. Frightened, Jenny tries to escape. Using broken English learned from the Voyager probe, he assures her he means no harm. If he does not reach the rendezvous, he will die. Somewhat mollified, but still wary, Jenny teaches him how to drive and use credit cards so he can go on alone, but when she sees him miraculously resurrect a dead deer off a fender and then receive a beating from the hunter, she decides to go with him. He is a total innocent on a dangerous planet.
The authorities pursue them, and a police officer actually shoots and critically wounds Jenny. The Starman crashes the car into a fuel tanker and uses a silver sphere to protect them. They take refuge in a mobile home on the highway, and he heals Jenny. Then he takes off on his own, hitchhiking, but she catches up to him at a roadblock and they continue together.
In a boxcar, they make love, and he tells her she is now pregnant with a child by her late husband, who will also have alien powers and wisdom. They travel too far and end up broke in Las Vegas, except for a quarter, which he uses to win half a million dollars in a slot machine. They buy a new car. National Security Agent George Fox (Richard Jaeckel) determines that the spacecraft was originally headed for Meteor Crater in Arizona and sends forces to catch him there dead or alive, much to the disgust of SETI scientist Mark Shermin (Charles Martin Smith), who vows to help him escape.
The Starman is dying. He and Jenny reach the crater, pursued by helicopters. A huge mirror-like spherical vessel descends into the crater. The couple are engulfed in light, and he is healed. Jenny asks to go with him, but he says she would die on his world. As he leaves, he gives her his last silver sphere, telling her that her son will know what to do with it.
Like ET, this is about a good alien trapped on a dangerous Earth and asking help from humans. It was directed by John Carpenter and is a tear-jerker departure for him. Jeff Bridges received an Oscar nomination for his role, which was largely based on dance moves and the movements of birds. It gave rise to a TV series of the same name in 1986. The film was purchased at the insistence of Executive Producer Michael Douglas. Screenwriter Dean Riesner re-wrote it six times but did not get a credit from the Screenwriter’s Guild. Columbia Pictures went with Starman instead of ET, to their chagrin. It was almost not made at all because of its similarity to ET.
It was released at the same time as Dune and a week after 2010. It was highly praised as a sweet, offbeat love story. Critics were pleasantly surprised that a movie that could easily have been downright silly turned out to be so touching, largely because of the commitment of the actors. It was the only John Carpenter film to have received an Oscar nomination. Bridges also received Golden Globe and Saturn nominations. He lost the Oscar, incidentally, to F. Murray Abraham for Amadeus.
John Carpenter relished a chance to show off America’s beauty, though he was not so kind to its government. The film sat on a shelf for three years before being released. Carpenter wanted to do something completely different from The Thing, which he had just made. Meteor Crater is a mile wide and 49,000 years old. Kevin Bacon and Tom Cruise were considered for Bridge’s role. The film boasts sixteen helicopters over Meteor Crater, a forest fire set off by the spaceship crash, and a roadblock that shut down a Nevada intersection for three days. In the beginning, the Starman recites all the greetings in different languages from the Voyager II disc. John Carpenter appeared on screen in a helicopter. The film suggests that Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones was on the record sent into space, but it was not.