Blair, a fighter pilot, joins an interstellar war to fight the evil Kilrathi who are trying to destroy the universe.
The opening credits say based on the games and novels by Chris Roberts. Then it says directed by the same Chris Roberts. Video game design and making movies are basically the same, so I’m sure in hindsight this will be viewed as the good decision it obviously is. You don’t want to bog down a film production with a director who has experience or a proven track record.
The movie opens with some exposition that mankind was conquering space and everything until they ran into a race of aliens called the Kilrathi and now they are in a desperate war against them. On the space station Pegasus, it is business as usual, until a Kilrathi fleet comes out of nowhere and easily destroys all the ships and boards the station. Their target? The computer that allows humans to travel through space. The CO of the station tries somewhat comically to shoot and smash his way into the computer room to prevent it from falling into enemy hands, but to no avail. Instead he sends out a little distress pod and goes down with the station. The Kilrathi now have access to the CO’s computer! Let’s hope there wasn’t anything inappropriate on there…
Now we cut to a small cargo ship, the Diligent. This ship has a crew of one old guy (Tchéky Karyo) named Taggart and two rookie pilots being transported to their first assignment in deep space. The two pilots are Lt. Blair (Freddie Prince Jr.) and Lt. Marshall (Matthew Lillard). Wing Commander is the second of what is apparently five match-ups of Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard. Matthew Lillard, of course, having his acting career destroyed by Scooby Doo movies, and has subsequently spent the last 12 years of his life doing little else other than rehashing the character Shaggy.
The Diligent gets a message from Earth command to deliver a mission assignment to the Tiger Claw, which is convenient, because they were headed there anyways. Old Man Taggart gives the com to Marshall, who immediately screws up and pilots them too close to a blackhole or something. Lucky for them (and us, I guess) Blair is some half-breed human / spaceborn gravitational genius, and in less than 10 seconds he is able to plot a course that takes them right to the Tiger Claw. Blair’s mother was something called a Pilgrim, and because of that, he has crazy navigation powers, or something. Also, the Pilgrims seem to be generally hated by everyone except Taggart. Despite this, Blair seems to go out of his way flashing his Pilgrim badge of honor all over the place. This is probably because he doesn’t want any friends. Unfortunately for him this tactic doesn’t work on Marshall.
The Diligent meets up with the Tiger Claw and Taggart delivers the orders. The secret assignment is the Tiger Claw is basically on a suicide mission to delay the Kilrathi fleet, set to arrive at Earth in 23 hours, for at least 2 hours, so that the human fleet, set to arrive back in the Sol System in 25 hours, has time to get there. The captain doesn’t believe these orders are real, and neither does the XO (Jürgen Prochnow), until Taggart gives the captain a ring from his finger. Now the captain believes everything! So I guess this is the ring of truth or something. Yes. It rings true.
Marshall and Blair start aimlessly wandering around in the ship. Blair decides to climb into what must be the worst spaceship fighter in the galaxy, and then Lt. Cdr. Deveraux (Saffron Burrows) shows up and yells at him. Marshall and Blair then head to the pilot’s area where Blair immediately decides to flash his Pilgrim bling again, which almost starts a fight. Marshall is able to sooth things over with some alcohol, and everyone becomes friends.
Now it is time for a mission. Deveraux teams up with Blair to go on a recon mission in which they “must not be detected.” You’ll never guess what happens though. The enemy detects them and Blair shoots a couple of Kilrathi fighters. They return to the Tiger Claw and get chewed out, I guess it would have been better if they had died. While on the mission they did discover a large communications ship. Blair decides to visit Deveraux in her cabin (weird?) and she tells Blair the reason she was so hard on him when they met was because he was sitting in the fighter of a recently deceased pilot that she had a relationship with. Somehow this pilot died but they recovered his intact fighter. Meanwhile Marshall used this downtime to immediately hook up with another pilot named Forbes (Ginny Holder).
So, remember that communications ship? The Tiger Claw scrabbles all but two fighters to go hunt down said ship and destroy it. But wait! This is actually a Kilrathi trap and the Tiger Claw is going to get it! Somehow Taggart (who is inexplicably in a fighter on this mission) realizes this and convinces Deveraux to pull the team back to the Tiger Claw (turns out he is secretly military intelligence). Cut to the Tiger Claw as they suddenly lose their two fighter escort and are now in a pitched battle. The captain is just sitting around doing very little while the XO coordinates the attack. He is the kind of XO who likes his ship to take a ton of damage before he fights back, and the Kilrathi oblige him. Things aren’t looking good for the Tiger Claw, but then those other fighters show up again and there is a decent enough space battle.
After blowing up a few Kilrathi ships the Tiger Claw is in retreat and Deveraux orders all fighters back. Marshall and Forbes don’t listen though, because they are in a constant game of one-upmanship. Forbes does a daring game of chicken with a Kilrathi fighter before destroying it to prove how great she is. Marshall does an even more daring game of chicken which results in the Kilrathi crashing into Forbes. Forbes’ ship is pretty damaged and the ejection seat doesn’t work. Marshall tries to guide her in and she crashes just outside the force-field between space and the interior of the ship. Ultimately Deveraux makes the call to push the wreckage out of the way so the other ships can land. Marshall is pretty broken up about a girl he met perhaps 10 hours ago and goes catatonic for awhile (but not actually too long, because this movie has to wrap up within a 25 hour time window). Deveraux comes down on him pretty hard, but Blair convinces her they need him.
The Kilrathi have regrouped and now the Tiger Claw (due to heavy damage needlessly sustained) must hide in the shadow of a crater. The XO orders all power to be cut and for everyone to be quiet. Then you see a ship slowly passing over and you hear the ping of.. sonar? The ship passes over and begins bombing the shadows. So, this movie seems to think that space is like the ocean, and ships need to act like submarines. I’m pretty sure sound only carries over a medium (like water, or air) and not through the empty vacuum of space. One online review said this submarine nonsense was a homage to Das Boot, because Jürgen Prochnow was in that movie doing the exact same thing. That’s great, but why is it in this movie?
Down by the hanger a hole gets punched in the ship and air starts to get sucked out (oh wait, we are in space?!). Blair starts to get pulled towards the breach and everyone is like "yeah let him die because he's a Pilgrim or whatever." Marshall manages to rally the gawkers just standing around in the hanger and is able to save Blair and close the breach. Blair goes back to Taggart and asks him why everyone hates Pilgrims. Turns out Taggart is also a Pilgrim! Taggart says the Pilgrims thought they were better than everyone else and the universe hates them for it. Sounds legit.
The silly submarine attack is over, and the Tiger Claw is in even worse shape. They ain’t got no fuel cells, and I reckon that ain’t good. But they’ve detected that communications ship, and it probably has fuel cells. The Diligent (remember it?) is apparently still around and undamaged, so they load all the pilots into space suits to launch a boarding party against the Comm ship. I guess pilots make great marines. They manage to board the ship and Blair single-handedly kills about a dozen Kilrathi, which we see for the first time are kind of like giant cats. Could this war has been averted with a few huge balls of yarn? We’ll never know the truth. Anyways, Blair finds that Nav computer that was taken at the very beginning of the movie (which revealed the location of Earth of the Kilrathi) and learns where they will make their entry into Earth’s solar system. The other boarders are able to steal some fuel cells. It’s a good thing Kilrathi Comm ships and Terran carriers use the same battery size (DDDDDDDDDD). Also the Kilrathi were able to use the Nav computer without difficulty. Technology in this universe is crazy compatible.
Now they have successfully delayed the Kilrathi enough, because now it isn’t a question of delaying them anymore, but of getting the intel back to the fleet so they can wipe out that Kilrathi extermination fleet. I say this because the human fleet is now lying in wait around Venus waiting for the Kilrathi to show up. The Tiger Claw is too jacked up to make the trip, but a couple of fighters might make it, but only if they take a shortcut through a pulsar or some nonsense. Deveraux and Blair are chosen. Blair, because he can make magic with jump points to get them there crazy fast, and Deveraux, because nobody trusts that filthy Pilgrim anyways. As they leave the Tiger Claw is attacked by some kind of teleporting torpedo, and Deveraux abandons the mission of saving Earth to stop it. Her ship is subsequently ruined and she is left in a pod drifting in space. A fitting end for a species traitor like her.
Blair makes the jump to Earth and sends the intel, but he was followed! Remember that black hole thing at the beginning of the movie? Apparently it is in our solar system, because Blair then does some crazy gravity dive towards it and lures the Kilrathi pursuit vehicle to its death. Now the Kilrathi fleet starts showing up one ship at a time and the Terran fleet mops them up like fish in a space barrel. The Tiger Claw shows up and Deveraux was saved (Boo!). Blair and her reunite and they start kissing. Even though Deveraux just lost someone close to her a few days ago. Love travels fast in space (but not sound!).