Alien: Isolation's DLC level, Last Survivor, saw Creative Assembly reworking Ripley’s iconic muttering of "You Are My Lucky Star" — creating a wonderfully discreet musical moment.
By Thomas Quillfeldt
“Danger! The emergency destruct system is now activated. The ship will detonate in T-Minus five minutes.”
The warning reverberates throughout the mining vessel, Nostromo, as its coolant system fails, causing the core to overheat. Alarms wail, jets of steam burst out of pipes, and the pulsing lights create an overwhelming sense of panic.
Heroine Ellen Ripley reaches the escape shuttle Narcissus and frantically follows its launch procedures, escaping the exploding Nostromo with twenty-five seconds to spare, believing that the deadly xenomorph hunting her and the crew is no more: “I got you, you son-of-a-bitch!”
As Ripley prepares for the voyage home, the titular alien’s hand darts out, mere inches from her. The escape vessel is no calm refuge, but a deadly shared enclosure.
Ripley retreats to a spacesuit chamber, trembling as she keeps her eyes glued to the creature. Climbing ever-so-slowly into a spacesuit, she nervously sings under her breath "You Are My Lucky Star" from the 1935 musical Broadway Melody Of 1936 (also from 1952’s Singin' in the Rain):
“You are my… lucky star. You… Lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky…”
Keeping her nerve by clinging to the words of the song like a comfort blanket, Ripley flushes the alien out of its hiding space before harpooning it into space.
The tail end of the sequence [pun intended]:
The film’s climactic scenes, pitting woman-versus-xenomorph, masterfully play with the audience’s expectations. It’s rare to see a protagonist fail as spectacularly as she does both to abort the self-destruct sequence, and also to anticipate that the danger she’s fleeing is actually two steps ahead.
It’s also rare that the audience is subjected to the same intense level of sensory overload as the protagonist, forcing everyone to focus on the environment as they strain to pick up signs of the monster in order to mitigate the inevitable jump scare.
When Ripley is confined with the alien, both her planning mindset and her reactive instincts kick in — she's no quivering, helpless victim. To sell that moment, actor Sigourney Weaver came up with the idea of Ripley having a psychological crutch to help her survive: muttering "You Are My Lucky Star", which we as the audience presume to be a comforting favourite childhood song.
The use of what is technically ‘diegetic music’ — the music is coming from within the scene, rather than layered on top — is quite brilliant: it gives Weaver an additional device to help illustrate the character’s need for comfort amidst the horror, as well as exemplifying Ripley's determination to overcome the paralysis of fear. Her voice shakes, humanising her and ratcheting up the tension.
Through a combination of intelligence, bravery and patient resourcefulness, Ripley defeats the apex predator and the audience is reminded what an individual can achieve if they master their fear.
Part of an existing franchise and story canon, 2014’s Alien: Isolation necessarily draws heavily on reference material. From interviews and features, we know that the UK-based developer, Creative Assembly, studied the original Ridley Scott film intently in the hopes of capturing the spirit of the horror masterpiece.
Since the general consensus is that the developers thoroughly succeeded in this endeavour, we can safely assume that the research process involved painstakingly analysing how things like characters, scenarios and pacing worked in Alien, even though it was a different medium. Treading on hallowed ground, they would also have had to develop a clear understanding of which specific elements commanded such affection from fans.
With Last Survivor, a tense expansion level for Alien: Isolation, the designers sailed even closer to the original movie, although it doesn’t conform precisely. The level's scenario is a ‘what-if’, replicating the narrative of the film while offering a gameplay twist. Subtle prop placement adds environmental authenticity, and giving players agency over the iconic character of Ellen Ripley makes experiencing her survival (rather than just witnessing it) a worthwhile experience.
Creative Assembly picked up the 2015 BAFTA for Audio Achievement for Alien: Isolation:
The name’s Ripley, Ellen Ripley
Last Survivor stops just short of the original film’s escape shuttle sequence; as such, "You Are My Lucky Star" might easily have been omitted but, as a callback for fans of the film, it's woven into the gameplay during the ending section where the player is making their way to the Narcissus after activating the Nostromo's self-destruct sequence.
The play space during this sequence is intensely claustrophobic and, during the level's climax, the designers tease players about how close their escape actually is. Up to that point (about three-quarters of the way through the level), you have to rely on your reactions to avoid the alien as you haven’t really acquired enough resources to create traps and distractions; but around the time you initiate the self-destruct sequence, you can acquire a reasonable supply of tools to reduce your helplessness — you can take control.
And it’s at this point of ‘taking back control’ that Ripley begins her refrain of "You Are My Lucky Star":
Sigourney Weaver delivers the lines slowly and tremulously, unnerving us as players but fortifying the nerves of a character trying to conquer her own fear. If you're intelligent, brave, patient and resourceful — as Ripley was in Alien's closing scenes — you will eventually circumvent the alien and complete the level, becoming worthy of walking in her boots.
Reinterpret, not recycle
The deft audio touch of the "You Are My Lucky Star" callback helps distinguish Last Survivor's player character (Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley) from the protagonist of Alien: Isolation (Andrea Deck's Amanda Ripley, Ellen's daughter). With players stepping into the shoes of Ripley Snr, the designers harnessed what we know about the character's already established internal struggle with her fear, so that her’s and the player’s emotions are in harmony — ‘shit, I need to get out of here ASAP... but carefully’.
If you rush and see this mush, it’s game over man, game over!
Around the time that "You Are My Lucky Star" comes in is where players are most deeply immersed, not least because of the onslaught of sound and visual effects. The similarities in context between Last Survivor’s finale (push forward and circumnavigate the alien in order to escape) and the final scenes of the film (Ripley masters her fear to expel the alien from the shuttle) make it an ideal place to drop such a character-affirming musical callback.
To have failed in this could have been disrespectful to the franchise and destroyed the mood of the level. Further, simply recycling the idea could have come off as shallow — but it ends up as a subtle, meaningful reworking of an iconic character quirk.
This is her serious face: