Starship Troopers—in all of its campy, corny glory—is a hugely enjoyable film. But most of the film’s fans are likely unaware that the novel on which it was based (Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein) has almost the literal opposite themes of the movie. Indeed, unlike the blatant anti-propaganda and anti-conformist messages of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven’s comedic and hyperbolic offering, Heinlein’s 1959 novel is a fascistic and militaristic critique of diplomacy, diversity, and (by extension) peace.
I would make it no secret that I find Heinlein’s novel odious. Its unjustified nationalism is at best short-sighted; its casting of enemy combatants as literal insects is both condescendingly heavy-handed and laughably repulsive; its insistence that large-scale violent armed conflict is the only and best solution to factional disagreements is a demonstrably false assertion; and its premise that only like-minded militarists and willing pawns should have the right to vote in their society is nothing short of frightening. So this article will take a close look at all of the ways that Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers acts directly against the project of Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. I hope you enjoy it.
The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Starship Troopers, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already seen the film (or read the book, though the two have somewhat different plots).
Poking Fun at Militarism: