The Sci-Fi Classic Still Misunderstood Today

By Zack Zagranis | Published

  • Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is a brilliant satire of the industrial military complex.
  • Some social media users argue that Starship Troopers isn’t a satire.
  • This discussion has been raging since 1997 when Starship Troopers hit theaters.
  • Starship Troopers joins Fight Club and American Psycho as films constantly misunderstood by parts of the audience.

Here’s a hot take: Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers might be a better satire than RoboCop. Don’t get us wrong, RoboCop, a near-flawless takedown of capitalism and ’80s excess, is a classic. Starship Troopers, though, is such a brilliant takedown of the American military complex that the people it’s making fun of still don’t get it 27 years later.

Starship Troopers Is A Satire

Recently, a new discourse surrounding Starship Troopers and what the film is about has erupted on X/Twitter. It all started with a February 15th post from sci-fi writer Isaac Young about how “Starship Troopers failed as a parody.” Putting aside the very first thing that Young gets wrong—Troopers is a satire and not a parody, and yes, the distinction is important—his take seems to be that the “handsome, fit, and well-groomed” soldiers depicted in the movie are too aesthetically pleasing to look at and thus can’t be bad guys.

Social Media Is Divided

Young’s opinion has split X right down the middle, with those that fall on the right side of the political spectrum agreeing with Young and those that fall on the left pointing out that the other side is oblivious to the fact they’re the very people the movie is making fun of. Art is subjective, and many films are up for interpretation.

Starship Troopers, on the other hand, isn’t one of them.

The Director’s Intention Is Clear

It’s not hard to see that Paul Verhoeven, who lived in Germany during WW2 as a small child and has been very vocal about his anti-authoritarian views, meant Starship Troopers as a scathing commentary on military jingoism. The movie isn’t even particularly subtle about its message, either. Neal Patrick Harris’s character dresses like a literal Nazi, for crying out loud.

Strange Argument That Good-Looking Means Good People

Somehow, those on Young’s side don’t understand that having all of the human soldiers be young, beautiful, and mostly white was a deliberate choice. The whole movie is presented like a propaganda film that highlights how the nice-looking humans are the “good guys” while the vile, gross-looking, inhuman bugs are the enemy. One needs only to have a passing knowledge of the propaganda the Nazis used to dehumanize Europe’s Jewish population in the mind of its citizens to realize what Verhoeven’s intention was with Starship Troopers.

Mistaken For What It’s Satirizing

Unfortunately, Starship Troopers does such a good job portraying a patriotic, gung-ho military that many viewers think they’re the good guys. The recent hubbub on X is nothing new, either. People badly misunderstood the movie in the ’90s, too.

Differences Between Book And Film

Part of the confusion stems from the difference between the source material and Verhoeven’s adaptation. The original Starship Troopers was written by Robert Heinlein in 1959 and is almost the complete opposite of the film. Heinlein’s book is decidedly pro-military and leans much more to the right. Verhoeven took what he saw as Heinlein’s fascist propaganda and decided to make fun of it by turning it into something that resembles actual fascist propaganda; the only problem is some people don’t seem to get the joke.

The Rest Of The Franchise Is Straight Up Action

It doesn’t help, of course, that Starship Trooper‘s various sequels and spinoffs lean more towards straight-ahead sci-action while dropping almost all of the political satire. Some of the supplementary media even sides more with Heinlein than the director of the film it was spun from.

Unfortunately, there are always going to be people who think Archie Bunker and Tyler Durden are heroes. Fans who identify more with Cartman or Rick will always exist. You can’t force media literacy.

Forever Misunderstood

Starship Troopers is destined to be forever misunderstood and misinterpreted, as all great satires are. If readers can come away from A Modest Proposal thinking that Jonathon Swift was advocating for people to eat babies, what hope does Verhoeven have?