Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers
Auteur Publishing, under contract
Constellations: Studies in Science Fiction Film and TV

Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (1997) is the most misunderstood film of the 1990s. A big-budget Hollywood action/sci-fi flick from a director who had already gained accolades among sci-fi buffs for RoboCop (1987) and Total Recall (1990), Starship Troopers was critically panned as a violent pro-fascist film about men and women blowing up giant space bugs. Where his previous films had showed some attention to social issues beneath their veneer of sci-fi badassery, Starship Troopers was slammed as exploitative propaganda. But it was redeemed years later by a cult following of viewers who saw something else in Verhoeven’s military space opera: parody of hard-bodied militarism, a warning against the ways in which democracy can be easily co-opted in the face of crisis, and a blatant mockery of a society that propagandizes its constituents into war against its “others.” While Starship Troopers spawned multiple, and often trashy, sequels, as well as video games and a dedicated online fan community (some of whom, like the sequels, also failed to see its satirical jabs) through the early 2000s, the movie was reborn in the public imagination by revisionary criticism in the years leading up to its 20th anniversary in 2017. Now, as many journalists and movie critics have noted, it’s nearly impossible to watch Starship Troopers without the current political terrain of the US and Europe in mind.

This new entry in the Constellations series turns a careful eye to the history of Starship Troopers, tracing it from the early stages of development in the mid-1990s as a script called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine to its critical redemption today. Along the way, this short book contextualizes Starship Troopers to the historical situation of post-Cold War America in the 1990s, offering new readings of the ways in which Verhoeven’s film spoke to anxieties about the US’s unchallenged geopolitical dominance, the seeming lack of an explicit global “other” against which American policy makers could align the country to create national unity, and transforming discourses about technology, gender, race, masculinity, and the power of the media in the 1990s.