Open Spoilers - How does the Starship Troopers movie diverge from the book?

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I’ve never read the book. The subject comes up alot and is in a current thread. How does the movie miss the point of the book etc?
Thanks in advance.

Ye gods, where to begin? It might be a shorter list to find where it didn’t diverge from the book. But to answer the OP, in no particular order:

-power armor, lack thereof

-respect for the poor, bloody infantry

-all the philosophy. Mr. Fuckwit Director pissed all over the philosophical underpinnings of the book, and made it a satire of what he feels is facism.

-the Father/Son dynamic that is throughout the book.

-the science, of which there was none in the movie.

-women in the infantry, just so we could get some titty shots in the shower (This change I will let slide. See how magnanimous I am?)

-Sergeant Zim

-Col. DuBois

-The Lieutenant

-Sergeant Jelal

-the list is endless. Others will expand on these points and others, as will I when I have a few minutes.

These are the main points I would love you to elaborate upon if you have the time, particularly the philosophical underpinnings.

OK, just a few highlights. Find the book and read it carefully. It is excellent.

The World Society in the book evolved after a number of global uprisings and wars. The returning veterans in several places were the only forces of Order available, so they stepped into the power vacuum. Once things had settled down, TPTB decided that only veterans would be allowed to vote. Everybody had the same rights, paid the same taxes, etc. But the franchise could only be exercised by someone who had volunteered and completed Federal Service. The point is made that this did not mean military service exclusively. You could end up counting caterpillars on Vesta, for example. But you did your time if you wanted the vote. Juan’s father thinks Juan is crazy for wanting to enlist, because he can’t see any advantage. Juan enlists anyway, and ends up in the Mobile Infantry.

There are several lengthy flashbacks to Juan’s History & Moral Philosophy class, and the discussions that took place therein. Heinlein sets up a very plausible system, and his characters defend it well. To extrapolate that this means that Heinlein was “fascist” or supported such a system is foolish in the extreme. RAH wrote the book to also glorify the poor, bloody infantryman, who is always on the sharp end of the spear, putting his life on the line for his country and countrymen. Anyone who thinks this is “fascist” or 'militaristic" is a fool of the first order, such as Verhoeven.
If you can’t find a copy, PM me and I’ll send you one of my classroom copies.

I’ll just list what I thought were the worst ones:

  1. In the book, when one of the recruits asks the question about why they’re training for close combat when they’ve got nukes, the instructor explains the reasoning (that not all situations demand such extreme measures).

In the movie, the instructor pins the recruit’s hand to the target with a knife and seems proud of responding to a reasonable question with violence.

  1. In the book, the MI have jump-packing, no-selling, tank-rending, nuke-launching suits of powered armour. Since every single infantryman is effectively driving his own highly mobile tank, there is less need for conventional support.

In the movie they lack this high-tech solution, so going in without armour, artillery or air support makes them grade-A morons.

  1. In the book, the MI do things like bounce around an enemy city, destroying key targets and causing chaos.

In the movie, the MI charge in on foot against unknown numbers of dedicated melee troops that are bigger and nastier than they are. They also get their spaceships in orbit shot by slow-moving, unguided, ballistic attacks from the ground, which is an impressive achievement on its own.

  1. Powered armour is cool.

Flak armour isn’t.

It should be no problem but thanks for the offer! I read some of Heinlein’s juvenile fiction when I were a juvenile delinquent but I haven’t read this or many of his other classic novels.

In the book, the infantry wear powered armor and fight with very powerful weapons- each man is equivalent (or rather, superior) to a main battle tank. In the movie, the infantry are equipped with assault rifles and body armor, which against the Bugs is like spitting on a forest fire. In the book the services are gender-segregated: men are troopers, women serve aboard ship. I forget what the rationale for that was.

As for the philosophical differences… well, it’s telling that people disagree even on what they are. Supporters of the book claim the movie is a deliberate travesty that deliberately inverts the philosophy of the book. Defenders of the movie insist that isn’t so. And some anti-Henlein people say that the book had a Nietzschean philosophy that the movie is a spot-on parody of.

I’ve never read the book. (After struggling through Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Hard Mistress I’ve decided I’m not going to be a Heinlen fan. A question though, in the movie it is quite clear that humanity is the evil invading alien. Is that the same in the book?

Not at all. The question arises, but it is left as a “two races want the same space. Something’s got to give” kind of answer. In the book, the Skinnies are portrayed as semi-sympathetic, but the Bugs are Bugs. We don’t understand them, they don’t understand us. Not the Infantry’s problem. Let the diplomats figure out the other stuff. When diplomacy fails, look to the guys in the back of the room with the sleepy eyes.

Been a long time since I read the book, and perhaps I’m misremembering, but isn’t there a fair bit in there about Heinlein’s views on the right way to organize a military? I seem to recall a lot about the proper training and experience for officers, the relationship between junior commissioned officers and senior non-coms, etc. And of course much of the movie runs counter to the book’s philosophy in this as well.

Heinlein was an unabashed patriot. Until tuberculosis rendered him unfit for service, he had intended a career in the navy. He viewed the armed forces as a necessity, to defend one’s country from aggressive foreigners.

Verhoven seems to believe that patriotism is for suckers, and that anyone who would volunteer for the military must be an idiot and/or a villain.

The military setting tends to trigger people’s pavlovian responses. If you have a favorable opinion of military service, you may like the book. If you fancy yourself a Free-Spirited Rebel Against The Evil Establishment, you will hate the book.

Technically speaking ( or perhaps less technically and more theoretically - CalMeacham or Fenris could speak to this more ), I think Starship Troopers is usually counted as one of his juveniles or at least bracketed with them. Stylistically it certainly seems to belong in that same sub-genre. And if I may say so it is one of the weaker entries. Not the weakest and it is a good mile or two better than the non-juvenile Farnham’s Freehold, but like Stranger in a Strange Land it doesn’t belong on MY particular list of Heinlein classics.

Not at all - Heinlein’s novel is largely black and white, but then it is told entirely from the first-person perspective of a average, everyday footsoldier of reasonable intelligence, but little intellectual curiosity. I suspect Heinlein was being quite deliberate about less nuance in that regard - it wasn’t the part of the story he wanted to tell.

Philosophy: the book delved much more deeply and thoughtfully into the concepts of Service, Duty, Sacrifice, Morality, Force, etc.

Other than a brief opening blurb at the beginning of the movie, the whole topic is glossed over.

I recommend the OP pick it up and read it. It’s not a large, long book.

A goodly portion of the book has Johnnie just learning the ins-and-outs of military and shipboard life instead of combat, including basic training, attending the Academy, dealing with spit-and-polish duties as a j.o., and his general enlightenment from being a young dumb kid to a responsible, educated member of society. As silenus mentions, there is also the framing device of flashbacks to Johnnie’s History and Moral Philosophy course in high school (which everyone is required to take) taught by ret. Lt. Col. Jean V. Dubois, who essentially acts as a stand-in for Heinlein by philosophizing about the idealism and failures of all-inclusive “Bread & Circuses”) democracy. In the world of the novel, the franchise to vote is earned by volunteering for service and going wherever sent; a minority actually end up serving in military capacity, a point made clear in the novel even though the story, being told exclusively from Johnnie’s point of view, focuses on the Mobile Infantry. However, people actively in the services cannot vote; the right to do that requires completion of the term of duty and then retirement.

Whatever you think of the philosophy of the book, or the alleged parody of the film, they are two very, very different stories, and it is pretty much a misnomer to relate them in any way. Also, the movie is absolutely fucking stupid in the portrayal of any military force; why would a society with the technological capability to make interstellar transit be deploying soldiers in WWI-era fashion?

Also, Casper Van Diem is about as much Juan “Johnnie” Rico as I am Morgan Freeman. For a world-spanning government the racial composition seems to be strictly Nazi Aryan. Perhaps that was what Paul Verhoeven was going for with his clever/moronic fascism message, but it is nothing like the book (in which it is made clear that recruits are accepted from all over the world and cross the range of human cultures, with many recruits initially incapable of speaking English).

Starship Troopers is one of Heinlein’s best and enduring novels (along with The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress); it is one of Verhoeven’s worst movies, and that’s saying a lot.


In the book the bugs are an intelligent space-faring race who destroy Buenos Aries with a nuke. In the movie they are much less intelligent, except for the brain bugs. It is unexplained how they exist on many planets. They destroy Buenos Aries with an asteroid that they somehow send across interstellar distances.

I don’t fully agree with this. I have a somewhat diminished view of military service–not that it is bad or wrong, but that it is often undertaken for reasons other than patriotism and some people function in and exit the military not-so-much improved–and I’d tend toward the ‘classical’ liberal end of the spectrum (i.e. restricted libertarianism over all-encompassing socialism), but I almost completely agree with the criticisms of unqualified democratic franchise espoused in the novel.

And again, Heinlein makes it clear–repeatedly, in the novel itself and in response to criticism of the book–that Federal Service is far more than just military service, and that most veterans (i.e. people with the ability to exercise the franchise) are not military veterans. Nor does the society seem to be especially militaristic; indeed, although no one can be turned down for Federal Service, the military services tend to vet through candidates and accept only those that can be molded into educated, skillful, responsible soldiers and sailors. Although the novel does, in some sense, glorify the mudfoot infantryman, it is neither blithely jingoistic nor fascist in its presentation. Those people who believe that it is demonstrate only a lack of critical reading comprehension skills.


Wasn’t the fleet (as opposed to infantry) mostly (or wholly) female? If I’m right that would imply that the Sky-Marshals were female as well since commanding a capitol ship was prerequisite for that office. Public service was a requirment for the franchise, but it didn’t have to be military. Indeed the state had to find a place any non-felon of legal age who was mentaly capable of understanding the oath and wanted to serve no matter how disabled they were.

Especially when you consider that Verhoeven can be an exceptionally gifted film-maker. Soldier of Orange was outstanding, for example.

Missed the edit window.

alphaboi, the Fleet was mixed sex, and most of the Captains were female, as were the pilots. But the Sky Marshall mentioned in the book was male. All the references are to “his” chess pieces. The description of the process of becoming Sky Marshall has Johnnie saying “I’ll listen respectfully to any man who has done both.”

eta: “The Tours had fifteen Naval officers, eight ladies and seven men…” pg161.

I thought that we saw/heard about a male one, but I could be wrong. (Maybe it was the CGI series?)

And I figured that guys could run the ships, just that the ones that could do it were even farther outliers on the bell curve than the gals that could. But that they weren’t unheard of by any means.