Starship Troopers is one of the best-known and most divisive works of science fiction, and according to The Hollywood Reporter, a reboot is in the works from the writers behind the upcoming Baywatch movie.
THR reports that the film will be written by Mark Swift and Damian Shannon, with the idea that it’ll be the start of a new franchise. While the film spawned several direct-to-DVD sequels (and there’s an animated series out there, The Roughnecks), there have been rumors of a remake of this film for years. This is the perfect opportunity for there to be a straight-up adaptation of the novel that would do the story justice.
The 1959 novel and 1997 film features a soldier named Juan "Johnnie" Rico, who joins the Mobile Infantry as humanity goes to war against the Bugs, an arachnoid alien species. The story follows his exploits as he rises through the ranks, exploring topics such as the nature of war and one’s duty to their country. The novel also earned the Hugo Award for Best Novel and allowed its author, Robert Heinlein, to explore some pertinent topics at the height of tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.
At its best, the original film is a brilliant satire on fascist propaganda, skewering the self-importance of science fiction cinema. At its worst, it’s a shitty adaptation of one of science fiction’s best known works.
Either way, I’ve always felt that the movie was a missed opportunity, and now that it’s on the table for a reboot, I have some thoughts.
A straight-up adaptation of the film would be ideal
Starship Troopers the movie and Starship Troopers the book share only some superficial similarities: characters, some plot points, and not much else. Structurally, the novel did some interesting things: flashing back and forth between points in Rico’s life, which allowed readers to really get the points that Heinlein was trying to make, on a personal level. Adapting the film would be like photocopying a photocopy.
Fortunately, according to The Wrap, the project is going right back to the original novel for a source material, so maybe we can be a bit optimistic about this one.
Don’t shy away from the politics
The original Starship Troopers was a deeply political novel. Heinlein used it as a test-bed for some of his more libertarian ideas, such as trading public service for citizenship, personal responsibility, and the role of military in society. While the original movie satirized this neatly, having your movie relegated to the dollar bin at Walmart makes it easy to dismiss.
There’s been a lot of deeply political science fiction stories since the original came out. Just look at District 9 and its take on refugees, Battlestar Galactica’s grappling with the Iraq War, while The Expanse has its own take on economic disparities. The various experiences that the US has had with war in the last decade and a half give plenty of ammunition for storytellers to use when it comes to putting the story together: there’s a lot to say about perpetual war, what a citizen owes one’s country, and so forth.
Make it a war film
There are plenty of military science fiction films out there, but there aren’t very many that actually examine warfare. Sure, you’ve got space marines in Aliens, and vast armies going after one another in Star Wars, but they’re always sort of incidental to the plot. There’s a couple of highlights: Battle: LA was quite a lot of fun to watch, as was Edge of Tomorrow.
I want to see Black Hawk Down in space: an intense film that looks at the future of warfare and what it might entail, not just for the spectacle that military SF offers, but for some of the questions that Heinlein was probing at, without offering up something that’s overtly pro-fascist or unflinchingly pro-military.
Where’s my goddamn power armor?
Finally, let’s talk about the most important issue at hand: power armor.
The film took away one of the best parts of Starship Troopers. It outfitted its soldiers in what looked like what the 1990s imagined the future of body armor, and sent them out running around. The novel popularized an enduring staple of military science fiction: power armor. Any new film bearing the title Starship Troopers must have power armor.
This shouldn’t be too hard to do: power armor is just about everywhere in science fiction these days. Films and games like Halo, Elysium, District 9, Iron Man, and Edge of Tomorrow each had their own depictions of the technology. CGI also makes it far more practical to film this, whereas it was a bit more of a stretch in 1997.
The original Starship Troopers contained an epic level of camp, which makes it fun to watch every now and again, but the so-bad-it’s-great mark is nearly impossible to hit deliberately. This new Starship Troopers could go a number of ways, but if it has any hope having any sort of longevity, relevance, or even entertainment value, it shouldn’t just try and distance itself from the original film: it’s has to.