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11 Starship Troopers Fan Theories That Will Change How You See The Movie

Since it hit theaters in 1997, "Starship Troopers" has gone from a misunderstood box office bomb to a beloved sci-fi classic. Set in a distant future, the film stars one-hit-wonder Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico, a headstrong young man who enlists in the Terran Federation Mobile Infantry Corps just as war breaks out with a race of hideous alien bugs. 

Joining Rico in boot camp is his high school friend Dizzy (Dina Meyer), who has an unrequited crush on him. Meanwhile, his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards) gets assigned to pilot school, and his best friend Carl (Neil Patrick Harris) joins military intelligence. As the war heats up, Rico and Dizzy go to the front lines, battling bugs and facing horrors of war they never expected.

With a huge cult following, "Starship Troopers" has spurred plenty of discussion among fans about what the story really means, as well as hidden secrets that lie beneath the surface of the story. Some fans have connected dots that you may never have noticed, and put forth theories that will have you rethinking the whole movie. From who really started the war with the Arachnids, to how it could all be a sequel to other famous films, here are 11 fan theories that will change the way you see "Starship Troopers."

The entire conflict was intended to curb overpopulation

The war between the Terran Federation and the Arachnids threatens to wipe out the human race, but we learn later that the Arachnids may only be acting in self-defense, as humanity began encroaching on their territory. According to many fans of the film, the Federation's role in starting the war goes further, and one popular theory is that the conflict was orchestrated to curb Earth's overpopulation.

Many details point to this, such as the fact that the Arachnids don't seem to have any obvious source of food, while the Arachnid's territory seems largely useless to humans. The tactics of the Federation also seem odd, landing hundreds of thousands of troops but providing no real air support or artillery, while the weapons that the soldiers carry often seem useless — almost as if they are sent into battle deliberately ill-equipped.

Back on Earth, several offhand mentions are made about the population. A license is required to procreate, and young people are encouraged to enlist in order to get that license. "All this is to say – the Federation is knowingly using a never-ending war against bugs as a means of culling the human population," said u/Woodit on Reddit. It's reasonable to assume that overpopulation would be a real problem in the future world of "Starship Troopers," and there is some logic to the notion that the entire war has been planned as a way of keeping numbers down.

The asteroids were faked by Earth forces

Throw a rock — or an asteroid perhaps — and you're likely to hit a fan theory that expands on the idea that the Terran Federation is the real villain in "Starship Troopers." Another such theory suggests that the Arachnid's asteroid attacks were faked by the Federation themselves to give them a justification to go to war.

To back up this theory, some have pointed to the fact that the Arachnids don't seem to possess any real technology, let alone anything that could be capable of hurling asteroids through space to strike Earth. Likewise, the Federation would surely have asteroid detection technology, and ships in orbit would be able to see them coming. It's hard to believe they wouldn't be able to stop these attacks, particularly if they've been happening for so long, as the film claims.

Other fans have even said that the attack on Buenos Aires was an inside job, staged in an effort to rally widespread public support for an interstellar war against the Arachnids. In fact, there's more evidence to this than just idle speculation, with one moment in the film making clear that it was at least on the writer's mind. "There's actually a scene in the movie where you see a couple of TV news pundits talking about the attack and one of them is trying to advance this theory but he's kind of brushed aside as a conspiracy nut," said u/willywag.

The Klendathu Disaster was part of the plan

As fans debate the motives for engaging in the war with the Arachnids — with some having settled on it being waged to fight overpopulation — others believe that the skirmish on Klendathu was planned by the Federation to be a losing battle. Some of the strongest evidence for this theory is the orbital bombardment that the approaching ships face when they reach the planet.

"The intel the troops have is that this is harmless light, which was stated by Carmen's captain to come from military intelligence," said u/Hoobshanker on Reddit. "However I do not believe that Carl, or anyone on the same level of intelligence as him, would make such a monumental mistake." Thus, the theory goes that the disaster was part of their larger plan, and the troops were set up. The theory points out that none of the troops seem to be well-trained in how to kill the Arachnids. Despite a propaganda video showing how easy it is to kill a bug, the troops themselves have a much harder time — almost as if they were intentionally given poor training.

At the same time, Carmen also receives bad information on the number of casualties. Put it all together, and it seems like the Federation wanted them to lose so they could spread propaganda about massive casualties to inspire a greater hatred of the bugs and escalate the war.

The Attack on Buenos Aires was an inside job

There are a wealth of theories about how the war with the Arachnids in "Starship Troopers" was all part of a grand plot by the Terran Federation, but one theory suggests more pointedly that the "first strike" by the bugs was a false flag operation. Not only does this theory propose that the Federation had faked an asteroid strike and blamed it on the Arachnids, but they willingly destroyed the entire city of Buenos Aires, and killed millions of their own people to raise popular support for entering the war.

This isn't just a wild theory out of nowhere, and fans have some pretty solid evidence to back it up. On Reddit, u/Shawn1234565 claims that Rasczak's lecture belies a subtle clue to the audience that there's more to the Terran Federation than meets the eye. The theory even claims that the movie's many unanswered questions could be a deliberate choice of director Paul Verhoeven, intended to make it clear that the Federation's war has a sinister ulterior motive.

Looking deeper into this theory, there is further evidence to solidify it. Considering Johnny's parents were anti-government, it stands to reason there would be a large contingent of the population who would be against a war. This would leave the Federation with the motive to attack their own city to sway public opinion.

The Terran Federation created the Arachnids

Our final fan theory that involves the Terran Federation orchestrating the war might be the most diabolical one yet. Not only does it propose that Earth forces are behind the war and that they've engineered the conflict themselves, but the Arachnids themselves aren't even a natural species. According to this theory, the Terran Federation genetically engineered the Arachnids themselves to provide them with a deadly enemy to fight.

That means there was never an imminent threat to Earth at all, and there was no malevolent race of interstellar insects: It was all created by humans as a way of creating an enemy to keep humanity focused on an external threat, rather than the myriad problems facing Earth from within. It may seem somewhat far-fetched, but the tactic of vilifying an "other" to distract the population is a common one among authoritarian regimes. Given how the Terran Federation is a satire of that very kind of fascist government, it stands to reason that they too are responsible for creating an "other," but in this case a bit more literally.

So if you're wondering how the Federation seems to have such detailed knowledge of the bugs, yet still can't defeat them, this theory suggests that it's all by design.

Carmen actually caused the war

When we first meet Carmen Ibanez, she seems little more than the popular girl in school who all the guys want to be with, but we soon learn that she's a capable pilot in her own right. She's also the subject of one of the more interesting fan theories, one that posits that it's actually her lack of skill that inadvertently sparks the war with the Arachnids.

On one of her first piloting missions, she takes the helm and decides to plot a better course for her ship, only to discover a massive asteroid in their path. At first, we marvel at her clever maneuvers to avoid the hunk of space rock, but she doesn't entirely miss it, scraping the edge of the asteroid. "I'm no expert on physics in space," said Reddit user u/anthemlog, "but I'll still bet that when the ship struck the meteor it changed the rock's trajectory. On a small scale, this means nothing. But on a galactic scale, this little bump makes a huge difference. A difference so big that this rock was now sent straight to Earth just from this small bump."

As a result of Carmen's collision, the theory submits that her momentary contact with the asteroid may have altered its course just enough to direct it to Earth where it struck Buenos Aires and killed millions. "Had it not been touched it probably wouldn't even have gone anywhere near Earth," the theory concludes.

RoboCop is a prequel to Starship Troopers

"Starship Troopers" and "RoboCop" have a lot in common: Both films are iconic sci-fi classics, and both use political satire and social commentary like a blunt instrument, even down to similarly themed commercial interstitials. That can mostly be attributed to the fact that both movies have the same director, Paul Verhoeven. But as one fan theory goes, the two movies are more than just similar in style and tone but are actually connected in a carefully crafted cinematic universe of sorts.

To support this claim, a Reddit user in 2019 published a lengthy analysis of the 1987 film "RoboCop," and how it depicted a dystopian near future that seems eerily headed towards the fascist far future of "Starship Troopers." It notes how the movie gives subtle information about the wider world, including international conflict, war, and technology that includes space-based weapons, nuclear warheads in South Africa, and parts of the world ruined by nuclear fallout and an eroded ozone layer.

The culture in RoboCop is also very similar to that seen in "Starship Troopers," and the political landscape seems primed for an authoritarian regime, with Omni Consumer Products (OCP) actively pushing for the extinguishing of individual rights. The theory concludes that the Detroit Police could have expanded beyond the city, with the Urban Rehabilitators slowly morphing into the Terran Federation over time, thus leading to the world of "Starship Troopers."

Starship Troopers is a sequel to Total Recall

There's something compelling about the idea that "Starship Troopers" shows the future of "RoboCop." However, another fan theory takes that one step further, putting forward the idea that "Total Recall" is also part of the same fictional universe. Once again, the biggest thread that ties these two movies together is director Paul Verhoeven, who helmed "Total Recall" just a few years after "RoboCop."

As detailed on Reddit by u/Sarlax, the world of "Total Recall" precedes what we see in "Starship Troopers" and the proof is in the details. The 1990 Schwarzenegger film — which is set in 2084 — is set nearly half a century after the events of "RoboCop." There we see the expansion of the Earth's government to colonies off of planet Earth. The problems from old Detroit continued into space, with planets like Mars under the thumb of corporate dictators like Vilos Cohaagen. It is also interesting to note that Cohaagen is played by Ronny Cox, the actor who played OCP President Dick Jones in "Robocop." Similarly, actor Michael Ironside plays Cohaagen's enforcer in "Total Recall" and the fascist military philosopher Rasczak in "Starship Troopers," and even some of the same props returned.

Beyond similar characters though, the theory also states that the ore on Mars was ultimately used to create advanced new technologies and that more was found on Klendathu. It suggests that the Northern Bloc government in "Total Recall" was a precursor to the original Terran Federation, who go to war over vital resources as we see in "Starship Troopers."

Carl used his mind-control powers to communicate with Rico

One of the biggest differences between the book and the movie is a division of the military endowed with psychic powers. It's established early on that this power is limited to small pets, and later, it's used to read the minds of the alien brain bugs. But at the climax of the film, when Rico is escaping from the Arachnid tunnels, another theory states that Carl Jenkins — Rico's best friend and psychic intelligence officer — actually used his powers to telepathically communicate with him to help.

For evidence, this theory brings up the fact that in the scene when Carl administers a brief mind-reading experiment with Rico, Carl explicitly tries to implant information into his head. This means the experiment might not have been to determine if Rico had psychic powers, but to test if Carl could communicate with a human. If so, what if he's finally succeeded now that he's been in the military? His connection and bond with Rico would make them ideal for human-to-human psychic communication, and could make Rico his "eyes on the ground." 

The theory even suggests that Carl used his influence to help Rico stay in — and eventually advance — in the military. It details several moments in the movie where Rico should have been killed but is mysteriously and miraculously saved without explanation, and in that tunnel escape scene Carl was using his powers to tell him which way to go to guide him to safety.

The entire film is an in-universe propaganda video

Throughout "Starship Troopers," the film greets the audience with brief interstitials that serve as recruitment videos for the Terran Federation. They're a fun little satirical element, but there's a theory that sees them as part of something bigger than we ever realized. What if the entire film — not just the little commercial-like advertisements for military recruitment — was a propaganda film designed to convince students and kids to love the military and join up when they're old enough?

According to this theory, "Starship Troopers" — including the story of Rico, Carmen, Dizzy, and Carl — is all propaganda intended to get adolescent blood pumping. After all, it sort of worked, as audiences and critics initially believed the film was meant to be pro-military, even when the director himself has said explicitly that it was intended as an anti-war satire. "Instead of thinking of the main characters of the movie as their characters," the user writes, "think of them as actors playing their parts in a propaganda movie."

If this is true, it certainly explains why the characters are so gung-ho about military fascism and openly talk about how the military is the most rewarding career a young person could ever choose. Even outside of the commercials, the likes of Rico, Dizzy, and Carl often talk like military spokespeople and anyone who disagrees or questions anything inevitably dies, which only lends further credence to the theory.

Every version of the story is told from a different person's perspective

What many fans of the movie may not realize is that there is more to the story than just the film. In addition to a pair of direct-to-video sequels, there's also an animated series that followed, titled "Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles," released in 1999, and running for a total of 44 episodes.

On Reddit, u/aqua_zesty_man explained that each version of the story is a chronicle of the same Arachnid war but told from a different perspective. Robert A. Heinlein's original novel, for example, is written from the memoirs of Mobile Infantryman Johnny Rico. In it, he massages reality to make himself and the Terran Federation seem much more heroic and uses it as a way of spreading his own military philosophy. By contrast, "Roughnecks" is the story as it actually happened, or as the Reddit user explained, "This is ultimately the third person omniscient and unbiased point of view of the war with the bugs."

The movie and its sequels, then, are posited to be a series of docu-dramas based on the journalistic writings of Robert "Paperboy" Higgins, a character exclusive to the animated series. While the films are based on real events, Higgins has exaggerated and dramatized much of it for entertainment value. As for why Higgins isn't present in Rico's memoirs, well, that's because Rico wasn't happy with the way the journalist exaggerated the war, and in particular, himself.