How is Top Gun So Good?

How is Top Gun So Good?

The new Top Gun: Maverick blew me away. It’s so good! It was story telling magic just like the original 1986 Top Gun. When the final credits rolled it had me thinking, how the heck did they pull that off? Again!? If you’re like me and enjoy nerding-out on stories that have that special something, here is my scene by scene breakdown of the original Top Gun. I’ve tried to isolate the main conflict points and label the emotional value at the end of each scene.

Opening Image: Positive Emotion

Jets take off and land on carriers. Super cool, of course.

Scene 1: Positive Emotion

We meet Maverick and Goose, Cougar and Merlin. An enemy MiG locks onto Cougar and Merlin. Maverick attempts to spook the MiG and executes his inverted move and flips the bird at the enemy pilot in the cockpit. Maverick succeeds in batting away the enemy fighters but Cougar is freaked out. Maverick disobeys orders to land on the carrier, instead choosing to guide Cougar back onto the carrier. He saves Cougar’s life.

Scene 2: Positive Emotion

Cougar gives up his flight wings after his close call with death. Because of this, Maverick and Goose bump up to the top place in the squadron taking Cougar’s place. The pair get sent to Top Gun.

Note: By this point, the runtime is 15 minutes, 17 seconds. We already know our main character, Maverick, is a hell of a pilot and a rebel, willing to take risks and save others. We also learn exactly what the movie is going to be about, which is Maverick and Goose competing for the top position at Top Gun.

Scene 3: Positive Emotion

Day one at Top Gun. We close up on Iceman’s Naval Academy ring and smug expression. We meet the main instructor, Viper. Maverick makes an impression.

Scene 4: Negative Emotion

Maverick and Goose go to the local bar and we learn that Iceman is the best pilot in the class. Iceman and Hollywood confront Maverick and Goose calling them, ‘lucky and famous’. We understand the Iceman will be Maverick’s nemesis.

Scene 5: Negative Emotion

Maverick and Goose perform their bar routine singing, ‘She’s lost that lovin’ feeling.’ Maverick singles out a woman at the bar. She’s nice and flirts back but rejects Maverick’s advances.

Scene 6: Positive Emotion

Maverick, a bit humiliated, follows the woman into the bathroom in a move to make his desires more clear. She disses him again, leaving him in the ladies’ room. On her way through the bar she passes by Goose and declares, ‘your friend was amazing.’ Maverick’s dignity remains in tact, despite crashing and burning.

Scene 7: Negative Emotion

We learn that the woman at the bar is Charlie, a civilian instructor at Top Gun. Maverick, a bit mortified, finds himself correcting Charlie on her MiG data in front of the class because he encountered a MiG and observed their true maneuver capacity when he flipped off the enemy pilot.

Note: 26 minutes and 42 seconds into the movie we have all the key characters introduced in the plot with several layers of complication baked into the story.

Scene 8: Negative Emotion

Maverick has a one on one encounter with Charlie in the Top Gun hallway. She wants to hear more about the MiG, but Maverick blows her off, presumably irritated that she had not revealed herself at the bar the night before.

Scene 9: Negative Emotion

Maverick encounters Iceman in the locker room. Iceman asks Maverick, ‘who was covering Cougar when you were show-boating with the MiG?’, implying that Maverick was goofing off with the MiG rather than covering his wingman.

Scene 10: Positive Emotion

Maverick and Goose engage in a graded dog-fight with Jester. They outmaneuver their instructor and win. Maverick, elated by the outcome, does a fly by of the tower.

Scene 11: Negative Emotion

Iceman and Hollywood argue with Maverick and Goose about which team won for the day. Maverick and Goose’s win apparently did not count because they dipped below the prescribed altitude for the exercise. Iceman proclaims that Maverick is ‘unsafe.’

Scene 12: Negative Emotion

Maverick and Goose wait outside the office as Viper and Jester, the instructors, receive a butt chewing for Maverick’s fly-by antics. Maverick and Goose, realizing that they are in hot water, wait to receive their butt chewing from the flight instructors. Maverick and Goose are on egg-shells now, and Goose is upset.

Scene 13: Negative Emotion

We break point of view and watch as the instructors Viper and Jester, discuss whether they’d want a guy like Maverick on their wing in battle. This seems to be the central question in this story.

Scene 14: Negative Emotion

Goose confronts Maverick about his rebel ways which has now put Goose’s future in jeopardy. Maverick pledges that he will not let Goose down.

Note: 39:01- the stakes are raised! Maverick and Goose are no longer vying for the top position, now they’re just worried about graduating and not washing out of the course.

Scene 15: Positive Emotion

Charlie secretly invites Maverick over for dinner at her house.

Scene 16: Positive Emotion

This is the famous volleyball scene, and it’s Maverick and Goose versus Iceman and Hollywood. Maverick and Goose win the first round but Maverick leaves abruptly for his date with Charlie.

Scene 17: Positive Emotion

Maverick is late to Charlie’s and frazzled. He asks her if he can take a shower (since he had just come from playing volleyball) and she says no because she wants to eat.

Note: This is a brilliant way to create tension for the audience. Not only does Maverick arrive late to the home of his love interest, but he has the audacity to ask to use her shower!

Scene 18: Positive Emotion

Maverick and Charlie sit down for dinner and Charlie continues to press Maverick about the MiG. Maverick wants to gain the upper hand in the situation and tells her to, ‘relax about the MiG.’

Scene 19: Negative/Neutral Emotion

Maverick reveals to Charlie (and the audience!) what happened to his parents. His father was a fighter pilot who never returned from Vietnam.

Scene 20: Positive Emotion

In the elevator at Top Gun, Charlie and Maverick are alone and Charlie reveals her attraction to Maverick.

Scene 21: Positive Emotion

We meet Goose’s family. They treat Maverick like he’s family.

Scene 22: Negative Emotion

In the instructional room, Charlie rips apart Maverick’s flying performance in front of the class. Despite this, Hollywood leans in and tells Maverick it’s the, ‘gutsiest move I ever saw.’

Scene 23: Positive Emotion

Charlie chases after Maverick following the class. Maverick blows her off and rides off on his motorcycle, Charlie tears after him in her convertible. She confesses that she’s fallen for him.

Scene 24: Positive Emotion

Maverick and Charlie have their romantic encounter back at Charlie’s place.

Scene 25: Negative Emotion

Back in the air, Viper is in the air set to bait Maverick during a test. Maverick leaves his wingman to go after Viper, exposing himself to Jester who kills him.

Scene 26: Negative Emotion

Iceman has a strong confrontation with Maverick for abandoning his wingman. Iceman tells Maverick he’s dangerous and foolish.

Scene 27: Negative Emotion

Later that night, Maverick remembers his dad, thumbing an old photograph

Scene 28: Positive Emotion

Maverick and Goose are back at the bar, this time with Goose’s family and Charlie. Maverick and Goose sing, ‘Great Balls of Fire,’ and Charlie and Maverick, deeply in love, ride off into the sunset on his motorcycle.

Scene 29: Negative Emotion

Iceman and Hollywood and Maverick and Goose are in the air when Maverick and Goose are caught in Iceman’s jet wash. Maverick looses control of the jet and the two need to eject. Goose dies upon impact with the canopy.

Note: This is the major turning point of the story and Maverick’s lowest point.

Scene 30: Negative Emotion

We learn that Goose is dead. Viper tells Maverick he has to let his wingman go.

Scene 31: Negative Emotion

Charlie takes Maverick to see Goose’s family. Goose’s widow comforts Maverick amidst her own grief.

Scene 32: Negative Emotion

At Top Gun Maverick stands before an investigative panel that absolves Maverick of any fault for the accident that led to Goose’s death.

Scene 33: Negative Emotion

Maverick has a new backseater but he’s shaken by Goose’s death. Maverick has a shot to take but decides not to fire. His new partner challenges him, to which Maverick responds, ‘I will fire when I am Goddamn good and ready.’

Scene 34: Negative Emotion

Iceman and Maverick are in the locker room and Iceman expresses his condolences to Maverick about Goose. Wolfman makes a call to someone saying that Maverick has quit Top Gun.

Scene 35: Negative Emotion

Charlie confronts Maverick at the bar, presumably on his way out of town. Charlie wants to convince Maverick to stay, but Maverick tells her he’s set on quitting.

Scene 36: Positive Emotion

In an inspired moment, Maverick decides to make a house call to Viper. He learns that Viper flew with his dad and receives some good advice from Viper that allows him to continue on his path to graduating Top Gun.

Scene 37: Positive Emotion

Maverick shows up for graduation and congratulates Iceman and Hollywood for graduating at the top of the Top Gun class. Iceman, Hollywood, Maverick and Merlin receive orders for a combat mission right away.

Scene 39: Positive Emotion

Iceman is engaged by the enemy when Maverick is coming up to help him. Maverick recovers from the jet wash but does not engage

Scenes 40-43: Positive Emotion

These scenes make the final dogfight sequence in which Maverick demonstrates that he did indeed learn a few lessons at Top Gun, to include how to recover control of his aircraft from jet wash and how to stick by his wingman.

Scene 44: Positive Emotion

Maverick succeeds in saving Iceman and scaring off the remaining MiGs. Maverick does his signature fly-by. Back on the carrier, the aviators are greeted with cheers and celebration; Iceman declares, ‘You can be my wingman anytime!’

Closing Images

Maverick lets go of his guilt about Goose by throwing Goose’s dog tags into the ocean. Maverick returns to the bar in Miramar where Charlie and him reunite.

Going through Top Gun scene by scene, one notices all the details and twists and turns we experience as the audience. All the emotional changes create a (delightful!) emotional experience as we go through the drama of Maverick’s time at Top Gun. Sure the performance, the images, and the soundtrack is amazing, but the story is the backbone and this one is loads of fun.