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We Finally Understand The Entire Top Gun Timeline

In 1986, "Top Gun" was released in theaters and became an immediate success — launching an incredible film career for the one and only Tom Cruise. And over 30 years later, audiences were able to head back into the danger zone with the long-awaited sequel, "Top Gun: Maverick." The 2022 film is filled with nostalgia, yet manages to solidify itself as a separate entity from its predecessor as it introduces new characters and higher stakes.

Just like "Top Gun," the sequel is an emotional tale, however, this one surrounds Maverick's (Cruise) ability to forgive himself for the past. You see, in "Top Gun," Maverick is introduced as a young, hot-shot pilot. He's incredibly talented, yet extremely arrogant, which often sees him flying headfirst into danger. Maverick and his best friend, Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards), get invited to join elite classes held at Top Gun.

At first, Maverick thinks this will be a walk in the park as he believes himself to be the best. Unfortunately for him, it's that attitude that causes him and Goose to get into a major accident, resulting in Goose's death. This haunts Maverick throughout the film, and when we get to the sequel, it's still something that he can't move past. In fact, the sequel reveals that Maverick's career has stalled due to his inability to let the past go. Between the two films, we have a pretty comprehensive timeline for Maverick's life and career within the "Top Gun" universe.

Warning: Major spoilers ahead.

Maverick's dad fought in the Vietnam War

In order to understand Maverick, one must first look back at his father, Duke Mitchell. Like Maverick, Duke is a pilot and he took part in a dangerous mission during the Vietnam War and died under mysterious circumstances. This is something that Maverick never truly gets answers on, at least until he enters Top Gun. But one thing is for certain: whatever did happen, the Navy wasn't too pleased about it, as it's heavily implied that Maverick is denied admission to the U.S. Naval Academy due to his father.

Once Maverick arrives at Top Gun, he speaks with his father's old pilot friend, Commander Viper (Tom Skerritt). Maverick is distraught over the death of Goose and blames himself for what happened to his friend. He looks at Viper as a father figure as Maverick never truly had one. Viper takes pity on Maverick and reveals to the young pilot that his father's F-4 was hit and he went down. Although his father wasn't too badly wounded, he chose to stay in the fight and help those that he could.

Viper fondly shares with Maverick that his father died a hero as he managed to save three other planes that were likely also hit. Unfortunately, this was probably frowned upon by the Navy as Duke disobeyed orders — a trait that his son seemed to have inherited. While Viper's explanation doesn't completely explain Duke's whole story, it is enough to give Maverick some closure on who his father was.

Maverick and Penny

In the original "Top Gun," Maverick's love interest is Charlotte "Charlie" Blackwood (Kelly McGillis), an instructor at Top Gun who immediately catches Maverick's eye. But by the time "Maverick" rolls around, Charlie is gone. However, eagle-eyed viewers can catch photos of Charlie scattered throughout the film. There's even a flashback scene of Goose singing at the piano that has her in it, but aside from that, she's vanished. Sadly, it looks as though her relationship with Maverick never truly took flight. Instead, "Maverick" introduces audiences to Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly) — or rather re-introduces her — as she is referenced in the original "Top Gun."

In the 1986 film, Penny is mentioned a number of times. Commander Tom "Stinger" Jardian (James Tolkan) is the first to bring her up when poking fun at Maverick. He recalls a time when Maverick was playing hooky with an admiral's daughter and Goose cheerfully reminds Maverick that the admiral's daughter in question is Penny Benjamin, the one that got away. Later, Goose's wife, Carole (Meg Ryan), pulls him aside to ask about this mysterious Penny. He tells her that Penny is the love of Maverick's life, but that his attitude pushed her away from him. By the time Maverick and Goose arrive at Top Gun, Penny is just a faded memory — that is until they reunite over 30 years later.

Maverick's friendship with Goose

By the time audiences meet Maverick and Goose in "Top Gun," they are already established as best friends. Prior to their admission to Top Gun, Goose works as Maverick's co-pilot. He's responsible for their planes' navigation, communications, and more. Between the two, Goose is more reserved and acts as the voice of reason towards Maverick's more impulsive behavior. They were like two sides of the same coin, making them an excellent team.

After the death of Maverick's father, it's established that Goose, his wife Carole, and their young son Bradley are the only real family Maverick has left. They tether him to a more stable and domestic home, as Maverick is clearly living a bachelor's life. Goose, on the other hand, is a family man, and represents all the things that Maverick is looking for, but has never really been able to find.

At first glance, it may seem as though these two are far too opposite to become friends, but you know what they say about opposites. Plus, it's likely that the two bonded over their love of planes ... and feeling the need for speed. If there's one person that Maverick never wants to let down, it's Goose. That's why he feels so responsible for his death, and subsequently for looking after his son who grows up without a father — just as Maverick did.

Maverick's time at Top Gun

In "Top Gun," Maverick is used to being a top dog, but now he must prove himself the best in a class full of the best. Especially when it comes to facing off against Val Kilmer's LT Tom "Iceman" Kazansky. He's another amazing pilot who believes that no one can touch him, which results in him and Maverick competing for the top spot throughout the entire first film. Unfortunately, neither truly learn the importance of teamwork until they experience a traumatic event — you know the one that we're talking about.

Iceman engages in a dogfight with another A-4 plane, and Maverick and Goose join in with Maverick determined to be the one to successfully get the shot. He grows impatient with Iceman and tries to get a target lock on the enemy while flying too closely behind him as Iceman won't move out of their way. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse as Maverick and Goose get caught in severe turbulence. Maverick tells Goose to eject as he's lost control of the plane. However, once Goose does try to eject, he hits his head into the jettisoned canopy, likely dying on impact.

While both Iceman and Maverick are cleared of any wrongdoing, Goose's death profoundly affects Maverick for years to come. He deals with survivor's guilt and a heavy feeling of responsibility for what happened, realizing that if he and Iceman weren't competing, Goose could still be alive.

Maverick develops a lifelong friendship with Iceman

Following the death of Goose, Maverick and Iceman develop a bond that pushes them together as they both know that they are partially responsible for his death. Once Maverick accepts that his friend is truly gone, he and Iceman work together upon their graduation from Top Gun. They have been assigned a mission on the USS Enterprise which results in them trusting each other and working together in order to complete it. By the end of the mission, they've come to respect each other, with Iceman telling Maverick that he can be his wingman anytime.

While their competitive nature against each other always had a hint of admiration, it is the death of Goose that allows their relationship to blossom into something that moves beyond competition: respect. They've been through the trenches and experienced some dark days, and that's something that no one else will ever be able to understand.

In "Maverick," we see how their relationship has only grown that much deeper. As the by-the-book Iceman moves up in the ranks to become an admiral, Maverick is still dealing with his guilt and inability to follow orders. Iceman does all he can to help Maverick as he understands what he's going through, and believes that Maverick can do great things if he's able to let go of the past and forgive himself.

Maverick derails Rooster's career

Following the death of Goose, Maverick becomes deeply involved with the family that Goose has left behind: his wife Carole and son Bradley. In the early years, Maverick seemingly enjoys a positive experience with Bradley. However, all of that changes once Bradley makes the decision to follow in his father's footsteps to become a pilot.

Maverick reveals to Penny that, on her deathbed, Carole begged him to stop her son from becoming a pilot. And once she passed away, Maverick took it upon himself to take drastic measures by gambling on the fate of Bradley's career. He did so by pulling Bradley's admission papers to the Naval Academy, which ended up heavily derailing his Naval career. Somehow, Bradley discovers what Maverick has done and completely cuts him out of his life. And because Maverick wants to honor Bradley's memory of his mother, he never tells him the truth behind why he did this.

Instead, he allows Bradley to hate him, and it's not until they are reunited in "Maverick" that the two finally air out their grievances with each other and with the choices Maverick's made regarding Bradley's life. Luckily, Miles Teller portrays an older Bradley and has excellent chemistry with  Cruise. The two play off of each other well, making Teller's Bradley a wonderful addition (and potential replacement?) to the "Top Gun" franchise.

Maverick's staggering career

At the end of the first film, Maverick opts to stay at Top Gun as an instructor as it allows him to be closer to Charlie. However, we know that their relationship doesn't work out, so it's likely that he left the academy following their break up. From there, it's hinted that Maverick took part in multiple wars as a Navy pilot and that he was involved in the Bosnian war. In "Maverick," Penny pokes fun at Maverick by saying that he was in Iraq twice.

This brings us to the beginning of "Maverick" where we see he is still working as a pilot. We expected to see him rise in the ranks like Iceman did to become an admiral. But that's just not the case for Maverick as he could never follow the rules. In fact, one of the first things Maverick does in the film is break the rules.

Maverick is scheduled to test a prototype aircraft called Darkstar. However, prior to his launch, the flight has been canceled and his team are ordered to shut the program down. Despite this information, Maverick opts to go ahead and pilot Darkstar, resulting in him successfully reaching the aircraft's potential. Unfortunately, Maverick crashes the plane as he's pushed it past its limits; he still hasn't learned restraint. For his actions, Maverick is grounded. Luckily, Iceman brings him back into the fold as an instructor at Top Gun once more.

Maverick reunites with Penny

Maverick is in for a blast from his past when he returns to Top Gun, as he stumbles upon the one that got away: Penny Benjamin. She's now the owner of a bar that Maverick visits before beginning his first day of classes. The two immediately have a connection, but they decide to try and keep things platonic as Penny doesn't want to go down that road of hurt again.

Well, you can imagine how well that turns out for them because they obviously don't hold their feelings back for long. In fact, they act like two young and giddy teenagers as they attempt to sneak around Penny's young daughter, Amelia (Lyliana Wray). Unfortunately for them, they aren't that slick, with Amelia warning Maverick not to break her mother's heart once more.

Amelia obviously wasn't around the first time that Maverick and Penny got together (as that was over 30 years ago), so it stands to reason that these two have been doing this will-they-won't-they dance a couple of times since the events of "Top Gun." For one thing, Amelia is extremely comfortable around Maverick, so it's likely that she knows that he's the one for her mother — she just doesn't want him to blow it this time around.

Maverick's return to Top Gun

Iceman pulls strings to get Maverick back at Top Gun with the hope that it will help Maverick to forgive himself for the past. And luckily, this works, as Maverick is able to find redemption for his actions in the death of Goose — and it's with his own son.

Maverick has been tasked to train some of the best pilots for a seemingly impossible mission. The Navy has been assigned to destroy an unsanctioned plant before it becomes operational. The plant is located deep inside a canyon in an underground bunker that's defended by missiles and advanced fighter ships. While Maverick trains the team, it becomes apparent that only he can fly this mission. However once they've completed it, Maverick sacrifices himself to ensure Rooster's (Bradley's callsign) safety. The two make it out, with Maverick finally forgiving himself and being forgiven by Rooster.

Unfortunately, Iceman doesn't survive to see Maverick at peace, as he passed away from his illness. And while his death was an incredibly powerful and emotional moment in "Maverick," it was completely Kilmer's idea to include his illness in the script. As part of Variety's "Directors on Directors" series, director Joseph Kosinski shared that they adjusted the script to allow Kilmer to type his lines rather than speak them. Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, Cruise said that the scene was "very special" and that it was important for him to have Kilmer in the film.

Maverick forgives himself

It seems fitting that the "Top Gun" timeline would end with Maverick finally finding peace and forgiving himself just as Iceman always wanted for him. Things seem to have come full circle for Maverick as, prior to the events in "Top Gun," Maverick was in search of answers regarding his father. And in doing so, he found a father figure in Viper. Therefore, it's only right that his story should end with him becoming a father figure to Rooster.

In "Maverick," The biggest issue that Maverick struggles with is if he should send Rooster on this dangerous mission with him. He tells Iceman, "If I send him on this mission he might never come home. If I don't send him he'll never forgive me," to which Iceman responds in writing, "It's time to let go." This is a major moment for Maverick as it helps him push past his guilt, and only Iceman can tell him to do so as he's the only one to understand how Maverick feels. And he's the only person that Maverick respects enough to listen to — at least, that is until he gains his new wingman in Rooster.