The most important ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ moment nearly every moviegoer missed

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“Top Gun: Maverick” has worldwide ticket sales that have already crossed the $1 billion mark. If I’m an indicator, theaters sold many of those tickets to repeat customers.

If I hadn’t seen the film a second time, however, I would have missed its most important and revealing five seconds.

During my first viewing, the scene entirely escaped notice. Producers had sandwiched it between mission-centered drama and supremely distracting high-G maneuvers. But in my second screening, I caught it.

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The scene occurs just before Tom Cruise’s character Maverick leads three other F/A-18 Super Hornets on the film’s climatic mission. It breaks into two segments, one lasting about 1.5 seconds and the second roughly 4 seconds.

Tom Cruise returns in “Top Gun: Maverick.”

To me, these are the most meaningful seconds of the film.

The initial second-and-a-half shows the hangar deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. From behind, we see Maverick and Rooster who’ll fly the single-seat F/A-18s on the impending mission. We also see Payback and Phoenix who’ll be flying with rear-seat flight officers Bob and Fanboy.

The film’s six stars are standing in front of row after row of aviation personnel. These rows of men and women, dressed in shirts of varied colors, look like a rainbow. Without them, nobody’s getting a jet into the air.

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They are the indispensable and unsung team members who have maintained and prepared the aircraft that will fly the mission.

Those wearing purple shirts have fueled up the jets; red shirts have armed them.

Green shirts have maintained the engines and readied the catapults and arresting cables.

Blue shirts will run the ship’s massive elevators, unchain the aircraft, and clear the chocks.

Yellow shirts will lock the aircraft into the catapults and send the aviators and their backseat flight officers rocketing off the deck.

Each brown shirt serves as a plane captain; most are under the age of 22, yet shoulder responsibility for ensuring their $70-million jet is ready. Often, their names are painted on the aircraft just like the pilot’s. Aviators will generally concede that the plane captain owns the aircraft; the pilot just borrows it.

American actors Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise on the set of the original 'Top Gun,' directed by Tony Scott.  (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

American actors Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise on the set of the original ‘Top Gun,’ directed by Tony Scott. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Paramount Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis)

Everyone loves the sunglasses-wearing figures in flight suits; they’re just the tip of a long spear, however. Each man and woman aboard Theodore Roosevelt makes it possible for these aviators to drop ordinance on a target and accomplish the ship’s collective mission of advancing national security.

The film’s six stars are standing in front of row after row of aviation personnel. These rows of men and women, dressed in shirts of varied colors, look like a rainbow. Without them, nobody’s getting a jet into the air.

I learned this lesson aboard four deployed aircraft carriers and at bases like North Island, California; Pensacola, Florida, and Bahrain while researching my book “Fly Navy.”

Tom Cruise attends the red carpet for the Japan Premiere of "Top Gun: Maverick" at Osanbashi Yokohama on May 24, 2022, in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan

Tom Cruise attends the red carpet for the Japan Premiere of “Top Gun: Maverick” at Osanbashi Yokohama on May 24, 2022, in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan
(Ken Ishii)

Yet, the passing of time and the sizzle of the new film’s leading actors almost made me forget that naval aviation includes far more than the men and women in the cockpits.

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The second part of the overlooked scene comes several moments later. We see Cyclone, the three-star admiral in charge of the mission, addressing the assemblage in the hangar deck.

“This is what you’ve all been training for,” he says dramatically. Charged and inspired, everyone then leaves to execute his or her precise role.

Initially, I thought Cyclone was just talking to the six officers about climbing into the cockpits.

He wasn’t.

Cyclone was addressing everyone on the carrier, especially those working the flight deck. They’d trained relentlessly for their specific duties, and success that day required them to shine as brightly as the aviators and flight officers. It was their mission, too.

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As a civilian in the world of naval aviation, I found something extraordinary and surprising, and the film gives you a glimpse of it if you’re quick enough to catch it.

I discovered a shipboard team of unsurpassed ability and sense of mission. I witnessed an operation that strengthens our country by protecting it from enemies. And I saw how that operation also manufactures the citizens America itself needs to thrive.

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On the flight deck, individuals from every conceivable background work together in a hot and dangerous crucible that forges ability, character, and duty. The entire enterprise of naval aviation makes America stronger. It serves as an example and reminder of how leadership and shared purpose can transform organizations and individuals, in uniform and not. It makes me proud.

So, when you watch “Top Gun: Maverick” again — and let’s be honest, you will — remember the stars aren’t just the people with call signs. Take a moment to realize you’re watching heroes work together, a navy and a country at its best.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE BY ALVIN TOWNLEY

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