Study Guide

Top Gun Hero's Journey

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Hero's Journey

Ever notice that every blockbuster movie has the same fundamental pieces? A hero, a journey, some conflicts to muck it all up, a reward, and the hero returning home and everybody applauding his or her swag? Yeah, scholar Joseph Campbell noticed first—in 1949. He wrote The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he outlined the 17 stages of a mythological hero's journey.

About half a century later, Christopher Vogler condensed those stages down to 12 in an attempt to show Hollywood how every story ever written should—and, uh, does—follow Campbell's pattern. We're working with those 12 stages, so take a look. (P.S. Want more? We have an entire Online Course devoted to the hero's journey.)

Ordinary World

Maverick's ordinary world is a lot of guys' fantasy world: flying at supersonic speeds in a 30 million dollar jet. Yep, Maverick is a naval aviator, he flies an F-14 Tomcat for a living, and that's where he first meet him.

Call To Adventure

Maverick gets really lucky. While he's called into Stinger's office to get yelled at, he's also been called up to the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to go to Top Gun, the Navy's elite fighter weapons school. There, he will compete against the best the Navy has to offer, and maybe learn a thing or two himself.

Refusal Of The Call

Okay, so Maverick doesn't exactly "refuse" the once in a lifetime chance to attend Top Gun. But, he doesn't exactly play by the rules at first. He goes below the minimum elevation to shoot down Jester, and, he buzzes the air control tower. It's like he's trying to get kicked out of Top Gun.

Meeting The Mentor

Viper first shows up during the first Top Gun class session, and he essentially lets Maverick know he's watching him (he makes it clear that he can hear what Maverick is whispering to Goose). He reminds Maverick shortly thereafter that he better follow the rules, or he'll be history.

Crossing The Threshold

Maverick starts playing by the rules. For a guy who's named Maverick, and wants to do things his way, this is definitely a big step. He takes the Top Gun education and training seriously, and he's neck and neck with Iceman throughout.

Tests, Allies, Enemies

Iceman badgers Maverick all the time, making snide comments like they're going out of style. Maverick's own past also haunts him, so much so that Goose finally tells him he needs to stop flying as if he's competing with the ghost of his father. This is all in addition to going up against guys like Jester and Viper, who are way better pilots and continually test Maverick's abilities.

Approach To The Inmost Cave

Maverick has a great shot at winning the Top Gun trophy. Shortly before Goose's death, he's in second place (Iceman is in first), but just barely. He even almost gets Viper in missile lock, in some of the best flying Jester has seen from Maverick.


Maverick's plane crashes in a training accident, and Goose dies. Goose is Maverick's only family, and he's absolutely devastated. Maverick finally gets an idea of what other pilots he's abandoned (he often leaves his wingmen) feel like.

Reward (Seizing The Sword)

Maverick is exonerated by the Navy, and is soon back flying, but he's not the same pilot anymore. At least he can get back in the plane—lots of guys wouldn't be able to do that. If he can get it together, and get back his edge, Goose's death will actually teach him a thing or two about loyalty, the fragility of life, and all that stuff.

The Road Back

Maverick has a long road back after Goose's death. First, he quits Top Gun. Then, Viper invites him over to his house on a Sunday and tells him the truth about his father (Duke Mitchell), and that he can still graduate from Top Gun, if he wants to. It is only after Viper's little chat with Maverick that he seems to get back on track.


Maverick shows up at graduation, and seems to be at peace. The Navy agrees, and orders him into action, along with Hollywood, Wolfman, Iceman, and Slider. He's still a little troubled (he keeps looking at Gooses' dog tags), but we know he's back (he soon proves it).

Return With The Elixir

Maverick shoots down three MiG-28's, saves Iceman's life, and cements his reputation as one of the Navy's top guns. The crew of the aircraft carrier are ecstatic, Iceman finally trusts Maverick, and it is clear that Maverick is one skilled pilot.

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