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The Hero’s Journey Script Breakdown: Top Gun: Maverick

By Ken Miyamoto from ScreenCraft · May 24, 2023

The Hero’s Journey Script Breakdown: Top Gun: Maverick

How does Top Gun: Maverick follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey breakdown? Welcome to another installment of our new series A Hero’s Journey Script Breakdown where we explore Joseph Campbell’s mythological storytelling structure and how iconic films fit into that mold.

Christopher Vogler’s approach to Campbell’s structure broke the mythical story structure into twelve stages. For this script breakdown series, we define the stages in simplified interpretations.

The 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey

  1. The Ordinary World: We see the hero’s normal life at the start of the story before the adventure begins.
  2. Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with an event, conflict, problem, or challenge that makes them begin their adventure.
  3. Refusal of the Call: The hero initially refuses the adventure because of hesitation, fears, insecurity, or any other number of issues.
  4. Meeting the Mentor: The hero encounters a mentor that can give them advice, wisdom, information, or items that ready them for the journey ahead.
  5. Crossing the Threshold: The hero leaves their ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero learns the rules of the new world and endures tests, meets friends, and comes face-to-face with enemies.
  7. The Approach: The initial plan to take on the central conflict begins, but setbacks occur that causes the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
  8. The Ordeal: Things go wrong and added conflict is introduced. The hero experiences more difficult hurdles and obstacles, some of which may lead to a life crisis.
  9. The Reward: After surviving The Ordeal, the hero seizes the sword — a reward that they’ve earned that allows them to take on the biggest conflict. It may be a physical item or piece of knowledge or wisdom that will help them persevere.
  10. The Road Back: The hero sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but they are about to face even more tests and challenges.
  11. The Resurrection: The climax. The hero faces a final test, using everything they have learned to take on the conflict once and for all.
  12. The Return: The hero brings their knowledge or the “elixir” back to the ordinary world.

Here we turn to the Oscar-nominated contemporary classic Top Gun: Maverick (read our breakdown for the original Top Gun here!) for a complete script breakdown.

The Hero’s Journey Breakdown: Top Gun: Maverick

Note: As with any application of story structure or formula in a script breakdown, this is just a hindsight interpretation and implementation of The Hero’s Journey to this cinematic tale. There can and will be variances. 

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The Ordinary World

30 years removed from the events of the original film, Maverick is no longer at Top Gun. He’s not even a fighter pilot. While his Top Gun peer and previous wingman Iceman is the Admiral of the U.S. Naval fleet, Maverick has washed out in any leadership role he was eligible for due to repeated insubordination. He’s a 50-something Captain, now flying experimental military aircraft.

Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain is going to cancel Maverick’s hypersonic “Darkstar” scramjet program in favor of funding drones. To save the program, Maverick changes the target speed for that day’s test from Mach 9 to the final contract specification of Mach 10. He succeeds by becoming the fastest man alive. However, the prototype was destroyed in the process.

Call to Adventure

Cain would like nothing more than to remove Maverick from duty, but Iceman, with his protective pull as the Admiral of the Nazy, has reassigned Maverick to Top Gun. When he arrives, he learns why.

The Navy has been tasked with destroying an unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant, located in an underground bunker at the end of a canyon, before it becomes operational. It’s a seemingly impossible mission. Maverick responds by breaking down how he would approach the mission. They approve. He then believes that he is the one to lead the attack. However, he’s quickly told by Air Boss Vice Admiral Beau “Cyclone” Simpson that his role will be that of instructor. They want to teach current fighter pilots how to complete the mission.

Refusal of the Call

Maverick hesitates, especially when he learns that one of the chosen fighter pilots is the son of his best friend Goose, who was lost in a training accident 30 years prior. Maverick and Rooster are estranged. Maverick respectfully refuses the call. However, he learns that this is his only way to stay flying.

Meeting the Mentor

Maverick doesn’t meet the mentor of this story until later on in the film when he visits his old friend Iceman. Iceman has become the mentor, showing Maverick how to overcome his fear of mortality as a fighter pilot and mentor to the young fighter pilots.

Crossing the Threshold

Maverick crosses the threshold when he revisits the Top Gun airfield and goes to a local Naval base bar run by his old flame Penny Benjamin. He’s surrounded by younger fighter pilots in their prime, quickly realizing that he is out of his element. He’s literally thrown out of the bar by his younger counterparts (who don’t know who he is yet) for breaking some of Penny’s bar rules. He then looks in, somewhat shellshocked, as he sees Rooster playing “Great Balls of Fire” for the crowd.

Test, Allies, and Enemies

While Maverick already met some of his allies and enemies in the bar — as well as earlier during the briefing with Cyclone — once the training begins, he starts to see who his allies and enemies truly are.

  • Rooster is still angry with Maverick.
  • Hangman is resistant to Maverick’s teachings.
  • The other fighter pilots respect Maverick.
  • Warlock supports Maverick.
  • Penny supports him as well.
  • Hondo is Maverick’s right-hand man.

Maverick begins his training program and quickly learns about the struggles he will face. He also tests and showcases his abilities still present as an elite fighter pilot.

The Approach

The training isn’t going well. The fighter pilots aren’t working together, and Maverick can’t figure out how to get through to them. After his visit with Iceman, he finds a new approach to take. And as this is all happening, he’s growing closer and closer to Penny.

The Ordeal

Iceman dies. And during a training mission, an aircraft is lost with the pilots narrowly surviving. The team is still not able to make the necessary times needed to prove that the mission will not only be a success but that the pilots will come home alive as well. Cyclone seems to think that the possibility of losing some or all of the pilots is part of the mission’s risk. Cyclone removes Maverick from the program and changes the mission times, knowing that doing so basically means that some, if not all, will be sacrificed.

The Reward

As Cyclone briefs the pilots on the new mission parameters, Maverick is heard on the comms. He is in a jet and is going to prove to Cyclone, and the team, that the mission can be done under Maverick’s planned parameters that can allow the pilots a good chance to escape alive.

The Road Back

Not only is Maverick allowed to return to the mission, but he is also assigned as team leader for the mission, leading Rooster and the others. The mission is a success!

However, during the escape, Maverick sacrifices himself to save Rooster and is shot down, believed to be killed in action.

The Resurrection

Maverick is alive — but he’s now being pursued by an enemy helicopter. Rooster saves him in time, only to be shot down himself. Now Maverick and Rooster must steal an F-14 from the damaged air base. After they get airborne, Maverick and Rooster work together (as Maverick and Goose had 30 years prior) to destroy two intercepting enemy jets. They battle a third as they run out of ammunition and countermeasures. Thankfully, Hangman arrives in time to shoot it down, as the planes return safely.

The Return

The pilots are all reunited on the aircraft carrier, triumphant. In the months that precede, Maverick and Rooster have rebuilt their relationship and are now working on aircraft together. Penny returns from a trip, and Maverick takes her flying. All is well.

If you want to dive in deeper, check out our other Hero’s Journey Breakdowns!

Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, and Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, the feature thriller Hunter’s Creed, and many produced Lifetime thrillers. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies and Instagram @KenMovies76.

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