Maverick (Tom Cruise) threw Goose’s (Anthony Edwards) dog tags into the ocean at the end of Top Gun, leading some viewers to question why he wouldn’t keep the memento from his dead friend. The 1986 Tony Scott film propelled Cruise to mainstream popularity; however, it also featured a string of great supporting characters, making it the well-rounded cult classic fans know and love today. One of the most important secondary characters in Top Gun is Pete Mitchell’s Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, whose death played a pivotal part in Maverick’s overall arc.
Maverick and Goose were already partners when Top Gun started. It was clear that the pair had a genuine fondness for each other, which was important considering they relied on each other while flying. Their relationship also spilled over to their personal lives, as Goose’s family and friends were also close to Maverick. This made Goose’s tragic death much more difficult to process for Maverick — especially since it happened while they were flying together.
In the original movie, Maverick struggled to confront Goose’s death. Because he was flying with Goose when the incident happened, he was investigated to make sure that he wasn’t liable for the accident. While he was cleared by the board of inquiry of any responsibility, he was still racked by guilt for the death of his best friend. He kept Goose’s dog tags with him throughout this whole debacle, but eventually, decided to let go of his friend at the end of the film by throwing the dog tags into the ocean.
Maverick dropping Goose’s dog tags into the ocean was a symbolic gesture of him letting go of the guilt he’s felt over his friend’s death. Regardless of the words of encouragement from his peers and even Goose’s wife, Carole (Meg Ryan), Maverick continued to be haunted by the demise of his RIO. This hampered his performance in his final few weeks in the academy; not only did he lose interest in flying, but he also struggled with his confidence. This allowed Ice Man (Val Kilmer) to take the top spot in their class. At one point in Top Gun, he even considered quitting altogether.
While Maverick ultimately graduated, there were still concerns over his state of mind during the class’ first official mission. These were justified as Maverick momentarily suffered a panic attack after finding himself in a similar situation that caused Goose’s death. He, fortunately, overcame his nerves, helping his squad emerge triumphant by successfully getting rid of six hostile MiGs. This breakthrough helped Maverick realize that he needs to move on and continue to be of service to the navy, just as Goose would’ve wanted him to. Meanwhile, the decision to leave the dog tags to rest in the ocean has something to do with the fact that Goose died in Maverick’s arms while they were floating in the sea following their plane crashing.
34 years later after Goose’s tragic death in Top Gun, Maverick will have to deal with the trauma of losing his friend again when Nick’s son, Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) joins the academy where he now teaches in Top Gun: Maverick. It’s curious whether or not he was really able to overcome the trauma of what happened as the film clearly implies that something from his past is still haunting the ace pilot in the present. This is the reason why his rank remains as a captain, despite his obvious outstanding flying skills.
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