I’ve always insisted that Top Gun is a character-driven movie, or perhaps even a soundtrack-driven movie, but that may have a lot to do with the fact that, after countless viewings, I have a fairly limited grasp on what’s going on in the film. I mean, I know Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Goose (Anthony Edwards) are training with the best of the best at the illustrious Top Gun. Maverick is struggling to come to terms with the death of his father and step out from behind his shadow while also learning to be an even more amazing Navy pilot, falling in love with a lady with a man’s name (Kelly McGillis), occasionally “Playin’ With The Boys”, and, ultimately, also facing the death of his best friend. I would argue that Maverick makes a pretty good character arc over the course of the film, but I would be hard-pressed to tell you what they’re doing with those MiGs or why they’re engaging in situations dangerous enough to result in death when the nation is not officially at war.
This has certainly never stopped me from enjoying the movie, and when presented with the opportunity to see a 25th anniversary screening of the film introduced by Tom Skerritt himself, all I could do was purchase a ticket and hop in the car. We, as a nation—as a generation—will brake for Top Gun, and it’s a boon to our culture that a real Top Gun pilot, Dave “Bio” Baranek, has written a textbook for us.
After all these years, Baranek’s book, Topgun Days: Dogfighting, Cheating Death, and Hollywood Glory As One Of America’s Best Fighter Jocks, finally gives us insight into all the things that made us scratch our heads about the movie. The first two thirds of the book deal with Baranek’s real-life experiences in Top Gun, making sense of much of what we see onscreen. In short, it explains the inner workings of Top Gun, setting a backdrop for Maverick’s story that’s far clearer than the one presented in the film and offering up reading that will be of general interest to aviation buffs and film fans alike.
The last third of the book deals with the making of the film and Baranek’s role as a consultant, giving us a layman’s perspective on the making-of process. His it-could-happen-to-you take on his brush with Hollywood is relatable and down to earth, and photo sections include shots of Baranek and his wife with the stars of the film. It may not be an earth-shattering read, but it’s certainly fun to hear from someone who found himself unexpectedly involved in a beloved blockbuster movie.