If all was right in the world, we’d have seen director Joseph Kosinski’s big legacyquel Top Gun: Maverick already released to theaters. But thanks to a little thing called 2020, Tom Cruise’s huge return to the role of Captain Pete Mitchell has been postponed to next July, and we’re left pondering some of the stuff we’ve seen in trailers or read in interviews a little longer. But we think we’ve found the answer to a pretty big question that was posed in the first trailer for Top Gun: Maverick, and that’s the key to the mystery of why Captain Mitchell hasn’t risen past his current rank in the US Navy.

Let’s walk it back a little before we go too deep into the whys and hows. Last summer, when the trailer for Top Gun: Maverick introduced us to the next generation of high-flying madness, things opened with a cryptic exchange of dialogue. Set between Tom Cruise’s Maverick and an unseen Ed Harris, we’re treated to a beautiful sequence of aviation that has the following information laid out:

Harris: 30+ years of service. Combat medals, citations, only man to shoot down 3 enemy planes in the last 40 years. Yet you can’t get a promotion, you won’t retire, and despite your best efforts you refuse to die. You should be at least a two-star admiral by now, yet here you are, 'Captain.' Why is that?
Cruise: It’s one of life’s mysteries, sir.

It’s a mystery, alright; and it’s one that may not have gotten too much press around its potential answer. The reason being, it’s kind of obvious why Captain Pete Mitchell wouldn’t want to advance in the ranks after the events of the legendary Top Gun. It’s the same reason that Bill Pullman’s President Whitmore gives when asked why he’s climbing into a cockpit to fight aliens in Independence Day: Captain Mitchell is a pilot, and he belongs in the air.

That fact was basically proven in the recently released synopsis for Top Gun: Maverick. Buried among the details of how Tom Cruise’s Maverick will face the legacy of his past in the training of Lt. Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, played by Miles Teller, there’s a clear as day reference as to why Captain Mitchell hasn’t climbed the ranks. Here’s the entire rundown, for your reading pleasure:

After more than thirty years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is where he belongs, pushing the envelope as a courageous test pilot and dodging the advancement in rank that would ground him. When he finds himself training a detachment of Top Gun graduates for a specialized mission the likes of which no living pilot has ever seen, Maverick encounters Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), call sign: “Rooster,” the son of Maverick’s late friend and Radar Intercept Officer Lt. Nick Bradshaw, aka “Goose.” Facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears, culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.

Maverick is being pure Maverick, not only with his refusal to become an admiral, but also in his cryptic Top Gun: Maverick response as to why he has failed to do so. Making things all the more interesting is the fact that while Pete Mitchell hasn’t moved up in the world, his former rival-turned-friend Iceman (Val Kilmer) absolutely has. Being suggested to be a four-star admiral in the sequel, ready for release in July 2021, it should be interesting to see how and if the two make use of that scenario in cinematic conversation.

For now, most of Top Gun: Maverick is under wraps, which means while one question has been answered, so many others remain unresolved. How will Maverick and Rooster react to each other’s presence? Is Captain Pete Mitchell really the right man to train the next generation of fighter pilots? What’s this mission that “demands the ultimate sacrifice?” July 2, 2021 is when we'll get those answers, provided the film stays on course for its big debut. But should that change, we’ll break that news as it happens, and update our 2021 release schedule accordingly.

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