Is Everything After Maverick's Darkstar Flameout Really Just a 'Top Gun' Death Dream?

Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in "Top Gun: Maverick." (Paramount Pictures)

Now that "Top Gun: Maverick" has been in theaters for a few weeks and has been seen by millions of people around the world, it's a good time to explore the weirdest thing about the movie. If you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want any spoilers, stop reading now and bookmark this article to read after you've seen the movie.

You could take the story at face value and enjoy it as a great military aviation adventure. Maverick gets called back to Top Gun to train a new generation of pilots to fly the F-18 on a nearly impossible military mission. Conflicts arise, conflicts get resolved and the team comes together to face a common enemy.

And yet, some things about that story are a little bit weird and deserve an in-depth examination. When the movie opens, Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell is serving as a test pilot for the next-generation SR-72 Darkstar fighter jet. Adm. Chester "Hammer" Cain (Ed Harris) wants to shut down the program in favor of drone warfare, so Maverick decides to take one last flight and push the speed to Mach-10 ahead of schedule in an attempt to save the test program.

Of course, Mav hits the number, but he can't help himself and pushes the plane to 10.1, 10.2 and then flameout! The screen goes dark.

A couple of seconds later, we see Maverick walking down a country road and into a 1950s-style diner filled with folks who look like they're still living in the 20th century. Mitchell drinks a glass of water and asks where he is. A kid who looks straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting looks at the disheveled guy in the space suit and replies, "Earth."

There's a fan theory floating around the internet, and it's worth thinking about. What if Maverick died in the Darkstar crash, and the rest of the movie is imagined by Capt. Mitchell during his last moments of consciousness before crossing over and joining Goose on the other side?

Before you dismiss this theory, let's examine how it might explain five of the weirdest things about "Top Gun: Maverick":

The Iceman Mysteries

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Val Kilmer appears as Adm. Tom "Iceman" Kazansky in "Top Gun: Maverick." (Paramount Pictures)

Look, we all know that Tom "Iceman" Kazansky has an unbreakable bond with his old wingman, Maverick, but now he's commander of the Pacific Fleet. Is managing the imploding career of one broken-down old test pilot really at the top of his priority list? Also, would a man with so much responsibility for national security still be in his post when he's in such poor health? You know the answer.

The One that Got Away

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Jennifer Connelly plays Penny Benjamin in "Top Gun: Maverick." (Paramount Pictures)

Old people, especially old single people, often romanticize relationships from days gone by and think about the one that got away. We know that Maverick had a thing for Penny Benjamin even before we met him back in 1986. Why wouldn't he think of a woman he decided was his one true love as he takes his final breaths?

Jukebox Mysteries

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Rooster (Miles Teller) performs "Great Balls of Fire" in "Top Gun: Maverick." (Paramount Pictures)

Maverick finds Penny behind the bar at the Hard Deck, a joint popular with Top Gun aviators. As he watches the new generation of pilots square off, the jukebox plays songs that were oldies when Maverick was a young buck. Do modern Navy aviators really listen to David Bowie's "Let's Dance," T. Rex's "Bang a Gong (Get It On)," Otis Redding and Carla Thomas' "Tramp" and Foghat's "Slow Ride" when they're having a beer? Don't they prefer Drake or something?

Even weirder is the moment when Goose's son, Rooster, recreates his dad's performance of the Jerry Lee Lewis song, "Great Balls of Fire," at the bar's piano. Does the kid really remember the moment when he sat on top of the piano as a toddler and his dad serenaded his mom, Maverick and Charlie? How much do you remember about that age?

Pulled Papers

Miles Teller plays Lt. Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw in "Top Gun: Maverick." (Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films)

Rooster is angry that Maverick "pulled his papers" and kept him out of the Naval Academy. This is not actually a thing that happens, and even if it was, a captain wouldn't have the authority to interfere with the decision. Maybe Bradley Bradshaw never joined the Navy and is working in an Amazon warehouse outside of Pensacola, Florida. Maverick, in his last moments of consciousness, blames himself for what happened to Goose and for the fact that his son grew up without a father.

Who Is the Enemy, Anyway?

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An a Su-57 is visible in the trailer for “Top Gun: Maverick.” (Paramount Pictures)

"Top Gun: Maverick" is very careful not to identify the country that's building the nuclear processing plant. It's on the ocean, and it has snowy mountains near the water. Its military has access to next-generation fighter planes. How many countries in the world fit that description and are on the verge of going nuclear? Exactly zero.

We don't expect our pilots to be international policy experts, so maybe the most logical explanation is that Capt. Mitchell invented a nuclear threat as he imagined one last mission before he vaporized somewhere over planet Earth.

Does any of this detract from the majesty of "Top Gun: Maverick"? Not one bit. You can take the movie at face value, and it's great. Even if you fully embrace the alternate reality theory detailed above, "Maverick" still works as a sci-fi psychological thriller with aerial dogfights. Enjoy it either way.

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