All the best 'Top Gun: Maverick' throwbacks, from 'Great Balls of Fire' to that ending (spoilers!)

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Spoiler alert: This post discusses key points in  Tom Cruise's "Top Gun: Maverick." Stop reading if you haven't seen it and proceed directly to a theater. That's an order.

"Top Gun: Maverick" director Joseph Kosinski stuck the landing on his long-awaited sequel to 1986's fan-beloved original.

The new chapter for Tom Cruise's Pete "Maverick" Mitchell stands proudly on its own while following the first film's action formula. Naturally, "Maverick" features some tone-perfect throwbacks, including Maverick motorcycle racing against the jet (a classic).

But "Maverick" doesn't crash and burn in the haze of nostalgia.

"There are times that a callback feels appropriate," says Kosinski, who nixed others that felt "like you're doing a cover band version of the original."

Strap in for the best "Top Gun" throwbacks in "Maverick."

** Last chance to stop reading! We're heading into spoiler territory. **

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Miles Teller's Rooster plays "Great Balls of Fire," and we're pretty sure papa Goose is singing along in heaven.
Miles Teller's Rooster plays "Great Balls of Fire," and we're pretty sure papa Goose is singing along in heaven.

Rooster crows 'Great Balls of Fire' just like his late dad Goose

Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw (Miles Teller) singing "Great Balls of Fire" veers into the hokey danger zone, but it pulls out safely. Squint your eyes and sing along as Rooster bangs the piano keys to the song his late father – Maverick's bestie Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (Anthony Edwards) – used to croon in full Jerry Lee Lewis-style.

Rooster has the Goose Hawaiian shirt, the shades, the mustache and the theatrical key-pounding down. Paramount Studios released a raucous extended song version on June 16.

There's a lot of story baked into the sentimental scene. This is the grown-up version of the boy in the cowboy hat sitting on the piano in "Top Gun" who was told, "Sing it, Bradley!" by his now-deceased father.

"That original 'Top Gun' piano scene is the genesis of that whole character," says Kosinski.

Maverick, still haunted by Goose's death in a flight accident, isn't singing along this time. In "Maverick," he's outside the window looking in at the fun.

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Kenny Loggins' 'Danger Zone' is there right at the beginning

You knew you were in safe hands with Kosinski in the first frames of "Maverick," which are an outright "Top Gun" tribute, down to the opening card that reads "They call it Top Gun."

The original Kenny Loggins "Danger Zone" opens the film with a new version of that iconic "Top Gun" aircraft carrier action – now aboard the USS Lincoln with F-18s.

"I wanted the audience to know that this is a 'Top Gun' movie and this is something we hold dear to our hearts," says Kosinski. "At least in the opening frames, I wanted to take the audience to 'Top Gun.' "

Then it's off to Maverick in an aircraft hangar, nearly 36 years later, beginning the new story.

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Glen Powell stars as Hangman in "Top Gun: Maverick."
Glen Powell stars as Hangman in "Top Gun: Maverick."

In the first briefing for elite pilots, everyone is posturing. Glen Powell's Hangman cockily turns his toothpick in his mouth, a suitable twist on Iceman's (Val Kilmer) wild pen-twirling. But the best moment happens when Maverick enters the briefing, and Hangman gives an "oh, shoot" look when he realizes it's the guy he threw out of a bar the night before.

It's a worthy tribute to Cruise's busted expression in "Top Gun" when civilian contractor Charlie Blackwood (Kelly McGillis) enters the briefing to provide training instruction. Maverick realizes it's the same woman with whom he had memorably interacted at a bar the night before.

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Maverick buzzes the tower, no coffee spilled

The flight throwbacks had perfect execution, including Maverick flying his jet inverted briefly during flight training (though no Polaroids were taken as in the "Top Gun" moment).

Yet the best moment comes after Maverick's dogfight heroics. The forever-rebel buzzes the carrier tower –  just like he did twice in "Top Gun," causing Air Boss Johnson (Duke Stroud) to spill his coffee.

This time, Maverick-critic Admiral Beau "Cyclone" Simpson (Jon Hamm) just rolls his eyes. "It's a subtle nod," says Kosinski. "We didn't want to spill the coffee."

We still miss Stroud representing the Navy's forever-bureaucrat. But it's well done.

'Talk to me, Goose' returns

Maverick speaks the famed line "Talk to me, Goose" to his RIO officer multiple times in the original, one of his first lines in "Top Gun." After Goose's death, Maverick speaks the line again from the cockpit when holding his friend's dog tags – imploring his help about engaging in a dogfight. The haunted pilot continues to call out to his buddy Goose in "Maverick," speaking the line during the film's test-flight sequences. Maverick's repeat call to Goose becomes more profound when invoked during the dramatic ending.

The movie ends with Maverick and Rooster flying a decommissioned F-14

You knew Maverick and Rooster were going to join forces and dogfight baddies in the end. But to have Maverick in the front of an F-14 and Rooster in the back for the shoot-'em up ending against superior technology was inspired.

The glorious F-14, the old-school star of "Top Gun," was decommissioned by the military in 2006. It's like the T. rex roaring to life among genetically created dinosaurs in "Jurassic World."

The seeds were planted earlier in "Maverick" with discussion of the enemy possibly having an assortment of  F-14s. Then Maverick and Rooster, shot down behind enemy lines, find the sheltered planes. Getting the retired plane moving made for great comedy.

The real F-14 was literally taken from a museum to be used for the film.

"That is one of the last intact F-14s that exists and it was very difficult to get that to Lake Tahoe to shoot those scenes," says Kosinski.

It all leads to Maverick showing he's still got the skills, while exorcising his demons of losing Goose in that "Top Gun" flight accident. When things look bad in the fight, Maverick orders Rooster to "Eject, eject" just as he told Goose in "Top Gun." This time the circumstances end very differently.

Kosinski loved the shot of Cruise "in a vertical climb in the F-14 and he breaks through a layer of clouds."

It's not heaven. It's "Top Gun" heaven.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Top Gun: Maverick': See Miles Teller's extended 'Great Balls of Fire'

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