Favorite Fictional Characters, #153: Goose
It's easy to look back thirty years ago and dismiss Top Gun as a big-budget exercise in masculine jingoism, a paean to American military power during the last gasp of the Cold War. And it was. But when you're an eleven year old boy watching those Navy jets scream off aircraft carriers to a bitchin' soundtrack, none of that matters. It's testosterone-driven spectacle, and it's awesome.
For me, Nick Edwards (call sign Goose) has always been my favorite character (along with Jester, but who doesn't love Michael Ironside in everything he does?). In a mid-80s bath of homoerotically-charged male half-nudity, he's the guy sort of abashed by it all, the guy wearing his shirt during the flex-off (I mean, volleyball game), the guy with an actual wife beyond the stick of his aircraft. (An aside - he's married to Meg Ryan at her sexiest, still randy even with a young child. Points for Goose.) He's the guy who makes people laugh in the midst of their angsty rivalries, who lowers the temperature with his humor and wisdom. He feels the need, the need for speed, he just doesn't subsist solely on the drug of adrenaline. There's more to his life than simply jockeying for supremacy in the swordfight of pilot pecking order.
And frankly, the only real pathos in this nonstop orgy of sweaty close talking and loud fast flying is (do I need to issue spoiler alerts after 30 years?) Goose's senseless death during a training exercise. Talk to me, Goose. Yeah, it's a narrative moment that serves only to challenge the gum-chewing, eyeblinking protagonist Maverick (Cruise at his frat-boy nadir, excepting perhaps Days of Thunder), a speed bump that allows the hero to seek post-tragedy redemption. But it's a moment of humanity in that riot of shiny steel and roaring afterburners, and it elevates Goose to the status of Kenobi-esque guiding ghost, the very memory of him saving Maverick during his darkest hour. It's a shame he can't be there at the end to share in the awkward hugs and bro-love.
Forget wingmen. Goose can be my radar intercept officer anytime.