SEATTLE — 30 years after audiences last met Captain Pete Mitchell, he returns to "Top Gun: Maverick" to train a new class of hotshots.
But he's still a loner who clashes with his commanders — especially “Cyclone,” played by Jon Hamm.
“It's fun, and not anything I ever thought I would be doing in my life," Hamm said. "Tom is actually iconic. He is an icon at this point, and it's almost an out-of-body experience to be in a scene with him. You have to kind of remind yourself to remain present."
Mitchell is reunited with an old flame, whose name die-hard fans may remember from the first film: Penny Benjamin. Jennifer Connelly was cast to play the independent single mother and bar owner, whose most surreal day on-set was when she learned she’d be flying with Cruise in a late addition to the script.
"He's like, 'It's going to be very graceful, it's going to be very elegant,' so that's how I heard they'd added a flying scene,” Connelly said. “And it was amazing, it was actually an incredible experience filming that with him."
A pivotal new character goes by call sign "Rooster" — an apropos nickname, since his father was Goose. Miles Teller earned the role for his acting, though his physical similarities to Anthony Edwards ended up shocking filmmakers.
"I think that was kind of a revelation for Tom and the directors,” Teller said. “Tom and I did a camera test and I had my flight suit on and my hair done and my mustache and Tom was like, 'Oh my god, it is crazy how much you look like Anthony and Meg (Ryan's) child.'"
Location was everything for the flight scene, and the movie's third act was shot in Washington State. The Navy flies low-level training routes out of NAS Whidbey Island, through the Cascade Mountains — an ideal setting for critical battle scenes.
“The pilots themselves said they were getting kind of emotional on the flights because the mountains there are so stunning,” said Monica Barbaro, who plays Top Gun pilot “Phoenix.”
The film pays a nostalgic tribute to its predecessor and builds on its strengths. The cast hopes, in another 30 years, audiences will praise the sequel in the same way they loved the original.
"It's just like a part of our cultural wallpaper,” said Charles Parnell, who plays “Warlock.”
Bashir Salahuddin, who plays “Hondo” added, "I think this movie is going to stand the test of time and surpass every expectation."
“Top Gun: Maverick” is rated PG-13 and is out on Blu-ray now.