An easily-overlooked detail from Maverick's leather jacket in the Top Gun: Maverick trailer has been spotted: the removal of his Japanese and Taiwanese patches. This adjustment is one of the latest in a series of changes made to Hollywood movies in order to appease China's entertainment watchdogs and appeal to Chinese audiences.
Top Gun: Maverick is the long-awaited sequel to 1986's Top Gun. Directed by Tron: Legacy's Joseph Kosinski and starring Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Ed Harris, and Jon Hamm, the film will return to San Diego and the high-stakes world of Navy fighter pilots. Maverick will follow its titular character, Pete "Maverick" Mitchell (Cruise), who is still a captain in the Navy after more than 30 years of service. Maverick may still be at the same rank (and prefer it that way) but the world around him has drastically changed. Relations between the United States and other countries have drastically shifted since the end of the Cold War, so how it will be interesting to see how the film recognizes the shift in geopolitical relations.
The day after the Top Gun: Maverick trailer premiered at SDCC 2019, journalist Mark MacKinnon shared a screenshot of the back of Maverick's jacket from Top Gun and Maverick. In the Top Gun photo, MacKinnon points out flags from Japan and Taiwan are clearly visible. In the Top Gun: Maverick photo, however, something is different. Maverick's jacket has always functioned as an extension of his identity with the patches on it highlighting his military career. While the jacket remains mostly the same, Maverick's FAR EAST CRUISE 63-4 tour patch has now been replaced with an INDIAN OCEAN CRUISE 85-86 patch - which crucially does not have the Taiwanese or Japanese flags.
There’s a new Top Gun movie coming out. And Maverick is wearing the same leather jacket - only this time it’s Communist Party of China-approved, so the Japanese and Taiwanese flag patches are gone (screenshot on right is from the new trailer)... pic.twitter.com/gUxFNFNUKX— Mark MacKinnon (@markmackinnon) July 19, 2019
The in-universe explanation is presumably that Maverick replaced the tour patch on his jacket after the end of Top Gun (which was released in 1986). However, the real reason for the change was almost certainly to not only avoid the movie being barred from a Chinese release by China's State Film Administration, but also because one of the Maverick producers is Chinese company Tencent Productions. China's historically stormy relationships with Japan and Taiwan, especially from the mid-'80s onward, were likely the main factor in changing the patches on Maverick's jacket for the sequel.
On the surface, the patch changes may not seem especially significant to viewers, but there has been a backlash on social media over a movie that celebrates the American military kowtowing to Chinese censorship. Above all, the change hints at Maverick's international box office ambitions. Tencent Productions backing Maverick ensures it will open in the most important international market in 2019, and removing the Japan and Taiwan flag patches from Maverick's jacket is another key part of guaranteeing that release. In an industry landscape where Chinese ticket sales are often crucial ($614 million of Avengers: Endgame's record-breaking box office total came from China alone), studios often can't afford to miss out on that lucrative market.