🔥 Hot Off The Press! Get Our NEW JC Whitney Magazine + Catalog

Search JC Whitney

Pop Culture Drag Race: Maverick vs. Han Solo

About JC Whitney Editorial Team

Meet the JC Whitney Editorial Team, your go-to experts for automotive insights, from in-depth car culture articles to the latest in vehicle tech.

More from JC Whitney Editorial Team

There’s something about an obsession with speed that seems to translate across all disciplines. In the original Top Gun, we see Maverick isn’t content to go fast only when he’s airborne, he also drives a motorcycle so that he can jet around on the ground as well. In fact, in real life the argument has been put forward from a number of sources that airplane pilots actually make better drivers than those who have no experience flying. Although this is not much more than speculation, it does make sense that pilots, especially those used to dealing with the kind of high speeds and difficult maneuvers that a Navy fighter pilot might have, for example, would understand something about speed and reaction time that many other drivers don’t. 

With all this in mind, we began wondering: what if two expert pilots with wildly different backgrounds in flying lined up for a race? How would the skills of a Navy ace like Maverick from Top Gun compare to those of an interstellar flying legend like Han Solo? The comparison becomes especially enticing when you consider that the actors who portray both of these characters, Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford, are both trained pilots in real life. To make this comparison, we first need to take a deeper look at each character’s skill set and determine how that would translate to driving. Just for fun, we’ll also speculate a bit about how well Maverick would do in the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and how Han Solo would fare flying and F-14. Join us for another edition of Pop Culture Drag Race as we consider yet another of the most legendary hypothetical races of all time.


Maverick’s piloting skills from “Top Gun” would likely translate well to racing a high-performance car. His exceptional abilities in handling high-speed maneuvers, quick reflexes, and experience in high-pressure situations would be advantageous on a racetrack. His familiarity with intense competition and tactical thinking developed through dogfighting could help him anticipate his opponents’ moves and strategize effectively during races. If there are two things we know for sure from the Top Gun films, it’s that Maverick is second to none when it comes to dealing with G-force and maneuvering through challenging courses. These two skills would serve him well on the racetrack.

On the other hand, the dynamics of driving a car, with aspects like tire grip, braking techniques, and cornering, differ from flying a jet. Maverick would need to adapt his skills to the physical sensations and feedback unique to car racing, as well as learn the nuances of track layouts and racing etiquette.

Maverick’s foundational skills as a pilot and his competitive drive would likely make him a strong contender in the world of high-performance car racing, albeit with a period of adjustment to the new discipline. One major advantage he’d have over Solo would simply be the fact that he’s driven cars before. It’s unclear that Han has ever been behind the controls of a vehicle that was operates on the ground.


Han Solo’s piloting skills would likely translate well to racing a high-performance car. His quick reflexes, ability to make split-second decisions, and experience in navigating quickly and efficiently would be valuable assets on a racetrack. As good as Maverick is at maneuvering around obstacles, Han Solo is arguably just as good at this. His intuition and adaptability, honed through years of piloting the Millennium Falcon, would help him quickly get a feel for the car’s handling and dynamics.

However, there would be some adjustments required. The physics of driving a car, with factors like traction, braking, and weight distribution, are different from flying a spaceship. Han would need to learn to read the track, understand the limits of the car, and master techniques specific to racing, such as cornering and overtaking strategies.

Overall, while there would be a learning curve, Han Solo’s skills as a pilot and his competitive nature would likely make him a formidable racer in the world of high-performance car racing. He’d have to catch up to physical challenges and limitations he’s not used to facing in hyperspace or piloting land speeders, but it’s hard to imagine anyone with better innate driving skills.

The Race

With these two pilots behind the wheel, we envision them lining up in comparable cars of their choice on a challenging racecourse with lots of tight turns. This type of environment would suit their natural aptitude for maneuvering at high speeds.

Maverick undoubtedly has an advantage when it comes to experience driving cars in general and dealing with G-force. Han Solo simply has not had a lifetime of practicing these skills to match Maverick’s. However, although both men have a reputation for being headstrong, Maverick has traditionally gotten into trouble when he overestimated his own skill or underestimated his opponent’s. In this case, Maverick could come to the race assuming that his experience around cars would be the deciding factor, and get caught off guard.

When it comes to who’d win the race, in our view it’s simply too close to call. Which factor do you rate higher: Maverick’s experience or Han being underestimated? We think this would be a thrilling matchup that could easily end in a photo finish.

Role Reversal

Maverick from “Top Gun” is renowned for his exceptional flying skills, particularly in dogfighting and high-speed maneuvers with jet aircraft like the F-14 Tomcat. If we were to imagine him piloting fighters in the “Star Wars” universe, such as the X-Wing, there are several aspects to consider.

His experience in aerial combat would be a significant advantage in the dogfight-heavy environment of “Star Wars” space battles. Maverick’s instincts and reflexes, honed in high-stakes situations, would translate well to the fast-paced combat seen in the galaxy far, far away.

There are also some challenges he would face. The physics of space combat differ from atmospheric flight, with no air resistance or gravity to contend with. This would require adjustments in his flying style and tactics. Additionally, the technology and controls of an X-Wing might differ from what he’s used to, necessitating a learning curve to master the new systems.

While there would be some initial adjustments, Maverick’s core skills as an elite pilot would likely make him a formidable fighter in the “Star Wars” universe, able to adapt and excel in the cockpit of an X-Wing.

Han Solo, on the other hand, is known for his exceptional piloting skills, particularly in navigating the Millennium Falcon through dangerous situations like asteroid fields and tight spaces, to say nothing of making the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs. If we were to imagine him piloting terrestrial fighters like the F-14, a few considerations would dictate how he fares.

Firstly, his quick reflexes and ability to make split-second decisions would serve him well in the high-speed, dynamic environment of aerial combat. His experience in space dogfights would likely translate to an intuitive understanding of aerial maneuvers and tactics.

There would be significant challenges for Han Solo as well. Flying in an atmosphere is different from space flight, with factors like air resistance, gravity, and weather conditions to consider. Additionally, the technology and controls of an F-14 might be different from what he’s used to in the Millennium Falcon, requiring him to adapt to new systems and interfaces.

There would no doubt be a learning curve, but Han Solo’s core skills as a pilot and his ability to think on his feet would likely make him a competent and resourceful pilot in the cockpit of an F-14 or similar terrestrial fighters.

In the end however, piloting in zero gravity with no air resistance would basically equate to a lessening of the kinds of constraints Maverick is used to having to deal with flying on Earth. It would absolutely take time to adjust to a new set of controls and conditions, but we believe that Maverick would likely have an easier time adjusting to space piloting than Han Solo would adjusting to flying an F-14. Of course, we might be wrong about that, and we can never really know for sure, so make sure to explain your theories to us in the comments if you think we’re way off.

Real Flying

As mentioned previously, another aspect that makes this hypothetical matchup interesting is the fact that the actors who portray Maverick and Han Solo, Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford, can both actually fly planes.

Tom Cruise is known for doing his own stunts and in order to accurately portray characters in his films, including Maverick, he has learned to fly both planes and helicopters with impressive skill. Harrison Ford is a veteran pilot who first trained during the 1960s and has logged uncountable hours flying planes and helicopters since. He has even flown helicopter search and rescue missions on occasion in Wyoming. 

Ford has been involved in some notable aviation mishaps, some of which can be chalked up to failing to pay proper attention as happened recently when he landed on the wrong runway in 2017. But other incidents involved mechanical failures and, if anything, demonstrated Ford’s aptitude for deft flying and quick thinking. It’s hard to say which one of these stars is the better pilot in real life, but a strong case could be made in either direction.