While it's true that Peter Quill was the first member of the crew that audiences met, the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise has always been an ensemble.
Through two films, roles in both Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, and most recently The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, fans have seen the team grow as individuals and a family.
As Phase 5's Vol. 3 looks to conclude their respective arcs, it's the franchise's secret hero whose story Gunn is most determined to complete.
The Hidden Hero of Guardians of the Galaxy
"I would say Peter's kind of a mess. I think he's suffering from major detachment issues."
But even though Quill's loss will be dealt with, Rocket Raccoon is the driving force of Vol. 3; and according to Gunn, he always has been.
The director claims that the crabby, cantankerous Rocket, who's voiced by Bradley Cooper and performed by Sean Gunn, was "always the secret protagonist" of the Guardians films:
"For me, he was always the secret protagonist of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. You've never seen Rocket in any movie not do something altruistic. He's never done anything other than for his friends. He's not a hero in the typical sense of the word. Telling his story was really important to me."
Rocket's MCU journey has been an emotional and, as Gunn noted, a selfless one.
Despite his outward attitude and penchant for sarcasm, he always comes through for his friends and even became an Avenger in the wake of Thanos' snap.
But of all the Guardians, his past is the one fans know the least about.
Since Gunn is now the new co-head of DC Studios and Vol. 3 looks to be the final chapter of the franchise, the director claims his MCU return is because he "needed to finish Rocket's story:"
"People ask me, why did you come back and finish the story? It's because I needed to finish the story. And especially because I needed to finish Rocket's story."
Ain't No Thing Like Rocket, Except Rocket
From his response to losing Groot to recognizing himself in Yondu to his compassion for Infinity War's Thor, Rocket has truly been the heart of the Guardians franchise.
As the 2014 film established, the Guardians of the Galaxy are a team of misfits who chose to become heroes; and that encapsulates Rocket's story as well.
The problem is that Rocket doesn't see himself that way and has yet to come to terms with his past and identity.
From what fans have seen from Vol. 3's marketing, that's exactly what the threequel looks to explore.
So even though Rocket has been the Guardians' "secret protagonist" thus far, it doesn't sound like he will stay that way when his hero's journey is fully realized and complete when Vol. 3 arrives this May.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 premieres in theaters on May 5.