When Nick Mangold played center for the New York Jets, he brought the power of the Force to the offensive line. (Not literally, but almost, as StarWars.com would learn during our conversation with the seven-time Pro-Bowler.) Mangold made no secret of his love for Star Wars during his years with the Jets, and as the team prepares to host Star Wars Day this Sunday, November 24, against the Oakland Raiders, it seemed like a good time to talk with the fan-favorite player about a galaxy far, far away. StarWars.com caught up with Mangold about why he identifies with stormtroopers, calling plays with Star Wars terminology, and which character (hint: they’d fit right in) he’d want as a Jet teammate. (And here’s a little pre-game intel: Tickets are still available for Star Wars Day, and the first 20,000 fans in attendance will receive one of five Jets-as-Star Wars-characters bobble heads. So set hyperspace coordinates for East Rutherford, New Jersey, this weekend, and punch it.)
StarWars.com: So I kind of knew you were a big Star Wars fan, just by being a Jets fan and following you on Twitter. I would always see you making references — I think you called a teammate a Wookiee once.
Nick Mangold: Yeah!
StarWars.com: So tell me about how you discovered Star Wars.
Nick Mangold: I discovered it when I was younger. I was too young when I watched it; I don’t think I appreciated it when I saw the original three. And then there was a lull, and it was never — Star Wars was always kind of a background thing. People enjoyed it, but — especially for me growing up, friends of mine — never really talked about it. It was never a big part of what was going on because it wasn’t big in pop culture or anything. And then Episodes I, II, and III were released, and when those three were released, it really rekindled how much I did enjoy IV, V, and VI. That’s when it really exploded.
StarWars.com: How old would you have been when Episode I came out? That was 1999.
Nick Mangold: 1999, I was in high school. I was a sophomore in high school.
StarWars.com: That’s a good age for it.
Nick Mangold: Yeah. That was a good age — I don’t think I saw Episode I in the theater, but then I saw Episode II in the theater. That was a full-on rekindling because it was getting into college years, where you have a lot more time on your hands in college to catch movies and catch back up on things. Kind of the tail end of my high school career and then at the beginning of my college career when it really took hold. I took a liking to the stormtroopers. Everyone was either a Darth Vader or a Luke Skywalker [fan], but for some reason, and I can’t explain it, it was probably just the cool costumes, I thought the stormtroopers — even though easily defeated with a single blast — were very interesting characters.
StarWars.com: Can I do a little psychoanalysis?
Nick Mangold: Have at it.
StarWars.com: I’m gonna say you’re a football player, you’re lining up with teammates who are all in the same uniform, and I think you see that in the stormtroopers. What do you think about that?
Nick Mangold: I would agree with that. They’ve explored the possibility [of stormtroopers as real people] in Episodes VII, VIII, and hopefully IX, with Finn. I was like, they’re just the soldiers. And seeing in I, II, and III how they started out on the good side and then flipped to the bad side, and then now seeing a stormtrooper defecting and going out and helping the Resistance, it’s much deeper character development than you would just expect for guys in uniform, just marching along.
StarWars.com: So you kind of got into it in high school and college. What was it like being a Star Wars fan for you at that point? Did you have teammates or friends that you were able to share it with, or was it a thing you enjoyed on your own?
Nick Mangold: There were one or two friends who kind of enjoyed it. Once you got into the NFL, there was always a handful of guys. But then I would say recently, with the explosion of VII and VIII and Rogue One and Solo, having those put out now, it’s really gone mainstream. Before it was always kind of considered a little bit of a nerd group on my team, like, “Oh, you’re talking about Star Wars?” Where now, it’s a little bit more included in the mainstream discussions.
StarWars.com: Yeah. I was going to ask you what it was like being a Star Wars fan when you were playing on an NFL team. Was it considered cool or were your teammates giving you grief?
Nick Mangold: You get a couple eye rolls. I showed up to one of the Jets costume parties wearing a full stormtrooper suit and it got a couple of eye rolls from teammates. But otherwise, relative appreciation.
I will tell you that as it went on, and my year with [Jets quarterback] Ryan Fitzpatrick, when he first came in — he is also a big Star Wars guy, and is enjoying it just as much now, as he’s got sons [who are fans] that are a little bit older than my guy.
There’s a lot of communication that gets done [on the field] between the quarterback and center, and the center and the offensive line. A lot of our calls, we were using Star Wars.
Nick Mangold: So we had a run to the left, that was “light,” and a run to the right was “saber.” So we had “lightsaber” as one of our calls. “Lightsaber” was the biggest one that we used. Luke Skywalker, I think we used “Luke” and “Skywalker,” as well. It was great because having someone who was not only my age and went through the same time period of the evolution of Star Wars, he was someone who also appreciated it, and we got a good chuckle out of that.
StarWars.com: Yes. And the defensive line probably has no idea what you’re talking about.
Nick Mangold: Of course not. I think if you polled the defensive line, they would be the last people who saw Star Wars.
StarWars.com: I wanted to do some rapid-fire questions.
Nick Mangold: Okay.
StarWars.com: What’s your favorite Star Wars movie?
Nick Mangold: [Pauses] That is tough. Um, I gotta go IV. The first one.
StarWars.com: Why is that?
Nick Mangold: It’s the first one I saw, so that was to me the, “Whoa, what is this? What is this craziness? What is this whole story about? How did we get here?” I think that, definitely for me, was my original love, so I think it has to be my favorite technically.
StarWars.com: Not counting stormtroopers, who’s your favorite character? And I’ll allow Finn.
Nick Mangold: [Laughs] Favorite character, I would say, would then be Chewbacca. Not being able to understand him, but still understand him, I think is an awesome development of character. Seeing him as not only a warrior but also having compassion is pretty awesome.
StarWars.com: What’s your favorite Star Wars moment?
Nick Mangold: Favorite moment… Probably, actually seeing Vader being created in Episode III. We knew who this guy was, and now to see that final completed part right before Episode IV, was pretty awesome.
StarWars.com: If you could have one Star Wars character as a teammate, who would it be?
Nick Mangold: Oh, I would take Yoda. He’s small, right, and so you would forget about him, but then he’s crazy smart and he’s also super powerful. He would be the surprise attack that you would need.
StarWars.com: And he’s also green, perfect for the Jets.
Nick Mangold: Yeah, exactly! There you go.
StarWars.com: I wanted to double back and ask: Have you shared Star Wars with your son or your other kids yet?
Nick Mangold: Yes! We’ve started into it. It’s been a little difficult because we don’t seem to have time to sit down and catch movies as much as I would like. He’s definitely into it, my oldest. The oldest is eight and he’s definitely into it. My daughter who’s five, for a long while she said it was scary, but then she found out that there’s a princess in it, so she’s a little bit more intrigued. My three-year-old, he hasn’t seen anything, but he knows he likes it because his older brother does.
This is a huge discussion we’re having between Fitzpatrick and myself — the idea of how do you show, as someone who saw it disjointed, [the movies to] your kids? What order of episodes do you show your kids? Do you start with [Episode] I, or do you start with IV?
StarWars.com: What did you decide?
Nick Mangold: We did [Episode] I. We started with I, but it’s also difficult too, because then he saw Episode VII. I think he’s just bouncing around the timeline because new movies are being made. He wants to see Rogue One, but he’s never seen Episode IV. So I think he’s going to get exposed to it, and then probably on his own he’ll go back and watch it straight through.
StarWars.com: I have a 4-year-old and I’ve shown him IV and V. He was shocked about Vader being Luke’s father. When Vader said it, he said, “WHAT?!” — which was amazing.
Nick Mangold: [Laughs] Yeah!
StarWars.com: But then he asked me a couple of days later, “Why would a father cut off his son’s hand?” I was like, “Well, it’s complicated…”
Nick Mangold: “It’s complicated, but I promise I won’t cut off your hand!” [Laughs]
StarWars.com: The Jets are hosting Star Wars Day. Did they ever do that while you were playing?
Nick Mangold: No, of course not. My dumb luck.
StarWars.com: What can we look forward to, and why are you excited about it?
Nick Mangold: I’m excited just to have it kind of in the mainstream. We’re doing five players depicted as Star Wars character bobble heads, and I can’t mention those five names, because you need to go to the game to find out. Different character appearances, just the whole idea of it. I love when Disneyland switched over Space Mountain and made it Star Wars-themed, I thought it was awesome. To have the stadium do the same thing, I think is going to be a blast.
StarWars.com: Any final thoughts on Star Wars or what you’re looking forward to with The Rise of Skywalker and The Mandalorian?
Nick Mangold: I’m super excited about Mandalorian. I haven’t been able to watch it yet, but I signed up [for Disney+] right away so I could. I think I already have my tickets lined up for The Rise of Skywalker. Seeing the trailers come out has been crazy exciting, so I’m going to be like a little kid on Christmas waiting for that movie to come out. Just to see how the saga ends, how it wraps up. Are they gonna Sopranos us where they leave it up to our imagination, or is there going to be something definitive? So I’m super pumped and I’m excited that the Jets decided to do something, as well.
Tickets for the New York Jets’ Star Wars Day are available now.
Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content strategist of online, the editor of StarWars.com, and a writer. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.
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