Plus, meet Kylo the cat.
Star Wars fans and collectors have a friend in WWE Superstar Zack Ryder. Ryder is an all-in pop-culture obsessive, with the galaxy far, far away and its toys holding a special place in his heart. He owns a large (and growing) collection. He has worn Star Wars-themed gear in matches. He even co-hosts the very fun (and all-too identifiable for collectors) Figure It Out on the WWE YouTube channel and WWE Network, in which he goes toy shopping with fellow wrestler Curt Hawkins; in a recent episode, Ryder joyfully/painfully plunked down over $1000 at a vintage toy store to start his Kenner Star Wars collection. (And lest we forget, he also co-hosts The Major Wrestling Figure Podcast with Hawkins, as well.) So, it's safe to say that the man who delivers the Broski Boot and Rough Ryder to his unfortunate opponents is the real geek deal. With SummerSlam coming next month, StarWars.com spoke with Ryder (known outside the ring as Matt Cardona) about realizing he wasn't "too cool" for Star Wars toys, why he identifies with Luke Skywalker, and what would happen if Curt Hawkins turned to the dark side.
StarWars.com: How did you get into Star Wars?
Zack Ryder: I would always go to my grandparents’ house, and my uncle had the Star Wars toys [there] from when he was a kid. So I played around with them, and I’d watch it, like on Laserdisc. But I wasn’t really that into it, you know? I didn’t get introduced in a proper way until the Special Editions in the mid-‘90s, and then I became hooked. I felt like a kid in the ‘70s seeing it for the first time.
StarWars.com: How old would you have been?
Zack Ryder: I was born in ’85. Maybe like 11 or 12ish. [Note: The Special Editions of Star Wars: A New Hope, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi were released in January, February, and March of 1997, respectively.]
StarWars.com: What about them connected with you?
Zack Ryder: I don’t know what it was. I think it was just watching A New Hope for the first time -- all the characters were larger than life, and yet, so relatable. At the same time, I think the toys had a huge part in it, because I always loved collecting toys. So to be able to build this whole galaxy with your action figures, and recreate what you saw onscreen with these toys, or create your own stories with these toys… And at the time, the next month, the next movie [in the Special Edition Trilogy] came out. Then the next month, the next movie came out. So you didn’t have to wait years and years and years. I was learning everything within the span of a couple of months.
StarWars.com: That’s a great way to get into it. Did you become a collector right away?
Zack Ryder: At the time, I told myself I was too cool for Star Wars toys. I bought them all for my youngest brother, but I was basically buying them for me, saying, “Hey, Andrew, you want these guys!” [Laughs] So I was getting all the figures through him, all the vehicles, everything.
StarWars.com: Obviously, you’re a big collector, I think that’s pretty well known. When did you accept the fact that, in your heart, you were a collector?
Zack Ryder: Even through high school I was collecting figures, and even playing with wrestling figures. It wasn’t until I got to college, and I’m like, “Who am I trying to impress now? I don’t care about being the popular kid in school, I don’t give a damn.” I just embraced it, started buying everything. I stopped getting the gift receipts at Toys R Us -- I was just buying them for myself.
StarWars.com: I wanted to ask you about your YouTube show with Curt, where you go toy hunting. I feel like it’s like watching me and my friends. Only, if I had muscles.
Zack Ryder: [Laughs] I love the YouTube show. It’s Figure It Out on the WWE’s YouTube channel and on the WWE Network, and it’s just us doing what we do normally -- with a camera crew. We find a vintage toy store and we go in there, and we say that we’re “scratching that figure itch.” We’re going in there looking for things, and it’s dangerous! At this point, I don’t think it’s a hobby, it’s a full-blown addiction.
StarWars.com: It’s the thrill of the hunt, right?
Zack Ryder: It is the thrill of the hunt. It’s all about the thrill of the hunt. And right now, I have two rooms dedicated to just action figures and toys in my house. I’m going to have to get a bigger house eventually, because I’m not gonna stop collecting, and I’m gonna run out of room. [Laughs]
StarWars.com: Do you have a “coolest find” in terms of Star Wars collectibles?
Zack Ryder: I took off my closet doors, and it’s just a Star Wars closet. All my Star Wars figures are on display. I went back and got all the Power of the Force [figures] from the mid-‘90s, the ones I grew up on, the ones I was buying for my brother -- I got them all for myself now. But at the time, everyone thought they were going to be worth big bucks, you know? So people were buying them up and keeping them in the package, and I was able to buy the whole set last year for like, nothing! I was spending more money on shipping than I was on the figures in the package, just to open [them]. Because I’m a psycho, I need all the accessories, everything mint. I have them all displayed now in my closet. Every day, I was getting a new package. My fiancé, my girlfriend at that point, wanted to kill me. I’m like, “Babe, you don’t understand. I’m rebuilding the Power of the Force collection. It’s no big deal.” [Laughs]
StarWars.com: How has your collecting gone over with her, for the most part?
Zack Ryder: I mean, luckily, she’s very, very cool about it. She wasn’t very happy when the Han Solo in carbonite showed up and I wasn’t home.
StarWars.com: How big was Han in carbonite?
Zack Ryder: Oh, it’s the full, Sideshow [Collectibles prop]. The big boy. You know which one I’m talking about.
Zack Ryder: It came almost in like, a coffin. [Laughs] I have a picture of her giving it a thumbs down when it arrived. She was not happy that I was not home when it arrived. Not so much that as soon as you walk into my house, it’s proudly on display. I think it’s artwork.
StarWars.com: Yeah. It should be on the wall. Your “favorite decoration."
Zack Ryder: It’s definitely my favorite decoration.
StarWars.com: I look at all the stuff that you collect, and it’s very in-line with the things that inspired people of our generation. Obviously, wrestling was a big part of your life. But I’m curious if Star Wars, and the story of it, and the characters, inspired you to go for it as a wrestler.
Zack Ryder: I have always been someone who dreamt big, kind of like Luke Skywalker. He wanted to get off Tatooine. He wanted to be the man he ended up becoming. He wanted to fulfill his destiny. As a little kid, I was playing with the wrestling figures, and I was wrestling with my brothers on the trampoline. But I knew I wanted more. I knew I wanted to be a WWE Superstar. So, Luke Skywalker, I think I’m just I’m like him. You set this goal, you set this vision for yourself, you set this dream for yourself, and somehow, someway, you fulfill it because it’s your destiny. That might sound cliché or a little nerdy, but I totally believe that.
StarWars.com: What’s the last Star Wars collectible you bought?
Zack Ryder: I mean, I get stuff all the time in the mail. What I mainly collect is the Power of the Force and the 6-inch Black Series. But when “Back the Barge” came out, I had to do it. [Note: “Back the Barge” refers to Hasbro’s HasLab project, in which fans successfully funded the production of a massive toy of Jabba’s sail barge.] Even though I don’t collect the Vintage Collection figures, I knew that this barge needed to be made, and I knew that if it didn’t get backed, I would blame myself. I had to be a part of it. So I got the barge, I opened it up, I looked at it, and then I just put it back in the package. Because if I build this thing, I’m going to have to go get the Vintage Collection figures that fit in it. Yes, the Power of the Force figures will technically be in scale, but they’re not the proper figures to be inside.
StarWars.com: You’ve gotta set it free, man.
Zack Ryder: I don’t know, man. Listen, I’m all about letting them breathe. That’s what we say on the Major Wrestling Figure Podcast. But if I build it, I know that I will go on eBay, I’ll scratch that figure itch, and I will get the Vintage Collection figures that fit in there. And then once I have those, I might as well get the other Vintage Collection figures, and then by the end of the month I’ll be on eBay setting alerts and spending all this money. I know myself. I just gotta set boundaries for myself. And I might break it eventually.
StarWars.com: You need to listen to that Palpatine voice in your head that just says Do it.
Zack Ryder: [Laughs] I know, right? I know.
StarWars.com: Do you have a prized Star Wars possession?
Zack Ryder: I would definitely have to say my Han in carbonite. It’s incredible. It is legit a work of art, and people who come into my house, whether they know Star Wars or not, they’re like, What is this? Han Solo is my favorite Star Wars character.
I guess my other prized possession would be my cat Kylo, who I’ve named, obviously, after Kylo Ren. So I love little Kylo. He’s up there, too. I don’t know if he’s a collectible or not. [Laughs]
StarWars.com: I’ll count him. I thought we might do some rapid fire Star Wars questions.
Zack Ryder: Sure.
StarWars.com: Favorite Star Wars movie?
Zack Ryder: Tough one. New Hope, it’s gotta be New Hope. When I showed Star Wars to [my fiancé] Chelsea for the first time, I showed her Force Awakens first, because feel like this is the modern version, if you will, of A New Hope. It might be a tie between the two.
StarWars.com: It’s interesting, a lot of people go Empire.
Zack Ryder: Listen, I love Empire, and I appreciate it for what it is, and the dark ending is great. But I feel like without A New Hope, you couldn’t have Empire. For that reason alone [I prefer it]. It built the story, it built the characters, and you appreciate everything in Empire because of the connection you had to all the characters through A New Hope.
StarWars.com: So, I was going to ask who’s your favorite character, but since you already said Han, I’ll ask: second favorite character?
Zack Ryder: Second favorite character, I would say, is Darth Vader. He’s what everybody wants to be. He’s a bad guy but deep down inside he shows his true colors. But when he has to kick some ass, don’t get in his way.
StarWars.com: Let’s say Curt turns to the dark side. Can you redeem him?
Zack Ryder: Ohhh. I think so. We go way back. We’re not technically blood, but I feel like he’s my brother. I feel like I’d reel him back.
StarWars.com: I have one last question for you. You versus Darth Maul: who wins?
Zack Ryder: Oh, I don’t know. If it’s at WrestleMania, then I would. But other than that, Darth Maul, he wins.
But I have some luck at WrestleMania. I’ve won the Intercontinental title there, we just won the tag team title there. So at WrestleMania, I think I can take him. Any other day, I’m done.
StarWars.com: Can you Broski Boot and Rough Ryder him?
Zack Ryder: I’ll try to get everybody. Chewbacca might be a little too tall. Anyone else, I think I can do, though.
Shortly after this interview, Ryder visited Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and sent StarWars.com this note: "Galaxy’s Edge blew my mind! I almost had to give some some people who tried cutting me in line for Oga’s Cantina a Rough Ryder. I can’t wait for it to open in Orlando so I can basically live there!"
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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