This Movie Changed Me

David Greene

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope

Last Updated

January 23, 2018

Original Air Date

January 23, 2018

David Greene, co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition and Up First, shares how Star Wars: Episode IV instilled a sense of wanderlust and adventure in his life and ultimately made him want to become a foreign correspondent.

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David Greene is co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition and Up First. He's known for loving karaoke, pulling all-nighters in bars, and crying during nearly every movie, especially on planes. In a former life he was a foreign correspondent, and he details his adventures in the book Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia.


Lily Percy, hostHello fellow movie fans. I’m Lily Percy and I’ll be your guide this week as we talk to David Greene, co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition and Up First about Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. Don’t worry if you haven’t seen this movie, I’m going to fill you in on all the details, so you won’t be lost. And if you have seen this movie, welcome to an old friend.

[music: “Star Wars (Main Title” by John Williams, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, from Star Wars: A New Hope (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)]

Ms. Percy: No one is more surprised than I am to still be discovering new things about the Star Wars universe. I first saw these movies as a kid, and they all kind of blend in together; I can’t really tell the difference between Empire or Jedi. But the I think the best way I would describe Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope is to say that it’s the very beginning of the Luke-Leia-Han storyline. It’s where we first meet Luke Skywalker, played by Mark Hamill, on his home planet of Tatooine — bored, really disenchanted, kind of annoying the here out of his aunt and uncle — and he dreams of being a fighter pilot, exploring new universes and having all these great adventures that have nothing to do with his daily work as a farmer on his planet.

[excerpt: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope]

Ms. Percy: And that’s also where we meet Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher. Leia is kind of like the Che Guevara of the Rebel Alliance. She’s trying to inspire everyone to come together to destroy the Death Star, to destroy Darth Vader, who is the epitome of evil.

[excerpt: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope]

Ms. Percy: And then there’s Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford — someone who has been kind of described as the epitome of cool. And yet, when you watch him again and again in these movies, you realize he’s really only in it for himself.

[excerpt: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope]

Ms. Percy: Even though I grew up watching Star Wars, the thing that surprised me this time around watching it is how much the mood of the film still permeates every single scene. George Lucas introduces us to these worlds that I’ve never seen before, and that no one had ever seen at the time that he released these movies and made these movies. And it really shapes the way that we, as viewers, meet these characters and feel the things that they’re going through. We believe that we’re in space with them. And that has so much to do with the music, with the setting, filming it in the locations that he filmed it in. You don’t for a second feel like you’re on a set or that there’s a green screen behind any of the actors. You really feel like you’re in this completely different universe with them.

[excerpt: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope]

Ms. Percy: This sense of adventure in space is one of the reasons why David Greene connected to it. He’s someone who loves adventure. And the same wanderlust that Luke Skywalker had in his heart is the thing that David Greene grew up with, as well, and it’s what he loved about Luke Skywalker and what he loved about Star Wars.

Ms. Percy: So you’re from Pittsburgh, which you’re very, very proud of.

Mr. Greene: Very proud.

Ms. Percy: And I thought we’d do a little experiment here. Another beloved …

Mr. Greene: Uh-oh, if you test me on my Pittsburgh knowledge and I fail, Pittsburgh will — they will disown me, and then I blame you.

Ms. Percy: No, no, no, you can blame me. Another beloved “Pittsburghian”?

Mr. Greene: “Yinzer.”

Ms. Percy: “Yinzer”?

Mr. Greene: Yinzer. If you’re from Pittsburgh, you’re a Yinzer.

Ms. Percy: OK, another beloved Yinzer is Mr. Fred Rogers. And he did this thing when he accepted his Daytime Emmy. I don’t know if you’re familiar with what he did?

Mr. Greene: See, you’re testing me now.

Ms. Percy: No, I’m not testing you.

Mr. Greene: I ran into Mr. Rogers at a gas station once.

Ms. Percy: What?

Mr. Greene: Yeah, but I don’t know what he did when he accepted the Emmy, so you gotta tell me.

Ms. Percy: OK, what he did was that he asked everyone in the room to close their eyes for ten seconds and to think of all the people that got them to where they were. So I’m not gonna tell you to do that. [laughs]

Mr. Greene: You’re not gonna do that to me. OK, thank you. [laughs]

Ms. Percy: No, but I’m gonna tell you to close your eyes and for ten seconds, think about the first time that you saw Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and how it made you feel and what you think about it when you think about that time, in those ten seconds.

Mr. Greene: OK, so I don’t say anything during those ten seconds — radio silence.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] You can say whatever you want.

Mr. Greene: OK, I’m gonna close my eyes now.

Ms. Percy: Close your eyes. He’s closing his eyes. It’s actually happening. I’m looking at a clock that isn’t actually — well, yeah, that one’s working.

Mr. Greene: This is good. This is like yoga. I mean this feels good.

Ms. Percy: Yeah, it’s Mr. Rogers coming back to help us out.

Mr. Greene: I think I’m seeing Luke standing, gazing off into the sky and — on Tatooine at sunset — and just gazing up and wishing that he were somewhere other than there. There’s a whole exciting, dangerous galaxy and universe out there, and he just wanted to be somewhere else. And he felt it in his bones, that he belonged out there on some adventure. And that was just an unstoppable force — force, [laughs] why I said that — it was an unstoppable force inside him, and he wasn’t gonna be restrained, and he was just gonna be out there doing something.

[music from Star Wars: Music From The Motion Picture]

Mr. Greene: Looking back, it was a wanderlust that has always been inside me that I have come to understand much more, as I’ve been an adult, and looking back in retrospect and realized that that was what was truly the connection.

Ms. Percy: And it’s amazing that you saw that, and I think —maybe most kids would feel this, but you saw that; you identified: “That’s what I want. I am Luke. I feel like Luke.” And it’s not that you were necessarily unhappy, but you just saw all the worlds that waited for you to explore.

Mr. Greene: Yeah, it wasn’t unhappy, because I was really — and I would play with Star Wars action figures. My father actually remembered, I called the Millennium Falcon “the Lemony Falcon,” and it was the first model that I built with him. And I treasured it. We built that together. And I would just wander around, flying with it in my hands.

Ms. Percy: That’s amazing.

Mr. Greene: And I had this light in my room that was Darth Vader’s face, and his triangular, black, metallic nose was what you would turn on.

Ms. Percy: OK, that’s creepy.

Mr. Greene: And when the light was off, his eyes would glow pinkish-red. And I loved it. And it was always kind of exciting, because this evil Darth Vader is sort of always there, this menacing presence.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] You were such a deep kid. You’re like, “I’m always aware of good and evil present in me.”

Mr. Greene: I don’t think I analyzed it at such a deep level at that age. But looking back, it was just there, and I knew that that was important to me.

Ms. Percy: So how has this movie changed for you as you’ve gotten older? Because you kept watching it; you’ve traveled, yourself, through so many countries. What have you learned through watching it over the years?

Mr. Greene: A lot of the acting is terrible.

Ms. Percy: That’s true. Especially — no offense to Luke, but good God.

Mr. Greene: No offense to Luke, but Mark Hamill is — [laughs] great guy.

Ms. Percy: Also, when his uncle and aunt die, he shows no emotion.

Mr. Greene: He shows a lot more emotion for getting in a fight with Han and for Obi-Wan dying.

Ms. Percy: I know. He screams out, “Ben!” And then I’m like, dude, you saw the fried, burnt corpses of your aunt and uncle, the people who raised you.

Mr. Greene: Right, and you were like, “Whoops, yep, guess I better leave.”

Ms. Percy: He just, like — “lower head.”

Mr. Greene: Yeah, and Leia comforting him like he was a child, when — after Obi-Wan died. I was like, “Dude…” Yeah, I had the same reaction.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] Also, he’s really whiny, David; really whiny, Luke.

Mr. Greene: He’s so whiny. No, he’s so whiny.

Ms. Percy: OK, so apart from all those things, what have you still gathered from each viewing?

Mr. Greene: It’s changed. I think — and again, this is getting away from Star Wars, because now we know so much more about Darth Vader and Anakin Skywalker and everything, from seeing all the other movies. But there’s — the world is not so black-and-white. I mean the thing that sticks with me with Anakin Skywalker is that, as we now know, he was so close to being good. It’s not like you are born evil.

Ms. Percy: No.

Mr. Greene: But once you get angry, once you are driven into a dark place, I think it can be hard to turn back. I think about even [laughs] the world today, and I think about — this is getting really deep, Lily. I’m sorry. But I go back to reading about how people were drawn into Nazism in the Holocaust, good people who were families, who loved their neighbors, and then were suddenly, for one reason or another, just taken by a movement and made to feel angry and made to feel like they had to do something terrible to protect themselves. Once you go down that road, you can do vicious, vicious things.

[excerpt: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope]

Mr. Greene: And Darth Vader — it really represented that to me, because we saw, since then, in the movies that have come out since, how close he was to being good. And that, you don’t exactly see when you’re eight or nine years old, thinking about these movies. [laughs]

Ms. Percy: No.

Mr. Greene: But it really — a lot of the questions like that have sustained over the years, to me. And it’s a testament, I think, to George Lucas — and maybe even people like Mark Hamill [laughs] and Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] No, you’re so right. I was re-watching the film yesterday, and that really struck me: first of all, this idea that this force is within all of us — it’s everywhere; it connects us to one another. But that — you can very easily be Darth Vader, or you can be Luke Skywalker. You can go either one.

Mr. Greene: Right, there’s a thin line in between.

Ms. Percy: It’s a thin line, and it’s not as far away from you as you think. It’s always living within you. And that’s such a strong message to convey, because it allows us to have empathy for people who you would never think you would.

Mr. Greene: Who seem, on their face, evil.

Ms. Percy: I know. It’s also a scary thing to grapple with, as a kid. It’s kind of nice he put it in our minds so that we could digest it over 30 years [laughs] and eventually get there.

Mr. Greene: Yes, that would’ve been too complicated. I just wanted to be scared of Darth Vader, when I was a little kid, and think that he was terrible and evil.

Ms. Percy: So I’m so fascinated by something that you mentioned when you first said that you were gonna pick this movie. You talked about the wanderlust. You also talked about how it allowed you to really see powerful women and respect powerful women, and I wonder if you can just tell me a little bit about that. You were raised by a single mom, so clearly, this powerful woman was always part of your life. But what did you see in Star Wars that reinforced that?

Mr. Greene: From the moment that Princess Leia confronted Darth Vader on that ship, she showed not an ounce of fear.

Ms. Percy: Her face is just stone.

Mr. Greene: Her face, it is stoic. It is like, “Only you would be so bold.”

[excerpt: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope]

Mr. Greene: And she is standing there, ready to confront him. And he could’ve pulled out a light saber and destroyed her in a second flat, and she knows that. And she was absolutely fearless. And I think it really drove home the power of a strong woman. And I knew that, because I was raised by one. But throughout the movie I remember just being enchanted by that.

And she owned Han Solo [laughs] and his just ridiculous, naïve attempts to woo her. And she just owned that relationship.

[excerpt: Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope]

Mr. Greene: I remember being devastated when — in Jedi, in Return of the Jedi, when she was enslaved by Jabba the Hutt and made to wear that bikini, because — I know it’s been a much-debated scene from that movie. But it was painful to me, because it was …

Ms. Percy: It was like the ultimate debasement of her.

Mr. Greene: It was. And I think I was — I don’t know. I can’t remember when Jedi came out, but I was a teenager, probably. And I didn’t know the word “objectification”…

Ms. Percy: But you’re like, “That’s wrong.”

Mr. Greene: …and I didn’t know words like “demeaning,” but I was like, “That’s wrong. This is a strong woman who is now…” Han Solo was frozen, and that didn’t bother me. But to see Leia like that — that was really, really, really painful.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] That was it. Ohh. David, so enlightened you are. I love this. Well, you’re married to a very strong woman yourself.

Mr. Greene: I am — a lot stronger than I am.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] And you know it, and that’s her power. And you co-own this amazing bar-restaurant with her, Compass Rose.

Mr. Greene: She owns it. We should be very clear.

Ms. Percy: She owns it, OK.

Mr. Greene: I’m probably involved, but yeah, she’s the owner and the boss.

Ms. Percy: She’s the owner and the boss. I was trying to bring you in there, but OK.

Mr. Greene: Yeah, I appreciate it. [laughs] Throw me a bone.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] And I know that there’s a very famous bar scene in Star Wars.

[music: “Cantina Band” from Star Wars Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

Mr. Greene: Yeah, love it.

Ms. Percy: That is my favorite scene, by the way.

Mr. Greene: Is it? Do you hear the music sometimes?

Ms. Percy: Oh, my God. I do. It’s one of those things where you automatically hear that music, and how can you not picture all the creatures that are in that bar and how weird they look? There’s one dude who I’ve never known what he is, but he’s doing something to something that sticks out of his mouth for like ten seconds.

Mr. Greene: Yep, I mean it’s just disgusting. Everyone is different and weird and wonderful.

Ms. Percy: And they’re just chilling there and drinking. And I just wanted to share that that’s my favorite scene and wondered what your favorite scenes are.

Mr. Greene: That was my favorite scene. And I have loved bars ever since then.

Ms. Percy: Because of the weird characters that hang out?

Mr. Greene: Because of the weird characters. And a bar is a really special place. You walk in, and you feel uncomfortable. You feel a little out of place in the very beginning.

Ms. Percy: Vulnerable.

Mr. Greene: Really vulnerable, as we saw with Luke: He almost got killed, and he needed Obi-Wan to save him.

Ms. Percy: Just because they didn’t like what he looked like.

Mr. Greene: Just because they didn’t like what he looked like — which was great, wasn’t it? Because he’s probably, objectively, the best-looking person in that bar with a bunch of weird-looking aliens — and he’s the one who is different. And that was not lost on me either.

Ms. Percy: [laughs] Exactly. “We don’t like your face.”

Mr. Greene: Right, exactly, which is kind of beautiful. But the whole relationship with a bar is, how quickly does that kind of discomfort go away? How quickly can you make a connection and begin to feel comfortable? And that’s the whole narrative and cool thing about a bar. It’s a place that’s always open, or almost always open, and it’s almost a friend. And you’re gonna meet wacky characters who are completely different. You’re gonna be exposed to people, or aliens, who you’d never come in contact with elsewhere.

Ms. Percy: Exactly, yeah. It’s kind of like an equalizer. I know there are classy bars and dive bars, but I feel like it’s a place where you meet all kinds of people — different backgrounds, some people with money, some people with no money. Everyone’s there just to be with someone else. It’s kind of that idea of being alone, together.

Mr. Greene: 100 percent. There was a place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in Harvard Square, where I would go, often, during college, called The Tasty. And it was just one of those greasy-spoon cheeseburger joints where they had cheeseburgers 24 hours a day that were delicious.

Ms. Percy: Ugh, that’s amazing.

Mr. Greene: And you could go there — there could be someone who was homeless and was trying to find just a place to stay warm and get a cup of coffee. There could be a hipster. There could be a poet. There could be a college professor. There could be someone who had gotten back from a Red Sox game and was just wasted. And it was just this collection of people from all walks of life. I remember whenever I went in there, I was always reminded of the Star Wars scene, because it was exactly like that — at a human level, but it was exactly like that.

[excerpt: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope]


Ms. Percy: So every once in a while, I meet a person who actually has never seen Star Wars, any film; obviously, knows about the universe — it’s enough of a pop culture necessity. When you meet someone like that, how do you talk about the film? How do you talk about the series, what it is, and try to convince them to watch it, that it’s worth their while? What do you say to them?

Mr. Greene: I say it is like — the first time you see it, it is just pure, simple joy. It is a journey. It’s like exploring the unknown. It’s good; it’s evil. It’s a story about heroes. You just can’t not-have fun on this adventure. Before we talked, I was going back, and I was reading Roger Ebert’s original review from 1977, and it said there are so few films where, literally, he is taken out of his regular life and brought into a world, and he stays there through an entire movie. And that’s exactly it. You just never look away, because these characters — and I’ve never totally understood, because the acting is not great.

Ms. Percy: Let’s stress that. It’s really not great.

Mr. Greene: It’s oversimplified. It’s really not that great.

Ms. Percy: The dialogue’s not great. [laughs]

Mr. Greene: The dialogue’s terrible, and you’re not going into this for high-level movie experience. Don’t dissect the dialogue. But it’s just an experience.

Ms. Percy: It’s the adventure.

Mr. Greene: It’s the adventure. And then, I think, the fifth or eighth or twentieth time you see it, if you’re gonna do that and be nuts like me, you start to actually see these values and these questions about life.

Ms. Percy: The Buddhism in it. [laughs]

Mr. Greene: The Buddhism, the — as we said, the nuance of good versus evil in the world being much more nuanced than we think. I’ve also — there’s been a Wizard of Oz comparison, and I’d never really thought about that.

Ms. Percy: Oh, wow. “There’s no place like home.”

Mr. Greene: Yeah, no place like home, C-3PO as the Tin Man and Chewbacca as the Lion, and the journey to go to this place, and you don’t necessarily know what to expect.

Ms. Percy: Hold on, what does that make Han Solo?

Mr. Greene: I don’t know. That’s a good question. We don’t have to dig that deeply, do we, Lily? But think about Darth Vader. Think about Darth Vader — I mean an evil face with someone who is vulnerable and innocent deep on the inside. That’s some Wizard of Oz stuff right there.

Ms. Percy: You’re blowing my mind right now. I’ve never heard this before.

Mr. Greene: I know, I know. It’s a thing. And I never thought of that, but I guess for somebody who’s never seen the movie, I would ask: “Did you like The Wizard of Oz? Were you brought into that?” And if you were taken by The Wizard of Oz: “Get the movie.”

Ms. Percy: I love that. Thank you for talking to me about this.

Mr. Greene: Oh, are you kidding? I would spend every day of my week with you.

Ms. Percy: Yay, Star Wars!

Mr. Greene: It’s been fun. Go, Star Wars.

Ms. Percy: Oh, thank you.

[music: “The Throne Room and End Title” by John Williams, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, from Star Wars Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

Ms. Percy: David Greene is co-host of NPR’s Morning Edition and Up First and is known for karaoke, pulling all-nighters in bars, and crying during nearly every movie, especially on planes. In a former life, he was a foreign correspondent driven by that sense of wanderlust and adventure we talked about in this interview and which you’ll find in his charming book, Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia.

Next time, we’re going to be talking about the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas, so you’ve got two weeks to check it out before our conversation. You can find it streaming on Netflix, Amazon Video, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, and Vudu.

This Movie Changed Me is produced by Maia Tarrell, Chris Heagle, Marie Sambilay, and Tony Liu, and is an On Being Studios production. Subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts. And if you’re feeling friendly, leave us a review. I’m Lily Percy. It’s cold outside, go see a movie.

[music: “The Throne Room and End Title” by John Williams, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, from Star Wars Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]