Long Time Ago in a Cutting Room Far, Far Away – the titled autobiography of Paul Hirsch, the editor of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, was published in November 2019. Hirsch, who won an Oscar for his first editing work on A New Hope, told the story of his half-century career with a lot of background info, humour and self-reflection.
“It shouldn’t be surprising that a great storyteller can tell great stories”, wrote J. J. Abrams about the book according to the website of the publisher, Chicago Review Press. And indeed: in his autobiography, Paul Hirsch didn’t pack the dry facts one after the other but he tells great stories. Through his stories, not only do we get to know him himself, but
he also gives an insight into the character of cinematic legends like Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola, Irvin Kershner, but most of all, George Lucas.
Who would have thought that Lucas, this Hollywood new-wave director, who sometimes looked like a relentless businessman, is a generous guy who strives to pay attention to the well-being of his close colleagues? Well, I wouldn’t, but as Hirsch’s succinctly worded sentences roll, the outlines of a purposeful but fundamentally kind and good-natured man emerge.
That was the main virtue of the two chapters on Star Wars in the book for me (I must admit: I only read just some parts of the other chapters because I didn’t see most of those movies due to my age [I was born in 1990]).
But it’s not just because of the above that Star Wars fans might want to get their hands on Hirsch’s autobiography.
The editor was hired for a definite time during the work of A New Hope to help out Marcia Lucas but did his job so well that he remained on board until the team completed the film. Hirsch tells the reader so much exciting background info he experienced during his first two Star Wars movies. He recounts what changes he proposed to A New Hope, with which he has written himself into film history. He also reveals how he made the first teaser of The Empire Strikes Back with Harrison Ford’s narration and how generous the actor was when it turned out Hirsch wouldn’t get extra money for it. Hirsch also tells us why he didn’t work on The Return of the Jedi: Richard Marquand brought his own well-proven editor to the project.
However, not just the author’s background information on Star Wars is interesting. For example, he tells how Hollywood unions have protected their “territory” from professionals from other parts of the United States (Hirsch worked in New York before coming to California). It was also exciting to find out what the British TV programme was like when The Empire Strikes Back was shot there. But I did learn most from the introductory chapter, where Hirsch shows why editors are essential professionals in filmmaking and how they do their job. The chapters on Star Wars also show how different the work of the editors was (technologically and creatively) in the 1970s than it is today.
What I also particularly liked was that Paul Hirsch was capable of self-reflection.
Despite his Oscar award, we do not read the words of a great old man who has gone away from his glory, totally detached from reality. Instead, Hirsch feels where he made mistakes during his career, and we feel this especially in the parts about the time after the completion of The Empire Strikes Back. In hindsight, the author assesses as naivety that he did not accept Lawrence Kasdan’s invitation – who called him an editor for his first directing, Body Heat – because he hoped then that he would be overstocked with offers after his Oscar. It was also great to read how much it hurt him the Academy didn’t nominate him for an Oscar for The Empire Strikes Back. Though he now knows: not the prizes that judge a man’s work but the results he placed on the table.
All in all, we can read great stories and background information from the pen of a well-featured author who is infinitely grateful to George Lucas for trusting him.