Here we have an early short film by Star Wars mastermind George Lucas that contains no invented worlds, elaborate special effects, or conscious mythmaking. But Freiheit, the third film Lucas made while a film-school student at the University of Southern California and the first with a narrative, has the kind of impact that convinces you its fledgling creator just might have an interesting picture or two in him. Titled with the German word for “freedom,” the short uses Soviet-era Germany as a setting and freedom as its driving concept, following a young protagonist trapped on the wrong side of the Berlin border who attempts a flight from his restrictive society but meets a grim end.
Even those of you who don’t respect what we now think of as George Lucas’ brand of moviemaking may find much of interest in Freiheit‘s three-minute runtime. From the title card reading “a film by LUCAS” onward, you know you’re in for more of an “art” film than you may have expected. Lucas combines still with moving images and dynamically varies the speed of the latter to build as much visual interest as possible in a short time (and on an undoubtedly near-nonexistent budget). He creates an urgent mood quickly by using both music and abstract sound, ultimately introducing a collection of spoken words about freedom itself. Lucas would clearly remain fascinated, even while making blockbuster space operas, by the nature of oppressive power structures, but this little project reveals his aesthetic road not taken.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.