Freiheit, George Lucas’ Short Student Film About a Fatal Run from Communism (1966)

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mar­tin Scorsese’s Very First Films: Three Imag­i­na­tive Short Works

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Very First Films: Three Short Doc­u­men­taries

David Lynch’s Ear­ly Short Film

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.

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  • Michael R. Mize says:

    I think I recall see­ing this very thing hap­pen ‑had to be many yr’s ago if so. Except what I saw was a woman who was des­per­ate­ly tak­ing a run to what appeared to be a reg. gate-way w\armed guards. but she was shot dead from a watch-tow­er. It’s etched in my head as a real news-cast.
    ‑Could be that, because I believe this is one of mod­ern man arche­typ­al image. And I cre­at­ed a mem­o­ry of what, to me, seems like a real mem­o­ry rather than a dream I man­u­fa­tured. These days, giv­en what I’ve found out about mem­o­ry, I just don’t know for sure what is true and what isn’t ‑w\some excep­tions of course.

  • NikFromNYC says:

    Why not men­tion that this is the plot of Ayn Rand’s first nov­el?

    “After Leo’s depar­ture, Kira makes a final attempt to cross the bor­der. Almost in sight of free­dom, she is shot by a bor­der guard and dies.”

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