George Lucas has managed to fashion one of the strangest careers in all of cinema. First, he created one of the biggest (if not the biggest) movie franchises of all time. Then, he took the legacy of that phenomenon and perverted it beyond all recognition. And as if contaminating the childhoods of a million nerds wasn’t enough, he became highly litigious, threatening to sue anyone who so much as referenced Star Wars in a fan parody—he even tried to sue lobbyists during the Reagan administration over the nickname of the Strategic Defense Initiative missile program! Yes, it’s fair to say that no one quite hates George Lucas as much as Star Wars fans hate George Lucas. The guy seems like kind of a dick.
But in the spirit of goodwill towards men, I think it’s only fair that we go back to a time when Lucas was an idealistic young film student, making movies to actually emotionally engage people. Freiheit is a short Lucas made in 1966, and it’s certainly not something you’d expect from the man who brought us Jar Jar Binks. In less than three minutes, a young man (played by—get this—Randal Kleiser, the future director of Grease) attempts to dash across the border from East to West Germany. He is shot after a near escape, and he dies with a rabble of narrations on freedom.
It’s a student film in every sense of the word—dramatic and heavy-handed, and arguably overly-literal in its messaging. It’s also really impressive. The action shots show amazing instincts. The pacing builds anticipation. The editing is crisp. Even the blue tint to the film gives a cohesion to the cinematography—what would have been a busy setting is now austere and cool. It’s almost enough to make me forgive him. Almost.