A guard tower silhouetted against the moon, overlooking barbed wire fences. FREIHEIT, the title card reads. A FILM BY LUCAS.
A young man wearing glasses, shirt, tie, runs through the forest, ducks under branches, as fast as his legs will take him. He pauses and kneels, panting, looking nervously from side to side on the outskirts of a clearing. A simple sign marks the border. It’s close. He scans the surroundings; it seems clear. He goes for it. The air fills with the sound of machine gun fire. Inches from border, the man collapses, dead. A guard stands over him. “Freedom is definitely worth dying for. It's the only thing worth dying for,” an unseen man can be heard saying, “It’s people,” a woman continues, “and people should be free.”
The voices continue, the man is dead.
Freiheit is hardly a remarkable short film, neither cleverly plotted, shot, or presented. What makes Freiheit remarkable, is when seen in the light of George Lucas’s future oeuvre. It was the first meager narrative film Lucas made, his two previous student films, Look at Life and Herbie being both abstract editing and collage exercises, something Lucas enjoyed much more than having to craft a story, around which to wrap his aesthetics. This makes whatever narrative it does have so much more enlightening as to what he was interested in.
Some of Lucas’s most important reoccurring themes, ones he carried with him into the rest of his films, are present in this 3-minute short. Escape, freedom, heroism and (presumably) oppressive dictatorships, here representative probably of the Soviet bloc, going strong as it was in 1966, when the US had started its offensive in Vietnam (this was a few years before the draft, though undoubtedly Vietnam caused a stir in the university environment at the University of Southern California, where Lucas studied, as wars are wont to do in such places).
The theme of escape must inevitably be considered Lucas’ most personal theme, starting here in his first film and continuing in all of his films in one way or another, it seems only fitting to equate the longing or need of his characters for freedom, whether from oppression or simply the mundanity of life, with Lucas’ life under his stern father, who had in mind for his boy to take over the family business, and to to become some beatnik artist or film maker.
The young man was played by Randal Kleiser, a classmate of Lucas's, who would go on to direct Grease, The Blue Lagoon and Flight of the Navigator.