A frustratingly not-terrible action thriller.
"Return of the Jedi'' completes the epic "Star Wars'' cycle with the final destruction of the Empire and the inevitable faceoff between Luke Skywalker and the evil Darth Vader, now revealed, as we surmised, to be his father. The film has a tone of its own. If "Star Wars'' was a brash space opera and "The Empire Strikes Back'' was a visual feast, "Return of the Jedi'' is a riot of character invention. We get a good look at Jabba the Hutt and his court; we meet the fuzzy-wuzzy Ewoks, and we are confronted by two wonderfully loathsome creatures--the beast in the dungeon beneath Jabba's throne room and the desert monster made of teeth and gullet.
If I had to choose, I would say this is the least of the Star Wars films. It lacks the startling originality of the first two. It's more concerned with loose ends and final resolutions. It was the correct decision for George Lucas to end with a trilogy and then move to another point in time for the continuation of the saga. To return to these characters a fourth time would destroy the mythic structure of the story and turn it simply into a series.
Still, there are inspired things here. The early scenes are dominated by Jabba the Hutt, whose cavern is populated with lots of small obnoxious creatures in the corners and a grotesque intergalactic jazz band that seems to have been improvised along with its music. Secure in his lair, Jabba has Han Solo frozen in a sculpture on the wall, and eventually takes all of our heroes captive. His gurgling voice is wonderfully reprehensible, and he squats beneath his cavern ceiling like a stalagmite of slime. (It has been observed that Jabba seems much larger here than in "Star Wars.'' Some say it is because he is on a platform; some say it is an optical illusion. I suggest that a hutt is a slug, and slugs continue to grow all of their lives.) The monster in the dungeon, made of teeth and scales, is the embodiment of disgusting aggression, and yet its death provides one of the movie's finest moments. The creature is crushed beneath a heavy door, and then we see its keeper come forward, weeping to have lost his pet. It's a throwaway moment, but typical of the film's richness.
An extended sequence takes place in the desert, where Jabba's Hovercraft positions itself over the creature in the sand, which seems to consist primarily as a large digestive system. He intends to force his captives to walk the plank, but the tables are nicely turned. I have always felt Lucas lost an opportunity here; since Jabba obviously must die at some point, why not feed him to the sand thing? I can envision the Hutt's globular body slithering along the plank and plopping down into the big open mouth--and then being spit up again, as too unsavory even for this eating machine. Final shot: green gooey Jabba-stuff dissolving in the monster's digestive juices under a pitiless sun.