Director: Irvin Kershner
Stars: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, David Prowse, Peter Mayhew, Frank Oz, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels

The Empire Strikes Back is acknowledged as the best of all the Star Wars movies for good reason. To best understand why, though, one must watch it back-to-back with its 1977 predecessor. The two flicks are a study in both artistic growth and how filmmakers can push themselves while tackling the always risky "sequel." That's the long-winded explanation; simply put, The Empire Strikes Back marks the moment when George Lucas grew up.

Much darker than '77's A New Hope, this superior follow-up largely abandons the prior flick's carnival ride spirit. The characters have more depth, the stakes are much higher (people, and non-humans, you'd expect to flaunt immunity die), and the overall conflict—that of Luke Skywalker's journey from being soft-batch to heroically battling his evil dad, Darth Vader—resonates stronger thanks to Empire's serious nature.

Considering how far off the rails the Stars Wars films drifted in its wake, Lucas' second time using the Force is a sci-fi sequel worth endless salutes. Give it the old flattened-hand-to-the-forehead salutation while flipping those Ewoks and Jar Jar Binks the bird.