Like many of you, Empire is, and probably always will be, my favourite of the saga. However, I also believe that it stands apart from the other Star Wars films, not just in quality but also in tone, directorial style and pacing. And I think this is a big reason so many people have been disappointed by the PT. ESB is just too "good" for lack of a better word. Drop the childhood nostalgia and compare the PT to ANH and ROTJ, and there really isn't that much difference, IMO. All four films have pretty much the same hokey quality of dialogue and acting, and the straight-forward directing style is the same (even in ROTJ, because Lucas had a much stronger control over Richard Marquand than he did over Irvin Kershner). Of course, someone will argue "If ESB is the best of the saga, shouldn't Lucas have aspired to make the PT as good as that?" That's a valid question, and it remains to be seen if Episode III will be the ESB of the PT (it certainly should be as dark, if nothing else). But I think what Kershner, Lawrence Kasdan and Gary Kurtz did with ESB was to take Star Wars the furthest away it's ever been from Lucas's original pulp and Saturday Matinee inspirations. It has the least creatures and robots of all the films, and even though the story is fairly fast-paced, it devotes more time to intimate character moments than any of the other films. Kershner's direction is also much more creative than Lucas's. Compare how much cooler and more menacing Vader looks in ESB compared to the other films, for example. The basic story and characters would have remained unchanged if Lucas had directed the film himself, but the overall tone and quality of the performances would probably have been quite different. And I'm not saying that the acting in the films Lucas has directed is bad, just that it's slightly more . . . camp, if you will. Which fits in with Lucas's desire to emulate those old aventure serials, but on a much grander scale. I honestly believe that without ESB, Star Wars would be remembered more as a fun series of adventure films like Indiana Jones, rather than the deep mythological epic many people view it as now. I also think that ESB has ruined the PT's chances of meeting many people's expectations, since it was a creative peek that Lucas on his own could never match again.