At least one web critic agrees with me that Empire (his #28) exceeds the original Start Wars (his #51). From James Berardinelli's All-Time Top 100.
"There are many times when the sequel to a beloved movie fails to live up to the hype. Such was not the case with 1980's The Empire Strikes Back, which didn't just equal the excitement and derring-do of its predecessor, Star Wars, but exceeded it. Regarded by some as the best sequel of all-time, ..."