The key to appreciating pop culture or an art form is exposure at an early age. It doesn’t matter the form or genre: books, movies, paintings, theater, ballet, sports, science fiction, fantasy, etc.
David G. Hartwell, in his enjoyable and informative book Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction (1985), holds that the golden age of science fiction is 12. My interpretation of Hartwell is that the reader who is exposed to science fiction books at that tender age is able to fall for the genre in the way that only a 12-year-old can: hopelessly and totally in love. At a later age, when the critic that we all grow inside our minds asserts itself, it becomes difficult to achieve that bonding emotion.
I had passed the golden age of 12 when Star Wars (1977) arrived. I could appreciate the visuals. The story was another matter. I had already read Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany, We Who Are About To by Joanna Russ, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, Pavane by Keith Roberts, The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, and several more of the most interesting, most challenging and rewarding science fiction books available. By comparison, the unsophisticated, intentionally retro storytelling of Star Wars resembled a Saturday morning children’s television show with a big production budget.
The production budget for the second movie was bigger. The surprise that The Empire Strikes Back (1980) held was that the story and direction were both considerably better than the first movie. A sequel that was an improvement on the original was a novelty. Certainly none of the four Star Wars feature films made since The Empire Strikes Back can make that claim.
The credit for the surprise that was The Empire Strikes Back goes to director Irvin Kershner (1923-2010) and screenwriter Leigh Brackett (1915-1978).