- "And one of the great things about doing the Special Editions was we were able to go back and do the original Star Wars: A New Hope exactly the way George wanted it. The way he had written it. Whether people liked it, it didn't matter, it was his movie and he couldn't make it when he first made it because there were so many compromises he had to go through."
- ―Rick McCallum at the Episode I DVD press conference in 2001
The three movies were shown in USA from January through March with a monthly interval between each. A New Hope was released on January 31, 1997, followed by The Empire Strikes Back was released on February 21, 1997, as well as Return of the Jedi was released on March 7, 1997, but due to the box office success of the first two (mostly A New Hope which grossed the most of the three re-releases) it was pushed to a week later on March 14. Special coverage on CNN in 1997 notes that Lucas spent $10 million to rework his original 1977 film, which was roughly what it cost to film it originally. $3 million of that was spent on the audio track for the special edition. Lucas also spent $2.5 million each on Episodes V and VI.
The Trilogy aimed to the renewal of the movies in the minds of both the older and the younger audience, and to prepare the way for the upcoming release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
- "You know, I was fine with doing it, I didn't feel at all that we were hurting anything. My feeling always was that the original version was always gonna be there, and I don't know if that's necessarily happened. George hasn't put the effort into doing an HD, super good HD version of the original versions and I don't know if that will ever happen. But at the time my feeling was that we could finally make these shots better, you know. He went through and picked a bunch of shots, and I picked a bunch of shots and we redid them so they just looked a lot better. I was fine with it, and I think it's gone overboard, I think it's been done too many times and too many shots, but I just feel as long as the original version is always there that it's fine to be able to work on it later on, and sort of like 'so what', you know?"
- ―Dennis Muren
The renewal was done by digitally remastering the image and sound by an extensive clean-up and restoration work, George Lucas also made a number of changes to the films in order to "finish the film the way it was meant to be" (as Lucas said in a September 2004 interview with the Associated Press) so that someone who would start watching the saga from the prequel trilogy, won't notice the aesthetic difference between the 20 years.
The most significant alterations were cosmetic, generally adding special effects which weren't originally possible, like the addition of some originally filmed but cut scenes (like Han Solo's confrontation with Jabba the Hutt), the addition of new digitally made sequences (like the arrival at Mos Eisley) which sometimes included the replacement of older scenes altogether (like the flight to the Death Star).
Other changes, however, are considered to have affected plot or character development. These changes, such as the change often referred to by fans as "Han shot first," have proven to be controversial, inciting considerable criticism of George Lucas by fans, and was one of the first causes of the Lucas Bashing phenomenon.