The fact that it was the last major re-release of the movies in theaters is reason enough to consider it important.
Like I’ve said before, if the OT were ever to get the Blade Runner treatment it honestly wouldn’t bother me if the ‘04 and ‘11 versions were jettisoned. They could easily be branched onto the same disc as the ‘97 version (just as the ‘92 Blade Runner was branched onto the same disc as the ‘82 cuts), but the ‘97 version takes priority. It’s the first and still the most significant round of revisions to the films. It’s what got us into this whole mess in the first place, which gives it historical value. For seven years it was the final version of the films, George’s “vision,” until he changed it again while finishing up the PT. The stuff he introduced in ‘04 like TPM Jabba, Temuera’s voice as Boba and Hayden as Anakin’s ghost reminds many viewers of movies they don’t like while they’re trying to enjoy movies they do, and the ‘97 cuts at least take advantage of cgi without actively reminding the viewer “hey, this trilogy is part of a longer saga now.” Even if the SE was created in large part because the PT was right around the corner, it’s still a pre-PT version.
But at the same time, I acknowledge that any change to the content of these movies is going to put off fans of the OT as it existed originally. Had the SE been basically the same films we remembered, maybe with just the fx shots re-comp’d and the wipes re-done, this site wouldn’t exist. But since they decided to flat out erase the groundbreaking vfx work of many talented artists in order to “modernize” these movies, any improvements that come along with that is soured. I didn’t even get into the Han and Greedo / “Alert my Star Destroyer to prepare for my arrival” / Jedi Rocks of it all.
The ‘97 version was the expensive $20 million restoration of Star Wars even if it introduced a lot of changes we don’t like. It was the first time I saw the OT on the big screen after only seeing it on tv throughout the early-to-mid 90’s via home video and USA network airings. I was eleven, and don’t remember noticing Greedo shooting first until I saw it again almost a year later on letterboxed vhs! I wasn’t hip to internet fan culture at the time (we didn’t even have internet until late ‘97, and that was 28k dial-up), so I don’t think it even dawned on me how big of a deal that particular alteration was until I saw Ben Affleck commenting on it in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.