When Star Wars opened here, it was a mild success. There was a lot of talking about it, and references were present at places you wouldn't expect - I own a 1978 local magazine where the letter section was supposedly read by C3PO, spoofing his... uh... personality. By the time the other films got here, it became more of a kid and cult thing, and not really mainstream. You would NEVER find the popular kids in school talking about it. You wouldn't have grownups watching it, let alone discussing it.
After 1983, it was pretty much over. When the movies were broadcasted on TV, it was usually as a daytime adventura-movie filler (the first SW film I've seen, ESB, was on daytime TV on the 80s). There was the VHS set (and in 1995, the faces set), but there wasn't a demand for SW products. There were toys, but they were sold as merely toys for kids, not because it was SW.
When the SE came, there was a brief hype about it, but merely commercial. Stuff like pizza hut giving away cups with the characters, and stuff like that. I remember I watched all three movies (thinking the SE was a limited edition of the films and would not replace the O-OT!!) but the theaters were not packed. There were mostly kids there, and some of them didn't even know those films were made 20 years before.
With the prequels, there was mass media attention and suddenly... Star Wars was mainstream. Kids in school would talk about it, even the "cool" ones who would never be seen with geeks and nerds. Like with Lord of the Rings, in which regular people - who would never even think about reading Tolkien - were reading freaking SIMARILLION, people were watching Star Wars, accepting that whole bizarre galactical universe filled with aliens and lightsaber fights as part of their culture.
I don't belive you guys would understand my point of view on this, kinda hard to explain... But have you noticed also how Star Wars is now among people who normally wouldn't apreciate this kind of thing? Have you noticed something similar with other things, like LOTR, or even Harry Potter? Do you think this is good, or bad?