So, I'm not really that into Star Wars. Sure I was into it as a kid, but I can't recall being into it beyond the movies themselves; I was way more into the actual, literal universe at the time, stars and planets and such, and found that a lot more interesting than laser blasters. Whatever. The point is that my interest in the prequels has always been closer to a familiar kind of curiousity than rabid geekdom. And to be honest, a lot of that is the fault of the prequels themselves, films which I pretty much hated across the board. Shitty dialogue, which resulted in a lot of shitty acting, arcane political maneuverings so complex and poorly explained that I just didn't care anymore... oh, and Jar Jar, one of the most unforgivable cinematic sins of the last 20 years. In light of the incredible acheivements of the LOTR trilogy, these prequels became (to me) almost unwatchable.
Which is why I was as surprised as anybody that I fucking LOVED Episode III - so much so that I'm willing to rank it as #2, very close behind Empire. It's by far the best of the prequels, and I would totally see it again. Maybe the digital projection screen has something to do with it, I don't know, but GODDAMN it was incredible. Each scene served an actual purpose in terms of the storytelling. One of the things that drove me batshit about 1 and 2 were the overly elaborate setups for scenes that ultimately didn't serve any importance in the overall storyline (Exhibit A being the pod race in Episode 1, although really most of Episode 1 could fall into that category). Whereas in ROTS, virtually every single shot was important; there was no filler, no extraneous dialogue, no excuses to have lavish CGI for no other reason than to have them.
Sure, the movie may have problems - I still think that Anakin was too whiny and pouty, and his post-Mace Windu submission to the Dark Side too sudden, and the Bush-bashing (which is welcomed, of course) might have been a bit too obvious - but overall I totally went along for the ride. The CG is un-be-fucking-lievable, especially on the digital screen (I want an HD television RIGHT NOW), the John Williams score was actually quite stunning (they're always good, although sometimes they're a bit overwrought)... but mostly it's the pacing of the movie that really worked, especially the few moments of stillness. There's a sequence near the middle, after the Jedi Acadamy has been ransacked, where it's just long shots of the city, where the tension of the moment is simply allowed to exist instead of being pounded over your head... that was absolutely breathtaking, and probably one of my favorite sequences in the entire 6-film opus. This movie was made with passion, with fire and, most importantly, with balls.
And of course, afterwards, Kath and I tried to figure out the correct viewing order for our future children. We both ultimately agree that it should be 4-5-6-1-2-3-4-5-6, because you need to see 4-5-6 afterwards in order to fully appreciate it*. Darth Vader shouldn't be sympathetic when you first see him, and the revelation that he is Luke's father needs to remain shocking. Even if Episodes 1 and 2 had been made better, I maintain that 1-2-3 wouldn't have been nearly as interesting if they'd been made first. What made 4 so awesome, especially as a kid, was that you were thrust into this universe that had clearly been around for a while, and it didn't need to be explained to you in order to appreciate the action on screen. There's a huge galactic conflict, and Luke is this nobody who suddenly gets caught up right in the middle of it - that's a great way to get immersed in the universe, as opposed to slogging through tons of exposition. Most importantly, the duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan in Ep. 4 remains mysterious, as it should. You should know that some pretty heavy stuff is going on, but knowing why would sorta ruin it the first time out. (Also, because if you watch it now, that particular light-saber duel is pretty hilarious, in terms of how tame it is.)
And since our children will most likely be watching these movies for the first time on DVD, I'll just come out and say that in that particular context, I don't mind the tweaking of the original trilogy on DVD that much - in fact, I think it can be fairly said that some of the CGI tweaks make the films that much more immersive. I don't know which is worse to look at, crappy sets or overly-fake CGI, but at least now all 6 films have a somewhat more cohesive look.
*Sorta like how, after reading Infinite Jest, you need to re-read the first 100 pages or so.