I think Lucas is actually looking at things from a somewhat unique POV in the movie industry. He's actually willing to go back and fix things and not leave some screwups out there for all eternity. I think it's almost like a software company sending out updates for a program. They recognize the imperfections and fix them. So does Lucas. He has the will and the means to fix his mistakes. I can't fault him for going back and making the best movie that he can, even after the theatrical release.
From Valin Kenobi
I see what you're saying, but the original versions of SW occupy such a unique position in cinematic history that I believe they should be preserved for their historical value (artistic debates being an entirely separate issue). I don't see the harm in having the originals available, if for no other reason than as a basis for comparison with the updated versions.
I agree with the historial argument and sentiment. I also think that in all actuality there is an archived version of the 1977 release in a vault, somewhere. I don't think anyone is trying to destroy the film as it was originally presented. Film preservation is actually a fairly signifigant issue in the movie industry. A great deal of old films have been lost due to poor storage of the original negatives and deterioration of that stock.
But I think Lucas has taken this public stance that "the original films don't exist" so that he can avoid the debate about what should be out and what shouldn't. I think there is tremendous potential for that issue to become totally unruly, since many a fanboy fancies themself an uber film critic. Why not cut that kind of nonsense off at the pass?
I think ultimately, as far as what is on the market, the ball is in George Lucas's court. He is going to want the version he likes out on the commercial market. He's the owner of this intellectual property and it's his right to exercise his artistic control over the movies. If a fan is so intent on having the theatrical release, or the '96 release, they can always have their VHS versions burned to DVD so that they last longer in better condition. Lord knows there are enough bootlegs of them out there that you can buy DVD versions of the various releases if you want them.