Star Wars: Episode III -- Revenge of the Sith is the final installment in George Lucas' legendary sextet of sci-fi films. While the movies have done a great job of teaching us all about the Jedi, their shadowy foe the Sith haven't really been explained all that well.
Have you ever wondered exactly who the Sith are, where they came from, and why they are considered so evil? Why is it that, as Yoda says, "Always two there are, no more, no less"? Why are their lightsabers always red, and what's with all this vengeance?
Well it turns out, as with all things Lucas, there is a pretty huge story behind it all that has played out in comics, novels, video games and various other media over the past thirty years. Once you really sift through all there is to know about the Sith, you'll find there's quite a bit to these guys. What you see in the movies is far from the first or worst time the Sith and the Jedi have squared off.
But who has time for all that sifting?
The Sith are an order of Force practitioners who have chosen the dark side of the Force as the source of their power. Members of the Sith Order are called Sith Lords or Dark Lords of the Sith. The Sith are the sworn enemy of the Jedi, whom they have fought for thousands of years.
Sith only operate in pairs -- one master and one apprentice. Though it was not always so, under the current doctrine of the Order there can only be two Sith Lords at any given time. This doctrine was put in place by a legendary Sith Lord named Darth Bane. Bane did this to prevent the destructive infighting that plagued the Sith Order for millennia. With this system, Dark Lords pass the Sith legacy through the generations in an unusual and violent way.
After years of working together, an apprentice will kill his master when he senses an opportunity to become the master himself. This new master then takes an apprentice of his own. Of course, should the apprentice fail to kill his master, he will surely be killed in retaliation and the master will find a new apprentice. This method uses the Sith Lords' innate ambition to make sure that only the strongest Sith survive.
Unlike the Jedi, who use their own names, Sith Lords take a title that starts with Darth (the ancient Aurabesh pronunciation for the word for "dark") and that ends with a name of their choice, such as Darth Vader or Darth Stuffo. This was not always the case with the Sith. It's a system used by modern Sith Lords to hide their true identities.
Like the Jedi, the Sith are skilled in the art of lightsaber combat. Some of the most legendary Force swordsman have been Sith Lords. In recent history, Darth Maul was considered one of the most talented and savage warriors ever to wield a lightsaber. Maul used a custom-built, double-bladed lightsaber and could easily fight several Jedi at once.
In the Jedi Order, each Jedi student makes a journey to get Illium Crystals for the lightsaber they will one day build. This journey is considered a rite of passage. As a result, Jedi sabers are many different colors depending on the crystals they find.
There is no such ritual for the Sith. The Sith prefer synthetic crystals for their sabers. The synthetic crystals save the Sith the long trek to get Illium Crystals, provide more blade tuning options, and give Sith sabers their characteristic red blade.
After thousands of years and many wars, the modern Sith Lords have learned to use deception and subterfuge rather than outright warfare to further their quest. This shadowy, manipulative approach is what ultimately led the Sith Order to destroy the Jedi Order and take over the galaxy during the rise of the Galactic Empire. But as with all things, none of this would have been possible without the boundless power afforded to them by the Force.
Use the Force
The Force is the power in the galaxy that binds everything together. Its energy flows through the blood of all living things. Certain individuals and creatures have a natural adeptness or Force sensitivity. When Force-sensitive individuals tap into this, they can unlock unimaginable power within. A powerful Force practitioner can move objects, predict the future, bend wills, move with lightning speed, and practically manipulate reality itself through the use of the Force.
The Force is divided into two sides: the dark side and the light side. Each side of the Force has its unique powers, strengths, and weaknesses. Likewise, Force practitioners are divided. The Jedi use the light side of the Force, while the Sith use the dark side. Ideologically speaking, there are two questions drawing the line that divides the Force.
- What is the best way to unlock the Power of the Force?
- How is the Power of the Force best used?
Jedi Knights and Sith Lords
For several millennia, the Jedi Order have been the guardians of peace in the galaxy with the Force as their ally. The Jedi believe that the path to the Force is through contemplation, passivity, and inner peace. By disciplining themselves to remain calm no matter what is happening around them, a Jedi can access and use the power of the Force.
The Jedi regard the power of the Force with respect and responsibility. A Jedi views the Force as a power to merge with in order to further the cause of good. Jedi live by a very strict code that is built on tremendous discipline, selflessness and self-control. This is why very few Force adepts who begin training with the Jedi ever actually become Jedi Knights, and fewer still become Jedi Masters.
The Sith, on the other hand, have learned to unlock the power of the Force in a completely different way. Rather than accessing the power of the Force through inner peace, the Sith have learned to tap the power of the Force by giving into extreme emotion. By letting feelings like anger or fear take over, the Sith can use emotion as a conduit to channel the power of the Force.
There is a common misconception that the Sith access the Force through evil or that being a Sith Lord automatically means that you are evil. This is not true. Any extreme emotion can access the Force. The essence of the Sith's power is in passion, not evil. Passion can take the form of joy or love as well as anger or hatred. Sith are typically evil in that they are often blinded by their passion or corrupted by the power granted to them by the Force.
This plays into the second major difference between the Jedi and the Sith. The Sith believe the Force is a tool to be used and that the power in and of itself is justification enough for their actions. In short, they believe they can do anything they want simply because they have the power to do so.
Differences aside, the Jedi and Sith share a common lineage, and the origin of the Sith Order starts in the very halls of the Jedi Council.
The history of the Sith starts almost twenty-five millennia before the events of Star Wars: Episode I. The Jedi Order formed during this time along with the creation of the Galactic Republic. Up until that point, the Force was practiced in varied and undisciplined ways. On many worlds the Force was misunderstood and often considered to be magic. Force adepts were either revered and worshipped, or shunned and feared.
The founding members of the Jedi Order were Force-sensitive individuals who understood the power and potential of the Force and also foresaw its abuse and danger. They agreed to pool their knowledge of the Force, continue to study it, and most importantly educate and regulate those who possessed the power. The Jedi Order was dedicated to making sure the Force was used to ensure peace in the galaxy.
Though the dark side of the Force was not well understood by the Jedi, they were aware of its presence. Early Jedi had all felt the lure of the dark side and agreed that the dark path was not one ever to be tread upon by a Jedi, not even for a moment.
However, not all of the early Jedi agreed.
A Long, Long, Long, Long Time Ago…
The debate about the value of the dark side of the Force waged on tirelessly in the Jedi Council. Dissident Jedi argued that the dark power could be controlled and used to further the Jedi cause, but the Council didn't agree. This debate eventually gave way to struggle, then war. This war came to be known as The Great Schism. For one hundred years, Jedi fought Jedi in the first conflict between the light and dark sides of the Force.
Because of greater numbers, the Jedi eventually prevailed and decimated the dark Jedi. The battered, surviving dark Jedi were captured and exiled. They were ordered to take the remnants of their broken fleet across the galaxy into uncharted space and never again darken the doorstep of the Republic.
As they traveled backwater space in exile, the outcast Jedi eventually came across the uncharted world of Korriban. There they found a primitive race of Force adepts known as the Sith. The native Sith knew nothing of the Force and used their untapped power for simple magic. The dark Jedi immediately saw an opportunity. They conquered and enslaved the Sith.
For the next several thousand years, the Sith worshipped the dark Jedi as gods. The rebel Jedi came to call themselves Sith Lords. These Sith Lords used the indigenous people as slave labor to build a great new civilization. Inter-breeding blurred species lines and eventually the term Sith came to mean the off-world, native and hybrid peoples of Korriban.
The Golden Age of the Sith
Now the dark side of the Force was studied and practiced with the same resources and diligence as the light side of the Force. The Sith grew in numbers and power, eventually spreading to the many systems near Korriban. The Sith Empire was born. The Sith Empire was led by one all-powerful dark master called The Dark Lord of the Sith. There was only one, and this title was usually won by defeating the previous Dark Lord of the Sith. The first Dark Lord of the Sith worth noting ruled 5,500 years before the events of Episode I. He was Marka Ragnos.
Ragnos defeated the previous Dark Lord Simmus for the title and Ragnos' rule ushered in the pinnacle of the Golden Age of the Sith. Ragnos was in power for nearly two hundred years. He brought unparalleled prosperity, growth and order to the Sith Empire. Ragnos was never successfully challenged and eventually died of old age. At his funeral two Sith Lords named Naga Sadow and Ludo Kressh began to duel over who would next hold the title Dark Lord of the Sith.
Sadow believed that the Sith needed to expand the Empire, while Kressh believed that the Sith needed to avoid attracting the attention of the Jedi. Both Sith Lords knew of the Jedi and the Republic, but knowledge of the Sith's ancient enemy was not something shared by many other Sith. After remaining hidden for thousands of years, the Sith were unsure if the Republic and the Jedi still existed.
Then two hyperspace explorers from the Republic accidentally crashed on Korriban, unwittingly providing the Sith with the proof and information they needed to declare war.
The Sith Wars
The Great Schism was only the first of many great and bloody wars among the Sith, the Jedi, and the Galactic Republic. In every other instance, the Jedi would defeat the Sith at great cost. The Sith always managed to reemerge hundreds, sometimes thousands of years later to start their campaign against the Jedi once again.
The following sections are brief accounts of some of the more significant Sith wars.
The Great Hyperspace War
In the midst of a temporary truce, the two Dark Lord candidates Naga Sadow and Ludo Kressh convened to discuss the fate of Jori and Gav Deragon, the two hapless explorers who stumbled across the Sith Empire.
Kressh saw the intruders as a threat and wanted them executed immediately, while Sadow saw them as a path back to the Republic and eventual control of the Galaxy. Sadow eventually staged a rescue attempt on Korriban and blamed the Republic. Outraged, the Sith voted Sadow onto the throne of the Dark Lord and authorized Sadow's invasion of the Republic.
The Sith invaded and brutalized the Republic. The Jedi fought hard to defend the Republic, but in the end the leader of the Sith invasion force betrayed Sadow and turned the tide of the war. Sensing imminent defeat, Sadow detonated a nearby star, wiping out billions of Jedi, Sith, Republic forces and innocent people.
Sadow was exiled by the Sith, then took the remainder of his broken fleet and created a new Sith Empire on the remote world of Yavin IV. He ruled here until his death one hundred years later. All that remains of Sadow's Empire are the ruins of the Massassi Temples.
The Feedon Nadd Uprising
Over the next thousand years, the Sith on Korribann all but died out and Sadow's empire was a distant memory. An ambitious Sith Lord named Feedon Nadd was fed up with the decline of the Sith Empire and wanted to reform it with him as the new Dark Lord of the Sith. Unable to defeat the current Dark Lord, Nadd left Korriban and settled on the planet of Onderon. Nadd took over the ruling family of Onderon and ruled until his death. For generations afterwards, the power of the dark side was the driving force behind the government of Onderon.
When the Beast Wars erupted on the planet, the Jedi Council sent three Jedi to restore peace, including Ulic Qel-Droma. Though the Jedi successfully stopped the war there, their intervention fueled an uprising. The worshipers of Freedon Nadd revolted, but the Jedi quickly ended this bloody battle.
The Great Sith War
Four thousand years before the events of Episode I, the Sith Empire was extinct. It was born again in the hands of a Jedi named Exar Kun. Fascinated by the dark side, Kun secretly studied the Sith during his Jedi training. His research led him to the moon of Onderon. From there he traveled to former Sith home world of Korriban and later to Yavin IV. Exar led down the dark path by the ghost of Freedon Nadd who reavealed to all of the Sith's dark secrets to the curious Jedi. Kun was eventually seduced by the dark side and swore his allegiance to the Sith.
At the same time, on the recently war-torn world of Onderon, a secret society of aristocrats called the Krath practiced the rituals of the Sith right under the noses of the Jedi.
The Jedi Ulic Qel-Droma discovered the Krath and set out to stop them. In retaliation, the Krath had Ulic's master killed by assassins. Ulic vowed to destroy the Krath from the inside, so he faced them and joined the dark organization. He was not strong enough to resist, however, and Ulic eventually slipped to the dark side. As a Jedi, Ulic was the Krath's greatest instrument.
Eventually the power of two Sith amulets -- one possessed by Exar and one by Ulic -- led the two Jedi to one another. The two dark Jedi were ready to kill each other when they were visited by a council of ghosts made up of past Dark Lords. The shades instructed them to work together to resurrect the Sith Order and restore the former glory of the Golden Age of the Sith. With Exar Kun as the Dark Lord of the Sith and Ulic Qel-Droma as his apprentice, the two Sith Lords waged the bloodiest war in Galactic history -- The Great Sith War.
Exar Kun returned to the Jedi Academy and began luring students to the dark side. Ulic took a small group of ships and used dark side trickery to begin capturing as many ships as he could. He was to build the next great Sith Fleet. In his travels Ulic came across the savage Mandolorian Warriors as they attacked a peaceful planet. Ulic intervened on behalf of the planet, but only so that he could arrange a one-on-one battle to the death with the Mandolorian leader. Ulic bested Mandolore in hand-to-hand combat and then took control of the Mandolorian hordes, adding them to his ever-growing battle force.
Exar and Ulic allowed the Republic to learn of their invasion and lured the Republic fleet away from Coruscant. The Sith forces then attacked the Capitol world. Ulic was captured by the Jedi, but was freed at his trial by Exar. Exar killed his former Jedi master that day and then compelled other Jedi students to do the same.
Later in the war, Ulic unleashed a powerful Sith weapon that caused a chain reaction and destroyed many stars. The fallout from this chain reaction vaporized many systems, destroying the Sith fleet and killing billions and billions of innocent people.
In the final days of the war on the planet Ossus, Ulic faced and killed his own brother. Horrified at what he had become, Ulic fell apart and was defeated by a Jedi who used a forbidden Force block spell that destroyed Ulic's ability to use the Force forever.
The Republic eventually tracked Exar to Yavin IV and began orbital bombardment of the planet. Surrounded by the mutated descendants of Sadow's followers, Exar used powerful Sith magic to drain these followers' life force and seal his own in the walls of the Massassi Temple. Exar Kun's body was destroyed but his evil spirit still remains.
The Jedi Civil War
Shortly after the Great Sith War, the remnants of the Mandalorians sensed weakness in the Republic and decided to strike. A long and bloody war followed between the Jedi and the Mandolorians, but in the end the Jedi prevailed. Two Jedi named Revan and Malak led a Republic fleet to the outer rim and successfully wiped out the Mandalorians. At the end of the war, Revan and Malak were revered as heroes.
Little did the Republic know that their Jedi heroes were destined to become two of the most brutal Sith Lords ever known. While in deep space, the two Jedi landed on Korribann and uncovered many secrets of the Sith. Corrupted by their newfound knowledge and the brutality of the war they had just won, the two Jedi renounced the Order, became Sith and changed their names to Darth Revan and Darth Malak -- master and apprentice.
The two Sith Lords had the loyalty of Jedi and Republic forces that they led to destroy the Mandalorians. They took their new Sith fleet and waged a two-year war on the Republic's outer-rim territories.
Eventually, power hungry Darth Malak tried to destroy both his master Revan and the Jedi. His plan failed, but it did allow the Jedi to capture Revan alive.
The Jedi wiped the Sith master's memory, brainwashing and retraining Revan as a Jedi. In a most uncharacteristic move, the Jedi Council approved the use of Revan as a pawn to find the fugitive Sith Lord Darth Malak.
Eventually Revan tracked Malak to Star Forge and defeated him in a lightsaber duel. After that Revan disappeared. The Sith were once again vanquished.
The New Sith War
Just as they had been born 25,000 years ago, the Sith were born again in the halls of the Jedi Council. This happened 1000 years before the events of Episode I.
It began when an unknown, lackluster Jedi began to discover the power of the dark side. He was shunned by the Council and forbidden to continue his study of the dark side. He eventually left the Order and was able to take other Jedi with him, convincing them that the council was holding them back. After a short while and a few more defections the new Sith order had grown to fifty sworn Lords.
As time passed, the new Sith Order recruited an army of minions and declared war on the Jedi Order. The war was brutal but short and played out over several small battles. In the end, the Sith who were responsible for their own defeat. The infighting, poor organization and endless power struggles destroyed the Sith Order from the inside.
The final battle of the New Sith War took place on the planet of Ruusan. The Jedi backed the Sith Lords into a cavern and were only minutes away from ending the war. In the final moments of the battle, the Sith Lord Darth Bane was arguing with another Sith Lord about the best way to turn the tide of the battle. He had a plan, but so did the others. Bane was betrayed in the heat of battle by a Sith Lord named Kaan and this resulted in the massacre on Ruusan. Kaan detonated a bomb that killed all the Jedi and all the Sith Lords save one, Darth Bane. The Jedi felt they had finally wiped out the Sith. They were careful to guard all of their secrets and closely monitored students who showed dark side tendencies. After thousands of years of war and mistakes, the Jedi were determined to never again let the Sith rise.
Darth Bane, the sole surviving Sith Lord, slipped away into the shadows. Bane reformed the Sith doctrine and founded what is known as the modern era of the Sith. Now there are only two Sith at a time -- a master and an apprentice. They bide their time, work from the shadows pass the Sith tradition down from master to apprentice and wait for the day they will have their revenge.
The Clone Wars
That revenge finally came almost two hundred years later, when a senator from the peaceful planet of Naboo rose to power as Chancellor of the Republic. Senator Palpatine orchestrated an invasion of his home world of Naboo, thus setting a series of deft political moves into motion. No one around him knew that Chancellor Palpatine was actually Darth Sidious, Dark Lord of the Sith. The Republic was now controlled by the Sith.
Sidious' first apprentice, Darth Maul, was killed in the invasion of Naboo by the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi. He later took a second apprentice, Darth Tyrannus (a well-respected Jedi and political idealist named Count Dooku), whom he used to lead the orchestrated Separatist movement that threatened the Republic with war.
Darth Sidious used the threat of war to justify the creation of a huge clone army. The Clone Wars had begun.
The Jedi and clone army fought side by side, eventually defeating the Separatists. Darth Sidious blamed the Clone Wars on the corruption of the Republic and used the special emergency powers granted to him during the wars to name himself Emperor.
The Jedi Purge
Spoiler Alert: Details from Episode III in this section
The Jedi Council was opposed to Emperor Palpatine (Darth Sidious). The Emperor named the Jedi enemies of the Republic and used one of the Clone Wars' greatest heroes, a Jedi named Anakin Skywalker, to lead the clone army against the Jedi. Anakin killed Darth Tyrannus, went over to the dark side, and became Darth Vader, the most legendary of all Sith Lords.
Vader and his clone army began to hunt down and destroy all of the Jedi. Vader eventually faced his former Jedi master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, in a lightsaber battle. Kenobi defeated him and Vader was seriously wounded. He was restored by several operations that made him half man, half machine. Now in his new form, Darth Vader became the dark enforcer of the Emperor. Sidious dissolved the Republic, founded the Empire, and for the first time ever, secured the Sith as the rulers of the galaxy.
The Galactic Civil War
For twenty years the Empire ruled with an iron fist. The Jedi and the Force were long lost, but a tiny rebellion of politicians and warriors formed to oppose the rule of the Emperor. The first great battle of the Galactic Civil War was the Battle of Yavin. Rebel pilot Luke Skywalker made a force-guided shot that destroyed the Empire's mighty battle station, the Death Star. Darth Vader managed to escape the battle with his life and kill his former master Obi-Wan Kenobi.
After the Battle of Yavin, Vader took the Imperial fleet and scoured the galaxy, searching for the rebel base and more importantly his son, Luke Skywalker. Both Vader and the Emperor felt that Skywalker was a great threat but could be a powerful ally if he could be turned into a Sith Lord. Luke Skywalker had actually been training with Jedi Master Yoda, who hid for years on the backwater planet of Dagobah.
After Vader and his forces crushed the Rebels in the Battle of Hoth, he continued to search for his son. They eventually faced each other in a saber duel in Cloud City. After wounding Skywalker, Vader pleaded with son to join him. Vader wanted to destroy the Emperor, end the Civil War and rule the Galaxy together with his son as his apprentice. Luke refused and escaped.
The Empire built a second Death Star and the Rebel Alliance set out to destroy it. Skywalker knew his destiny was to face his father. He believed that his role was not to destroy his father, but to turn him back to the light side of the Force. Luke surrendered to Darth Vader and was taken before the Emperor.
The final battle of the Galactic Civil War was fought on many fronts. The Emperor lured the Rebels to the second Death Star and trapped their fleet between his own fleet and the functional, though incomplete, battle station. On the forest moon of Endor, a band of Rebels fought to knock out the shield generator that protected the second Death Star. In the Emperor's throne room, Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker fought for his destiny, as Darth Sidious tried to turn him to the dark side of the Force.
Luke eventually faced his father again in a lightsaber duel. After a moment of weakness revealed Luke's knowledge of his sister Leia to Vader, the Dark Lord promised to turn her to the dark side. Giving in to the dark side, Luke attacked his father and wounded him. Then he regained control and refused to fight. The Emperor, disgusted with Luke, began killing him with Force lightning.
Vader, realizing his life had been spared by his son, turned on his master and killed the Emperor. He died minutes later, after reconciling with his son.
The Rebels took down the shield generator and destroyed the Death Star. Both the war and the Empire were over.
The Sith Will Never Die
After the Battle of Endor, the Sith continued to cause problems for the fledgling New Jedi Order established by Jedi master Luke Skywalker. Using the deepest and darkest of the Sith arts, the ghost of Emperor Palpatine (Darth Sidious) eventually found its way to a new clone body. In an attempt to stop the new Emperor, Luke traveled to face him on the dark world of Byss. This resurrected Sith Lord managed to turn Skywalker to the Dark Side, but he was later saved by his Jedi sister, Princess Leia Solo.
Later, the ghost of ancient Sith Lord Exar Kun was awakened from its sleep deep within the Temples of Yavin IV when Luke set out to establish a new Jedi Academy in the old ruins. Kun's spirit corrupted two of Luke's students and trapped the Jedi Master in a spirit realm before Luke and his students were able to destroy the specter. They did this by using the light side of the Force to fight Kun in both the corporeal and spirit realms.
It's clear that as long as there are Jedi in the galaxy, there will also be the potential for the Sith to rise again.
The story of the Sith has played out over the years in many different forms. Below is an abridged list of where the Sith can be found in the Star Wars Universe.
- Episode I: Insider's Guide, LucasArts.
- Golden Age of the Sith #0, Kevin J. Anderson et al., Dark Horse Comics.
- Heir to the Empire, Timothy Zahn, Bantam.
- I, Jedi, Michael A. Stackpole, Bantam.
- Jedi Search, Kevin J. Anderson, Bantam.
- Jedi Search, Kevin J. Anderson, Bantam.
- The Last Command, Timothy Zahn, Bantam.
- The Making of Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Laurent Bouzereau, Jody Duncan, Random House.
- STAR WARS I: The Phantom Menace, George Lucas et al., Lucasfilm.
- STAR WARS II: The Attack of The Clones, George Lucas et al., Lucasfilm
- STAR WARS III: The Revenge of the Sith, George Lucas et al., Lucasfilm
- STAR WARS IV: A New Hope, George Lucas et al., Lucasfilm.
- STAR WARS V: The Empire Strikes Back, George Lucas et al., Lucasfilm.
- STAR WARS VI: Return of the Jedi, George Lucas et al., Lucasfilm.
- STAR WARS Encyclopedia, Stephen J. Sansweet, Del Rey.
- STAR WARS Episode I: Incredible Cross-Sections, David West Reynolds, DK publishing.
- STAR WARS Episode I: Scrapbook, Ryder Windham, Random House.
- STAR WARS Episode I: Visual Dictionary, David West Reynolds, DK publishing.
- STAR WARS Episode I What's What, Daniel Wallace, Running Press.
- STAR WARS I: The Phantom Menace, Terry Brooks, Del Rey.
- STAR WARS I: The Phantom Menace, Widevision Cards, Topps.
- STAR WARS: The Annotated Screenplays, Laurent Bouzereau, Del Rey.
- STAR WARS Timeline, a display at the Denver STAR WARS Celebration, according to J.O'Brien.
- STAR WARS Knights of the Old Republic, Video Game, LucasArts
- STAR WARS Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, Video Game LucasArts
- STAR WARS Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith, Video Game LucasArts
- STAR WARS: Behind The Magic, CD-ROM, LucasArts
- STAR WARS Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast, Video Game, LucasArts
- STAR WARS Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, Video Game, LucasArts
- Tales of the Jedi: The Sith War, Kevin J. Anderson et al., Dark Horse Comics.
- The Truce at Bakura, Kathy Tyers, Bantam.
- Star Wars Databank, web site