Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.
– The Code of the Sith
The overarching story of Star Wars is really the story of the Jedi, and to a greater extent the Republic, versus any threat to the prosperity and happiness of the Republic’s countless citizens. The greatest of these threats was the Sith Empire. From the standpoint of The Old Republic in the Star Wars story, the Sith have a complex and in some ways mysterious past, with an intriguing yet in some ways tragic future yet to come. Wars fought for their own sake, and struggles within, as well as struggles without, have crippled the Sith for millennia. The Sith Order itself has evolved and developed over time, yet they always remain constant in their teachings on the dark side. The only reason the Sith ever unite is due to the presence of a strong enough Sith Lord to keep them all in line. As a rule, the Sith always gnaw at each other, and stabbing each other in the back to gain further rank and power in the Sith hierarchy. Even though this simple rule never really changed in all their history, the ancient Sith were very different than their “movie” counterparts. In the end, who can really blame them? Such is the nature of the dark side itself.
Firstly, I would like to examine the Sith culture on the basis of its values regarding society and the galaxy at large. I also want to point out that when I say Sith culture I mean any sentient beings living in the Empire at large, not just the ones swinging crimson lightsabers and stabbing people in the face with them. This excludes slaves, as I feel confident that they have unique and varied attitudes towards the society that enslaved them, ranging from obedience to defiance. I am talking about the run-of-the-mill citizens of the Empire. The easiest way to sum up their philosophy is that those with strength should rule over those who are weak. This basic idea permeates their entire class structure. A Grand Moff knows that he is superior to those who are subordinate and will treat them accordingly. Sith, i.e., the Force-users, are running the show because they have the power to do so. Those who are “superior” must continually prove that they are stronger and more powerful than those under them in the hierarchy to keep their position.
In many ways the Sith are akin to hierarchical animals. Like a pack of wolves, when the alpha male who rules the pack shows any sign of weakness, usually due to old age, some younger male wolf will fight and kill him to become the new alpha male. Eventually he will become older and weaker, and be taken down in turn; the vicious cycle repeats itself. This breeds a strong and ruthless form of politics within the Sith Empire. Those who either do not know the in and outs or have no stomach for such endeavours, like Darth Malgus, end up on the short end of almost every situation.
This principle is a double-edged sword for the Sith. On the upside, only the strong survive in the Empire. This means that only the strongest will rise to the top and the weakest will fall to the bottom—at least in theory. On the downside, this constant strife amongst the Sith destroys any hope of solidarity between them. When a Sith Warrior charges the front lines, he has to worry about the Sith Inquisitor who may shoot him in the back with lightning for his own advancement, as well as be concerned about the lightsabers of the Jedi he is rushing headlong into fighting. It is analogous to fighting a war on two fronts.
At this time I think it might be prudent to point out that while all Sith are dark Jedi, not all dark Jedi are Sith. There are many different force users in the Star Wars universe; some are dark force users, such as the Krath and the Nightsisters of Dathomir, but are not Sith. A Jedi from the Order can fall to the dark side, but this does not make them a Sith, just a dark Jedi.
Force Choke and Lightning are two powers reputed to have been developed by the Sith. So far in the Old Republic, only the Sith classes appear to have access to these powers; yet it’s feasible that a Jedi on the dark side might earn one of these powers from the lightside/darkside system, though at the time of this writing that is pure speculation. In the movie era, these powers are used by many Force-users, including the Jedi. Jedi Master Plo Kloon used Force lightning once on Metellos, while tracking down a criminal who had killed a family and kidnapped their five year old daughter. Even Luke Skywalker himself uses Force choke on those pesky Gammorian guards at Jabba’s palace. Anakin uses Force Choke many times during the Clone Wars—including on his pregnant wife Padme—before he had received his formal Sith training.
Two powers that, as far as I know, have never been used by Force-users outside of the Sith Order are Sith Sorcery and Sith Alchemy. Sith Sorcery, also called Sith Magic, was very similar to the “common” form of magic we see in fantasy MMOs. Practitioners could use it to hurl lightning, force victims to see horrific hallucinations, create illusions and many other effects. Darth Zannah was a famous Sith Sorceress. She was able to reach deep into her victim’s mind and dredge up their greatest fear, making that fear manifest in front of their eyes. For example, if her victim was terrified by baby Ewok Jedi, then they would see a swarm of the little furries charging at him, surging over him, clubbing him with their little lightsaber staves. This left the victim shell-shocked, locked in the horror of his own mind’s creation. Sounds like a cool crowd control ability to me.
Sith Alchemy was the ability to change living creatures into mutants, and to alter the molecular structure of inanimate objects. Through this alchemy the ancient Sith created their famous war swords, which were able to stand up to lightsabers and also be sharper than could otherwise have been possible. In an illustration in Ryder Windham’s Jedi vs. Sith; The Essential Guide to the Force, the Rancor, among other creatures, is depicted as a Sith-created monster. Sith Alchemists could also create mind-controlling poisons or infuse different creatures with the corruption of the dark side. A comic book called, appropriately, Darth Maul, tells a story that took place shortly before Episode 1. Maul met a Nightsister who was working for the criminal syndicate, Black Sun. She saw him use his lightsaber to cut down her boss’s thugs and also witnessed Maul using his force powers. This Nightsister, named Mighella, realized at the last moment that he was no ordinary assassin but a Sith Lord.
Sith could be considered to be a title in and of itself, meaning that a Sith is a descendant of a long standing Force tradition rooted in the ancient Sith empire. I also feel that it is a fair observation that the Sith have a greater knowledge and understanding of the dark side than any other Force-user tradition in Star Wars history.
Speaking of history, I think it is time for us to examine the history of the Sith. Around 7,000 years before the Battle of Yavin (BBY), a sub-faction within the Jedi started to use the Force to create dark side mutations, a forerunner to Sith Alchemy. This sub-faction started a war with the Jedi that lasted for a century and was known as the Hundred-Year Darkness, also known as the Great Schism of the Jedi Order; this was actually the second schism if you’re keeping score. In the Star Wars; The New Essential Chronology by Daniel Wallace, he explains how this war played out.
The Dark Jedi raised an animalistic army—some of their soldiers monstrous, others merely pitiful. During the war’s later years, their science birthed Leviathans, living superweapons that shambled across battlefields and drew life essences into the blister-traps that speckled their broad backs. The dark lords made a last stand on Corbos, where Jedi hunters and evil rivals obliterated most of them, along with nearly all other life on the planet. The surviving dark lords fled beyond the Republic’s borders, emerging in uncharted space, where they discovered the Sith species.
The Dark Jedi were treated as gods by these powerful yet malleable people. With unlimited resources and willing slaves, the Jedi exiles forged the Sith civilization into a new empire, bringing about a golden age of evil while separated from the Republic by the vastness of the galaxy. Over millennia, the dark rulers of the Sith Empire lost their star charts and hyperspace maps, so that they no longer even knew how to locate the Republic.
Over the next two thousand years, both the Republic and the Sith Empire existed in complete isolation from each other. Both sides never forgot the Hundred-Year Darkness, but as time wore on, the atrocities and horrors of that war became legend. While in seclusion, the Sith Empire grew strong, conquering several systems around Korriban. The Dark Jedi interbred with the Sith people, and eventually these unions brought forth the Sith Pureblood species. Pureblood to me seems a misnomer, since by the time of The Old Republic the Sith as a species had died out, and these “purebloods” are only part-Siths like Naga Sadow and Marka Ragnos.
It was also during this two thousand year period, known as the Golden Age of the Sith, that powers like Sith Sorcery and Alchemy were created and refined into their present forms. The Sith Lords, as the Dark Jedi exiles now called themselves, used metal Sith Swords, not lightsabers. I agree with Tal-N (in his Kar’Tayl:Lightsabers Part 1 article) that the Sith probably liked the visceral feel of cutting through their opponents with a metal sword as opposed to a lightsaber; either that or their swords, tempered with Sith alchemy, could have given them special abilities. Aggression, or bloodlust if you want to call it that, is a path to the dark side, after all.
At this point in Star Wars history, the galaxy was largely unexplored. Many intrepid adventurers were exploring throughout the galaxy, scouting out new hyperlanes (paths a ship can take through hyperspace safely). In 5000 BBY, two hyperspace scouts stumbled upon Korriban, although the Force may have willed them to find it. What resulted was the Great Hyperspace War, which brought both civilizations back into conflict again. In the end the Sith are defeated and effectively exterminated; however, one Sith Lord fled to the Uncharted Sector of the galaxy and continued a new Sith Empire. This is the Sith Empire that is in conflict with the Republic of TOR.
For the next four thousand years, when a threat to the Republic appears, that threat punches the Republic in the face first, only to be beaten back eventually by the Republic and its Jedi defenders. Exar Kun, the Mandolorians, Revan, and the three Sith Lords of Knights of the Old Republic 2 rise to power but are defeated in the end. The Old Republic itself follows this same formula, at least in the beginning; we don’t know how the story will end at the time of this writing. Each of these stories and wars are interesting in their own right, but I want to skip forward a little to the Battle of Ruusan; it was at this time that the next evolution in the Sith philosophy came into play: the Rule of Two.
About 1,000 BBY, the Sith, known at the time as the Brotherhood of Darkness, were fighting the Jedi, called the Army of Light. The Brotherhood of Darkness contained many Sith Lords, all of whom were equal in rank. One among them, Bane by name, was sickened by what passed for a Sith Lord during his time. After taking the ancient title of Darth, Bane manipulated the leader of the Brotherhood of Darkness into unleashing the thought bomb, which wiped out all the Jedi, but also all the Sith. Only Darth Bane survived. He found an apprentice and then established a new Sith order based on the following historical quote:
Two there should be; no more, no less. One to embody power, the other to crave it.
– Darth Bane
In many ways, the Rule of Two was the turning point in the Sith philosophy. Before this time, the Sith were legion. Like some galactic zerg fest, the Sith tried to conquer the galaxy based on superior numbers, a war of attrition. If not for the infighting amongst them, they would have had a good chance of conquering the galaxy. Also, many Sith Masters had been the victim of ambushes of multiple “lesser” Sith. Who knows what ancient and powerful secrets of the dark side were lost because of these incidents? After the Rule of Two, however, all that infighting that had been crippling the Sith for millennia was eliminated for the most part. At the end of the Rule of Two, in Palpatine’s time, we see that on more than one occasion either Palpatine or his apprentice, whoever that would be at the time, trained several people in Force techniques with the expressed intent of killing the other Sith Lord. Dooku wanted to overthrow Sidious with Savage Oppress, and both Sidious and Vader wanted Luke to join them to kill the other. Vader had also trained Starkiller, and although that was a ruse, it is believed that he trained him as a Sith. In this instance again, the Emperor tries to get Starkiller to kill Vader and become his shiny new Sith apprentice. Many Force sensitives were trained as well; they were called Acolytes because they were not taught the secrets of the Sith to become true apprentices. Aside from these cases, the Rule of Two was respected: there was only a master and apprentice at any one time.
Another interesting facet of Darth Bane’s Sith Order was that the Sith were no longer a vast galactic army. In fact, they were believed to have been destroyed by the Republic the Jedi themselves. The Sith went into hiding, secreting themselves away to begin the long-term plan to overthrow the Republic from within. Over the next thousand years, the Sith began corrupting the Senate and amassing wealth, power, and influence in the galaxy at large. All the while they remained in the shadows, with no one truly knowing that the Sith even existed. Eventually, like the Hundred-Year Darkness millennia before, the Sith became little more than legends, used by parents as bogeymen to frighten their wayward children. By the time of the Battle of Naboo, almost a thousand years later, it was almost too late to stop the Sith’s corruption.
When Darth Bane created his new Sith Order, based on the Rule of Two, it made the Sith more powerful as a whole. Instead of the dark side being diluted into many Sith Lords, since there were only two Sith, the dark side is distilled into the master and apprentice. This potentially makes them more powerful because they do not have to worry about another Sith coming along to steal their secrets. I suppose it would be easier to keep your eye on one other Sith than a whole galaxy full of them.
Darth Krayt, who lived 125 years after the Battle of Endor, disregarded the Rule of Two and created a Rule of One. Krayt himself is the Lord of the Sith and all of the other Force-users are subordinate to him. The Rule of One, at least in theory, is where all of the other Force-users swear loyalty to the Sith Order itself; however, even Krayt’s order is splintering into factions, all ready to betray each other for their own advancement. Only Krayt himself is able to keep them in line, otherwise they would, like many of their ancestors, tear the Sith Order apart. In many ways, it’s almost like the original Sith Empire.
As you can see the Sith have evolved over the centuries, reinventing themselves over and over again. They are able to dynamically adapt to the changing social and political climate of the galaxy at large. The Jedi try to promote the idea of peace and tranquility as a goal of all society, but they must be mindful that they don’t fall to complacency and stagnation. Ultimately I think that is what allowed the Sith to finally overthrow the Republic. The Jedi had not been challenged by the Sith for a thousand years; they also did not consider themselves part of an army. In Episode Two: Attack of the Clones, Mace Windu says that they are keepers of the peace, not soldiers. This is in stark contrast to the Jedi in The Old Republic. In TOR, the Jedi are there on the battlefield right alongside the troopers. While I am not trying to say that the Jedi were “rusty” in the era of the Clone Wars, I do want to point out that after the Ruusan Reformation (I will tackle this topic in another article later) the Jedi Order reorganized itself, and settled on being the peace keepers that Mace mentions. The Jedi of the movie era were not trained to be out on a battlefield fighting wars. This cannot be said of The Old Republic Jedi. The Sith, by creating the conflict later referred to as the Clone Wars, were forcing the Jedi into a role that they were not accustomed too. When Yoda fights the Emperor in the novel for Revenge of the Sith, he has an inner monologue about him realizing that he and the Jedi have already lost. He realized that the Jedi were training to fight the last war; I am assuming he means the one that ended on Ruusan, and that the Sith he was fighting with was not the same as the Sith of that previous time. Sidious, with his alter ego Palpatine, completely controlled every aspect of that war because he was in charge of both sides. When the Republic got too many victories in the war and were doing well, suddenly the Separatists would win several key battles because he would supply them with the military intelligence that they would need to take out key military objectives in the war. Keeping this up, and vice versa, he could potentially keep the war going indefinetely. Even though this was all part of a plan that had been worked on for a thousand years, I really give Palpatine credit for actually putting the plan into action.
As I stated in my “The Darkside, Good or Evil?” article, I don’t think that any Star Wars fan would seriously contend that Palpatine was not the embodiment of evil. However, as I also stated in that article, I do not think that the Empire of TOR, in general at least, is all evil. There are probably good people there in a bad place, trying to make the best of where they are in the galaxy. I am almost certain that there are some citizens of the Empire that revel in the dark side and have no qualms about punching puppies. Because of the enactment of the Rule of Two we see in the movies, we can say that all the Sith of those times were evil. Palpatine’s apprentices may have been more or less wavering towards the light or the dark, but at one point in their stories they had to make a choice after which there was no going back. Ultimately each of them started following the dark path in the end. In the Old Republic, I don’t believe this was the case. So I really think that if someone is a Sith, we can’t say whether they are good or evil because of that title.