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The Sith is an organization of preternaturally-gifted warriors in the fictional Star Wars universe. It is an ancient interstellar quasi-religious kraterocratic institution with an agenda of galactic domination, led by members who seize power through physical force, social maneuvering or political cunning.
Individual Sith are characterized by their lust for power and their desire to destroy the Jedi Order–a philosophically and politically opposed organization of altruistic warriors who seek to use their own special abilities to advance the common welfare. In contrast to the beliefs of the Jedi, the Sith philosophy lionizes greed, lust, selfishness and the attainment of power regardless of the cost to others. Both Sith and Jedi alike may draw on an arcane reservoir of vitalistic power–the Force–to achieve a variety of superhuman feats. However, in keeping with their egoistic doctrine, the Sith use these powers for their benefit alone, often (and avidly) to manipulate and destroy others. The Sith are key villains within the Star Wars universe, and are enslaved to their own self-serving desires; amoral, sadistic, vindictive, violent and ultimately self-destructive.
- 1 Overview
- 2 History Within Star Wars "Legends" Media
- 3 Development in the Star Wars Franchise
- 4 Notable Affiliated Characters
- 5 In Popular Culture
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Within the space opera setting of Star Wars, the Sith are an affiliation of warriors who cultivate a legacy of forbidden martial arts in pursuit of individual power and galactic domination. Their schemes are key to the overarching plot of the Star Wars films and much other fictional material in the franchise. Frequently opposed by their ancient forebears, the Jedi, the Sith have also been stymied at crucial junctures by internal frictions. The notion that the Sith’s cruel and selfish philosophy is ultimately self-defeating on both a personal and institutional level is a running theme within Star Wars media.
Origin and Early History
The origin, agenda, abilities and philosophy of the Sith are intertwined with their relationship to The Force—a mysterious, pervading energy field somehow generated by living things. With proper training, the Force may be called upon by rare individuals capable of "sensing" or "touching" it to achieve extraordinary feats such as telekinesis, precognition and mental suggestion. Not all psychological states are conducive to employing the Force; discipline is required. However, both quietude and focused, intense passion alike can be effective. The Sith originate in a group of Force-sensitive warriors who discovered efficaciousness of passion as a tool to draw on the Force many centuries prior to the events of the first Star Wars film. Fully embracing this approach, they became defined by it.
The warriors who would become the first Sith were apparently heterodox members of an older martial order of Force-sensitive sapient beings in the Star Wars universe: The Jedi. The Jedi served as a space-faring knightly order within the Galactic Republic, a representative democracy encompassing most developed worlds. In this capacity, the Jedi Order sought to use the powers of the Force to help defend the weak, preserve peace and advance the rule of law across the galaxy, in keeping with their organization’s ethics of self-sacrifice and service to the common welfare. The Jedi creed mirrored their method of utilizing the Force, and Jedi doctrine admonished states of serenity, detachment, compassion, and humility as the proper means of accessing its power. When certain members of the Jedi Order began to experiment with passion as an alternative, controversy emerged. The Jedi establishment saw these innovations as a threat to the ethos of the Jedi, opening members to the seduction of selfishness, aggrandizement and cruelty. Eventually, this controversy led to a sectarian conflict in which the heterodox Jedi were defeated and exiled.
In exile, the dissident Jedi were free to explore the relationship between passion and the Force. Their investigations led them to conclude that the martial and ethical disciplines of the Jedi establishment were foolish and misguided. Passion, they found, not quietude, was the most potent means of accessing the Force. And the most effective passions were the darkest and most severe, such as anger, fear, aggression, and, at the summit, pure hatred. Upon these “empirical” findings the exiles would erect a new worldview and martial tradition—a mirror image to the creed and practices of the Jedi Order. Conflict, the exiles judged, not peace, was the natural state of the universe, and in such a world, only ruthless personal ambition, not self-abnegation, could be justified. To achieve power, the dissidents would devote themselves to mastering the Force by cultivating dark passions, a practice anathematized by the Jedi as taking recourse to the Force's "Dark Side." Guided by their kratocratic and egoistic philosophy and armed with taboo Dark Side techniques, the former Jedi exiles would reemerge to menace the galaxy as the Sith Order.
A succession of Sith-led regimes would arise to challenge the Jedi and the Galactic Republic. However, internal conflicts and power struggles would prove decisive in thwarting the Sith's designs. The paradox of reconciling endless personal ambition with corporate action would become a great practical and philosophical concern for the Sith. Ultimately, this paradox would be “resolved” through a drastic reorganization effected by a leader named Darth Bane, who recast the Sith in an esoteric lineal master-apprentice tradition known as “The Rule of Two.” Thereafter (at least, as a matter of orthodoxy) there would be only two Sith at a time: One to embody power, and another to crave it. Together, acting from the shadows, a succession of Sith masters and apprentices would work through the centuries to inveigle or force themselves into positions of power and undermine responsible government, preparing the Galactic Republic for eventual usurpation. The Banite tradition admonished each apprentice to eventually challenge and slaughter his or her master, and then take an apprentice in turn. In this way, Darth Bane believed that the kratocratic essence of Sith philosophy could be reconciled with a sustained project of galactic domination and revenge against the Jedi. The first six Star Wars films chronicle the consummation, and eventual undoing, of this ancient scheme.
Ascent to Power and Demise
Darth Bane’s plan would come to fruition through Sheev Palpatine, a Senator, later Supreme Chancellor, of the Galactic Republic, and secretly a Dark Lord of the Sith (“Darth Sidious”). By manipulating disgruntled factions within the Galactic Republic, Palpatine orchestrated a civil war. This conflict, known within the Star Wars universe as the “Clone Wars,” provided a justification for consolidating power in the Galactic Republic’s chief executive and assembling a large army of hastily cloned soldiers—surreptitiously conditioned to obey certain key commands issued by Palpatine. Although the Jedi eventually discovered Palpatine’s identity as a Sith and attempted to arrest him, this action was anticipated by Palpatine, who successfully framed their actions as an attempted coup, providing in turn a pretext for annihilating the Jedi by activating “Order 66,” one of the clone soldiers’ embedded protocols. In the course of effecting his designs, Palpatine also manipulated the Jedi’s most powerful initiate, Anakin Skywalker, into his service, by promising to teach Skywalker Dark Side techniques that could save the life of Padme Amidala, a Galactic Senator to whom Skywalker was secretly married in violation of Jedi rules, and whose death in childbirth Skywalker had preternaturally foreseen. In a tragic irony, Amidala’s sheer horror at discovering Skywalker’s collaboration with Sidious in destroying the Jedi would itself be the cause of her death during childbirth, though Sidious would trick Skywalker into believing that an episode of Skywalker’s physical abuse of Amidala had been the actual cause of her death. Skywalker’s subsequent emotional collapse would lead him to fully embrace the Dark Side of the Force and assume the persona of Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith.
With Darth Vader at his side, Palpatine would rule the newly-styled Galactic Empire for approximately 20 years as its Emperor. Initially unknown to Vader and Sidious, two children were successfully delivered by Padme before her death. One, Luke Skywalker, would be secretly tutored in the ways of the Force by Vader’s own former Jedi master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and a powerful elder Jedi, Yoda, who also survived Palpatine’s purge. Along with his sister, Leia, Luke would become a key member of a rebellion to restore the Galactic Republic. Ironically, during a final confrontation between Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and the Emperor aboard a mobile battle station known as the Death Star, the Sith lineage would end as Darth Bane prescribed that it proceed. The Emperor offered Skywalker an ultimatum to enter his service or die, and proceeded to use his Force-derived powers to torture and kill Skywalker when the latter refused to embrace the Dark Side of the Force. Experiencing a crisis of conscience at the imminent death of Skywalker, whom Vader now knew to be his son, Darth Vader chose to intervene and kill his master, the Emperor. Darth Vader would die of his own injuries shortly thereafter, thus apparently bringing an end to the Sith and their ancient vendetta.
Key Concepts and Nomenclature
The Sith are dedicated to the egoistic "Sith Code" and to mastering the Dark Side of the Force. Sith members, known as Sith Lords or Dark Lords of the Sith, traditionally use the title Darth-prefix before their Sith name. The Sith's Dark Side methodology, which draws on the Force through severe negative emotions, is antipodal to that of their archenemies, the Jedi, who rely on the Force's "Light Side," i.e., the Force as experienced through disciplined states of quietude and compassion. Notably, both the Jedi and Sith shun romantic and familial love, as the Jedi fear such love will lead to attachment, and thus selfishness, and the Sith fear it will compromise their connection to the Dark Side of the Force. Although the Sith are intimately linked to the Dark Side, not every "Dark Side"-user is a Sith; nor is every "Light Side"-user a Jedi.
The Dark Side of the Force is stigmatized as corruptive and addictive by the Jedi, who view it as evil. As portrayed in all Star Wars-related media, the Dark Side provides users with powers similar to those of the Light Side-using Jedi, but as it leverages passion and violence, its use is enhanced by negative raw and aggressive emotions and instinctual feelings such as anger, greed, hatred, and rage. Extended indulgence in the Dark Side creates a loss of humanity, morality, empathy, and the ability to love, leaving the Sith amoral, cruel, selfish, sadistic and violent. Considering this dark change in personality to be a transformation into a different person altogether, some who turn to the Dark Side take on a different name, as they regard their former persona as dead and destroyed. By deciding to learn the ways of the Dark Side of the Force, the Sith may also acquire powers and abilities considered by some in the Star Wars universe to be unnatural. A notable example is a form of directed dielectric breakdown called "Force Lightning," infamously used by the Sith Lord Darth Sidious to torture Jedi-initiate and rebel Luke Skywalker. Darth Sidious claimed that his own master could even use the Force to avert the natural deaths of those whose lives he wished to save. Being uninhibited in their use of the Force, Sith could also repurpose abilities shared with the Jedi, such as telekinesis, to new and terrifying effect: Darth Vader was infamous for his use of telekinetic strangulation, or "Force Choking," as a means of execution or intimidation.
Like the Jedi, the Sith's signature weapon is an extremely lethal focused energy melee weapon known as a lightsaber, which (generally) only those trained in the ways of the Force can use effectively. Sith use lightsabers in combination with Force-derived powers, such as telekinesis, enhanced dexterity and precognition, to achieve superhuman combat prowess. A fully-trained Sith is depicted as being at least a match for a well-trained Jedi Knight, and either can handily defeat multiple ordinary attackers armed with projectile weapons.
Thematic Role in Star Wars
The Sith worldview and modus operandi are often portrayed as self-destructive. Star Wars characters who “give into the Dark Side of the Force” and seek to use its power for their own narrow self-interest (or for morally dubious purposes on behalf of others, such as revenge) usually meet with tragic or terrible fates, or have their accomplishments eventually undone by characters with altruistic motivations. Several Sith, such as Darth Vader and Darth Sidious, provide spectacular examples of this trope. As manifest villains within the Star Wars franchise, the Sith appear to embody a kind of elemental moral error. Whether this error ultimately lies in the Sith’s embrace of passion itself, or rather in their selfishness and cruelty, is left ambiguous. Star Wars media occasionally hints that the Jedi may also be misguided in some measure.
History Within Star Wars "Legends" Media
Many of the stories featuring the Sith belong to a branch of the Star Wars canon now known as "Star Wars: Legends," and previously as the "Expanded Universe" (or "EU"), consisting of a variety of media created prior to the advent of the 2015 feature film Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Future authors and screenwriters are not required to honor all of the events depicted in this material, but the Expanded Universe has apparently remained a source of creative inspiration. Certain characters important to EU history, such as Darth Bane, have become part of broadly shared Star Wars canon. The EU thoroughly details the schism between the dissident “Dark Jedi” and the Jedi establishment that led to the creation of the Sith Order, as well a series of conflicts between the Sith, Jedi and the Galactic Republic spanning the millennia prior to the events of the Star Wars motion picture series, and certain events thereafter.
In the EU, the Sith trace their origins to the followers of a dissident Jedi named Exar Kun, who endorsed the use of the Dark Side of the Force, contrary to Jedi orthodoxy. After Kun and his “Dark Jedi” followers were exiled for their practices, they eventually settled on a planet named Korriban which was occupied by the “Sith,” a red-skinned humanoid race with a high prevalence of Force-sensitives. Over the course of centuries of intermingling between the ethnic Sith and Dark Jedi, the name “Sith” would come to apply to the martial philosophy and political affiliation created the former Jedi exiles on Korriban, rather than a specific race. This Sith regime would strike out at the Galactic Republic and Jedi on numerous occasions. Notable conflicts between the Sith and the Galactic Republic include the “Great Hyperspace War,” in which the Sith would launch a massive invasion of the Republic but succumb to infighting, and the “Sith Holocaust,” in which the Galactic Republic would unsuccessfully attempt to exterminate the Sith from known space, leading the Sith survivors to take a vow of eternal vengeance on the Galactic Republic. The EU also describes the exploits of Sith characters following the collapse of Emperor Palpatine’s Galactic Empire and the restoration of the Republic, such as the attempt by “Darth Krayt” to establish a New Sith Order on Korriban.
Development in the Star Wars Franchise
The word "Sith" was first used in the novelization of Star Wars, as a title for Darth Vader, the "Dark Lord of the Sith". The Sith were not formally introduced or mentioned on-screen until the release of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, in 1999, though they had been named in some Expanded Universe works before that time.
Because the term Sith was never spoken in the original trilogy (although Darth Vader was described as "Lord of the Sith" in the published screenplay), early Expanded Universe products usually considered the "evil Jedi," those who joined the dark side of the Force, as "Dark Jedi." In his novel series The Thrawn Trilogy, author Timothy Zahn labeled Sith Lord Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine as "Dark Jedi," and the term "Sith" was never mentioned in the series until later reprints of the novels. Dark Jedi is the name given in the Star Wars universe to antihero fictional characters attuned to the Force and adept in its dark side. The concept of "Dark Jedi" is not endorsed anywhere within the movie trilogies. They exist by that name only in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, including video games such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and the Star Wars: Jedi Knight series; the term is never used in any of the seven Star Wars films.
In the context of the Star Wars "Expanded Universe" of fiction, the term "Sith" originally referred to a species of Force-sensitive sentients indigenous to the planets Korriban and Ziost; these people were later enslaved and ruled by exiled "Dark Jedi" from the Galactic Republic. Following centuries of interbreeding and mixing of cultures between the aliens and the exiles, the Sith would no longer be identified by their race, but by their dedication to the ancient Sith philosophy.
- Star Wars Saga series
- Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (Sidious and Maul)
- Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (Sidious and Tyranus)
- Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (Sidious, Tyranus, and Vader)
- Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (Vader)
- Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Sidious and Vader)
- Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Sidious and Vader)
- Star Wars television series
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars film and series (Sidious, Tyranus, Maul and Vader (visions))
- Star Wars: Clone Wars (Sidious, Tyranus and Vader)
- Star Wars Rebels (Sidious and Vader)
The Star Wars saga began with the film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, which was released in 1977. Since then, films, books, computer games and comics have been released, all set in the fictional universe of Star Wars, which has expanded the history of the Sith within their stories.
Notable Affiliated Characters
Star Wars Canon Characters
Darth Bane established the Rule of Two within the Star Wars canon. This rule stated that there must be only two Sith Lords at a time: a master to embody power, and an apprentice to crave it and eventually overthrow his master and adopt an apprentice of his own. He is the main character of the Darth Bane Trilogy by Drew Karpyshyn.
Darth Plagueis was first referenced in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Plagueis is the main character of Star Wars: Darth Plagueis, and was the master of Darth Sidious. Sidious claimed that Plagueis's abilities in the Force grew to such an extent that he could create life by influencing microscopic force-sensitive entities called "midi-chlorians," and even save people from dying. The novel Star Wars: Darth Plagueis reveals that Plagueis' maintained an alternate, public identity as a member of the Intergalactic Banking Clan (which served as one of the Separatist groups during the Clone Wars) and that he was eventually killed in his sleep by Sidious.
Darth Sidious (in his public persona, "Sheev Palpatine") appears in the Star Wars saga films. Palpatine was a male human Dark Lord of the Sith who rose to power from being a Senator of the planet Naboo, to Supreme Chancellor of the Galactic Republic, and then to self-proclaimed Emperor of the Galactic Empire. Palpatine cultivated a public image as a humble and competent politician while secretly mastering dark Sith arts and planning the destruction of the Jedi Order and Republic. Eventually, by manipulating disaffected political groups and using double agents to sow discord, Palpatine fomented a civil war that provided an opportunity for him to seize absolute power. He had three known "Shadow Hands" (Sith apprentices): Darth Maul, Darth Tyranus and Darth Vader. He was eventually killed by his last, Vader, at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Darth Maul appears in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Maul was the first "Shadow Hand" of Darth Sidious in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Sidious sent Maul to find and capture the escaped Queen Amidala. Later on, he dueled Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi sent to protect Amidala, in the plasma refinery complex beneath Theed Palace. Although Maul was able to defeat Qui-Gon Jinn, he fell to Kenobi when the Jedi Padawan used his master's lightsaber to slice Maul in half. 12 years later, during the Clone Wars, his fellow nightbrother Savage Opress found him dumped on the junk planet Lotho Minor, where it was revealed that Maul survived the injuries from his last duel, due to his strength with the dark side of the Force as it fueled his anger against Kenobi.
Darth Tyranus (Count Dooku) appears in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones and Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith. Dooku is the second Shadow Hand of Darth Sidious in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, which reveals Tyranus had a prominent role in engineering the Clone Wars, recruiting bounty hunter Jango Fett to become the template for an army of clones to be used by the Galactic Republic. Tyranus led the Separatist Alliance during the Clone Wars until he met his demise while dueling Anakin Skywalker aboard the Invisible Hand in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker) appears in the Star Wars saga films. Anakin was a male human cyborg Sith Lord and the third Shadow Hand of Darth Sidious. A Jedi hero of the Clone Wars, he fought alongside his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, but was slowly seduced to the dark side by Darth Sidious. After helping Sidious kill Jedi Master Mace Windu, he swore allegiance to the Sith before setting out to destroy all Jedi left on Coruscant. After being sent by Sidious to murder the Separatist council members on Mustafar, Vader was badly injured in a duel with Kenobi. He was saved by Sidious, and encased in a black suit of armor with extensive cybernetics. As the Galactic Empire was established and continued to grow, Vader became the Emperor's greatly feared second-in-command and was given the task of finding the Rebel Alliance's base. After the destruction of the First Death Star, Vader was charged with tracking down the Rebel Alliance and destroying their headquarters. However, the actions of his son, Luke Skywalker, eventually turned Vader against his master, resulting in both Sidious' and Vader's deaths.
Star Wars Legends characters
Darth Revan (Star Wars Legends)
Darth Revan is in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. A Jedi hero who led the Republic to victory in the Mandalorian Wars, he and his Padawan, Malak, later unwittingly discovered the Sith Empire, hidden in the Unknown Reaches of space. The Sith turned Revan and Malak to the dark side, but the two broke free from their control and formed their own Sith Empire to wage war on the Republic, with Revan as the leader and Malak as his Shadow Hand. As a Sith, Revan prepared to battle with the Jedi who boarded his flagship, and Darth Malak, in the hopes of destroying both Revan and Bastila Shan, betrayed his master, ordering the ships under his command to fire on Revan's flagship's bridge. Revan was critically injured and taken by Bastila Shan to the Jedi Council Enclave. The Council chose to wipe Revan's memory, and imprint him with a false identity. Revan later awoke on a starship under attack and encountered Malak, who eventually revealed the truth of his identity. Following this, Revan defeated Malak in a final battle, claiming victory for the Republic.
Darth Caedus (Star Wars Legends)
Darth Caedus (Jacen Solo) was a Dark Lord of the Sith born as the oldest son of Han Solo and Leia Organa Solo. A Jedi hero of the Yuuzhan Vong War, he eventually fell to the dark side years later and masterminded the Second Galactic Civil War. He was however killed by his twin sister Jaina for his actions.
Darth Traya (Star Wars Legends)
Darth Traya (Kreia) is a mentor to the "Jedi Exile" in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords. She is revealed to have been a Sith Master at the end of the game.
In Popular Culture
Expanded Universe novels
The first Expanded Universe novel was Splinter of the Mind's Eye, written by Alan Dean Foster and published in 1978. The setting for this novel takes place between Episode IV: A New Hope and Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. It provides a new adventure that includes Princess Leia, R2-D2, C-3PO, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. In the story, Darth Vader tries to get the Kaiburr Crystal to use it for his evil schemes.
Other novels that depicted Sith characters were Darth Maul: Saboteur and Cloak of Deception by James Luceno. Cloak of Deception describes the political background surrounding the Republic in the time period before The Phantom Menace, as well as Darth Sidious' plans to rule the galaxy, starting with the blockade of Naboo. In Darth Maul: Saboteur, the Sith Lord Darth Sidious sends Darth Maul to destroy InterGalactic Ore and Lommite Limited.
In Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, by Michael Reaves, Darth Sidious sends his apprentice, Darth Maul, to investigate the traitor who leaked the secret of his plan to take down the Republic. Shadow Hunter provided insight into the Sith while detailing how Darth Sidious brought his plan of usurpation into action.
Star Wars comics
Dark Horse Comics purchased the copyrights to several Star Wars stories. With their publication of Star Wars: Dark Empire #1 in 1991, they initiated what has become a large line of Star Wars manga and comics. The Sith appear as major antagonists throughout this story's plot. Many of the comics that were published helped expand the backstory of the characters and followed the rise and fall of the Dark Lords of the Sith.
Star Wars TV series
Star Wars: The Clone Wars first aired on Cartoon Network in 2008. This series took place between Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. During this time, Anakin Skywalker is a full-fledged Jedi Knight and the series shows how he progresses into his fall to the dark side of the Force. Count Dooku is the active Sith Lord and leader of the Separatist Alliance. The series also explores Dooku's attempts at training secret apprentices like Asajj Ventress and Savage Opress in order to eventually defeat Darth Sidious and become the ruling Sith Lord.
Star Wars video games
Star Wars video games have also been adapted from the plots of the films, novels, and TV shows. The games follow the basic plot of the story, but they can also include alternative, non-canonical, endings depending on which character is being played.
Some of the video games that have a heavy focus on Sith characters and lore are Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, released in 2003, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords, released in 2004 and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, released in 2008.
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