The dark shadow of the Sith looms once again over the Star Wars galaxy - but just who are these powerful beings, and how is Kylo Ren connected to them? George Lucas envisioned the Jedi and the Sith as the Star Wars equivalent of yin and yang, one standing for the light side of the Force, the other for the dark. The final Sith Lord was Darth Sidious, who brought about the Sith's revenge upon the Jedi and formed the Galactic Empire.
Over the years, the old Expanded Universe fleshed out the history, philosophy, and dark powers of the Sith in a tremendous amount of detail. That culminated in a supposedly in-universe reference book, The Book of Sith, written by Daniel Wallace and purporting to be a collection of Sith literature compiled by the Emperor himself. But when Disney purchased Lucasfilm, they made the decision to erase the Expanded Universe from continuity, branding all this material as "Legends". That allowed Lucasfilm to start again, and while they've clearly taken a lot of ideas from the Expanded Universe, the details do differ.
Viewers had believed the threat of the Sith was defeated forever when Darth Vader betrayed and killed his Master on the Second Death Star. The trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker proved otherwise, revealing that the Emperor somehow survived the Battle of Endor, or returned from the dead. That means this is a perfect moment to take stock of everything we know about the Sith to date.
Ancient Sith In Star Wars' History
The ancient history of the Sith Order is something of a mystery, but there have been a few tantalizing hints. In Marvel Comics' Star Wars #19, Luke Skywalker unlocked a series of ancient Jedi Holocrons, one of which revealed that the Sith were a splinter group from the Jedi Order. "Once we were brothers in the Force," it explained, "but from the Hundred Year Darkness were born the Sith." This was confirmed by the online Star Wars Encyclopedia, which claimed it all began with a single rogue Jedi Knight, who believed that the true power of the Force could only be claimed by tapping into its dark side. The Jedi Council cast this unnamed Jedi out, but he swiftly drew followers to his side. These early Sith inevitably found themselves drawn into conflict with the Jedi, but were defeated and driven into hiding; they settled on the barren world of Moraband.
Centuries passed, and the Sith flourished in the shadows, growing in both power and numbers. They learned how to tap the power of Kyber Crystals in order to create weapons of unimaginable power, and using these crystals, they launched a devastating attack upon the Republic. They were initially successful, laying claim to large chunks of the galaxy and establishing Sith shrines and temples on worlds as diverse as Coruscant and Yavin IV. The Sith were eventually driven back, and the Jedi and the Sith became locked in a constant cycle of war. In the end, though, the ancient Sith were brought down because of their devotion to the dark side, which encouraged each Sith to claim superiority over the rest. They fell to in-fighting, and were wiped out by the Jedi. But, though the Jedi didn't know it at the time, a single Sith survived: Darth Bane.
Sith Philosophy & The Rule of Two
Darth Bane recreated the Sith Order approximately 1,000 years before the events of the Skywalker saga, centering them around a principle known as the Rule of Two. He mandated that there should only ever be two Sith at any one time, a Master and an Apprentice, one to crave power and the other to wield it. Each Master would eventually be replaced by their Apprentice, usually in brutal fashion, thus guaranteeing that every generation of Sith would be greater than the one before. (This is why Darth Sidious attempted to kill Maul during The Clone Wars, because he had already taken another apprentice - Count Dooku.)
In addition to following the Rule of Two, the Sith also adhere to the Sith Code, sometimes called the Qotsisajak; it's designed to contrast with the Jedi Code. It sets out the basic philosophical concepts that underpin the Sith Order, and it reads as follows:
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.
Notice that, where the Jedi Code is about union with and submission to the will of the Force, the Sith are all about self-fulfillment. Each Sith desires mastery of the Force as a means to an end, an ultimate expression of their own character and strength.
The Sith In The Star Wars Movies
That brings us neatly to the Sith of the Star Wars movies. The Sith returned to the shadows for millennia, carefully manipulating events so as to lead to their ultimate triumph. They seem to have encouraged the Jedi Order to become increasingly affiliated with the Republic; the Jedi relocated their temple to Coruscant and constructed it atop a Sith shrine. This entire approach proved to be a fatal mistake, because it bound the Jedi and the Republic far too closely together, and the Republic's imperfections introduced flaws in the Jedi Order as well.
The Sith's plans culminated in the rise of Darth Sidious, otherwise known as Palpatine, who proved himself the greatest Sith Lord of all time. Palpatine orchestrated a growing political crisis, and took advantage of it to become Chancellor and grant himself Emergency Powers. He played both sides of a growing political divide, with his apprentice Darth Tyrannus - Count Dooku - taking charge of a Separatist movement. Soon it became an outright war, with the Jedi on the front lines, leading armies of clones against the droid army. All was proceeding as Palpatine had planned; the Jedi's numbers were reduced and their relationship with the light side of the Force damaged by the compromises of war. In the end, Palpatine issued Order 66, and the Clone Troopers turned on the Jedi and slaughtered them.
Meanwhile, the Jedi had discovered the Chosen One, Anakin Skywalker, who they believed was destined to destroy the Sith. Unfortunately, they made the mistake of allowing Palpatine to get close to Anakin, and he was able to capitalize on Anakin's attachment issues and lure him to the dark side of the Force. Anakin ultimately became Darth Vader, Palpatine's final apprentice, and together Darth Sidious and Darth Vader ushered in the age of the Empire. This lasted over 20 years, until Vader felt the call of the light side of the Force once again, after discovering the existence of his son, Luke. Anakin Skywalker gave his life defeating Darth Sidious, and the time of the Sith seemed to have come to an end.
However, the first trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker revealed that Palpatine either survived his apparent demise or somehow returned from the dead. Meanwhile, he had carefully set plans in motion for after his death, and thus a new power base was created, the First Order. For unknown reasons, though, Palpatine didn't initially take the throne of the First Order; the power vacuum was instead filled by Supreme Leader Snoke, who Lucasfilm has stressed wasn't a Sith.
Why Kylo Ren Isn't A Sith (But Can Become One)
Palpatine's return may mean the Sith are threatening the galaxy once again, but it's important to note that Kylo Ren himself isn't a Sith. At best, Kylo Ren is a dark Jedi or perhaps a Sith cultist, someone who is drawn to the teachings of the Sith but appears to have just a superficial knowledge of them. There are certainly traces of the Sith in his garb, and the masks that both Kylo Ren and his Knights of Ren wear are reminiscent of those donned by the ancient Sith. But Kylo Ren is mostly drawn to the dark side as a result of Supreme Leader Snoke's manipulation, and as noted, Snoke was no Sith.
However, that doesn't mean that Kylo Ren can't become a Sith. He has always had an unhealthy degree of veneration for his grandfather, and doesn't truly seem to understand that Vader returned to the light. As a result, it's not hard to envision a scenario in which Kylo Ren fell under the Emperor's sway, the grandson of Darth Vader choosing to become Darth Sidious' latest apprentice. But the Star Wars saga contains ample evidence of just how contemptuously Palpatine considers his apprentices, meaning at best, Kylo Ren would become the Emperor's latest pawn.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019