Star Wars is bringing back the Sith in Star Wars 9 thanks to the presence of Sith Troopers, but that's just the latest example of the saga retconning what the Sith really are. The Sith have a long, complex history in both Star Wars canon and Legends, dating all the way back to George Lucas' original plans for the series.
The Sith are, of course, the direct opposite to the Jedi: they're the Dark Side to the Jedi's Light; the yang to their yin. However, while the Sith played a major role in the galaxy, their part in Star Wars was seemingly over when Darth Vader killed Emperor Palpatine and returned to the Light Side, thus meaning there were no Sith left alive.
Enter Star Wars 9, which is bringing back Palpatine and as such, the Sith, but it's also introducing a new twist to the mix with the form of the Sith Troopers. These are a new addition to canon, but Star Wars has actually been changing the Sith constantly almost since the very beginning.
The Sith In George Lucas' Original Story
The word 'Sith' is never actually said in the Star Wars Original Trilogy, but that doesn't mean George Lucas hadn't already thought up the term. Indeed, the Sith are present in his early story ideas for what would later become Star Wars. In Star Wars: The Rough Draft, written in 1974, Lucas has the Jedi Bendu as legendary but near-extinct warriors who are being hunted down by the Knights of Sith. This version of the Sith was to be an order working directly for Emperor Palpatine, which Lucas envisaged as being similar to Adolf Hitler's Schutzstaffel.
Over the course of Lucas' changes, they became the Black Knights of the Sith and eventually the Dark Lords of the Sith. These initial story plans included other Sith, including Prince Valorum, a Sith Knight who dressed in black armor and eventually turned against the Empire to join the heroes. The Sith's role in Star Wars was condensed down, with parts of Valorum's character being amalgamated with General Darth Vader, who became a Lord of the Sith as per the screenplay and official Star Wars novelization, even if he wasn't called that in the movies.
The Sith In Pre-Prequel Expanded Universe
After the Original Trilogy but prior to the Prequels, much of what was being created within the Star Wars galaxy came from the Expanded Universe, a series of books, comics, video games, and other media that continued the stories of the beloved Star Wars heroes and also considerably developed the mythology and lore of the entire universe, which included the Sith.
Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi continued to tell stories of the Sith and flesh out their history, with the comic book run - first published in 1993 - detailing the Great Sith War and eventually the Fall of the Sith Empire, events that took place thousands of years before the Original Trilogy. That in turn had a major influence on two seminal Star Wars works: Star Wars: The Old Republic and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, since they built upon the setting created by Tales of the Jedi and events and elements depicted within, such as the planet Korriban and the Great Hyperspace War. Tales of the Jedi was also an influence on Yavin 4, which was retconned to include Sith Temples after it became a Sith-occupied planet during the series.
1991's comic book series Dark Empire, written by Tom Veitch and illustrated by Cam Kennedy, was another of the first and most notable inclusions of the Sith in the Star Wars Expanded Universe prior to the Prequel Trilogy. Set after Return of the Jedi, it finds Emperor Palpatine coming back to life in clone bodies, attempting to turn Luke and Leia before eventually fighting against them. The idea of Sith living after death wasn't uncommon after this: the Jedi Academy Trilogy featured the fallen Jedi, Exar Kun (who'd previously appeared in Tales of the Jedi and also the Old Republic comic series), whose dark spirit served as the series' antagonist. Something similar happens with another Dark Lord of the Sith, Marka Ragnos, who again made appearances in the comics before his spirit, a Force Ghost, was the villain in Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy.
The Sith Species
Alongside the Sith in Star Wars movies, there is also the Sith race, a.k.a. Red Sith or Sith Purebloods who, according to Star Wars Legends, were the original race from which the Sith Order eventually derived. The Sith were a species of red-skinned humanoids who lived on the planet Korriban, and were preternaturally drawn to and gifted in the Dark Side of the Force. Alongside their red skin, they were notable for their facial tentacles and bone spurs. The Sith fought amongst themselves for thousands of years, before eventually forming an empire that was ruled over by a Dark Lord.
Around 6,900 years before the Battle of Yavin, and coming after the hundred-year darkness, a group of exiled Dark Jedi landed on Korriban. Their skill in the Dark Side of the Force made them seem like gods to the remaining Sith species, and the two began to inbreed for thousands of years, leading to the formation of the Sith Empire.
The Sith In The Prequels
For all the Sith are very much considered an intrinsic and iconic part of Star Wars and they were present in George Lucas' original story ideas, it's the much-maligned Prequel Trilogy that does a lot of the heavy lifting as far as the Sith's place in Star Wars canon is concerned. It's here that the word Sith is used for the first time in a Star Wars film, and the rules and philosophies they adhered to began to be fleshed out.
In The Phantom Menace, the Sith return from their millennia of hiding thanks to the rise of Darth Sidious, who is masquerading as Senator Sheev Palpatine, and his apprentice Darth Maul. Although it wouldn't be completely described until Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it's in The Phantom Menace that the Rule of Two was introduced to Star Wars canon. That is, the idea that there are only ever two Sith at any one time: a master to wield the power of the Dark Side, and an apprentice to train under them until they're ready to take their place. This Rule of Two, however, clashed with what the Expanded Universe had established about the Sith, which was as a grand Empire that had fallen and risen many times. To get around this, it was introduced that Bane had killed all of the Sith, and then implemented the Rule of Two philosophy.
This was all part of a grand revenge plan orchestrated by Darth Sidious, who climbed the ranks of the Galactic Senate, manipulating those around him until he was ready to fully strike, which included executing Order 66 - the destruction of all Jedi - and installing himself as Emperor. In Palpatine's story, too, we find another key addition to Sith lore, thanks to the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise. This isn't just to convince Anakin to join him, but also establishes how the Sith are driven by a quest for immortality and power, and further hammers home the idea of a constant betrayal between master and apprentice. It was in the Prequel Trilogy, too, that the prophecy of the Chosen One was first revealed, with the Jedi believing that this savior would be the one to destroy the Sith. Anakin, believed to be the Chosen One, ended up joining the Sith instead, as a devasted Obi-Wan pointed out to him on Mustafar.
The Sith After The Clone Wars
After the Prequel Trilogy, Lucasfilm continued the story with animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which itself further fleshed out the mythology of the universe and made some big changes to what's come before. Much of this came in Season 6's "Sacrifice", where Yoda traveled to the Sith's homeworld. In Star Wars: The Clone Wars the Sith's homeworld of Korriban was changed to Moraband, although they're essentially the same planet by two different names. Here it's also revealed that Sith cannot become Force Ghosts, contradicting what the EU had previously established through the likes of Marka Ragnos, but it's since been revealed in the book Aftermath that they can drain the Force energy of other individuals, strengthening their connection to the Force and extending their lives.
It's in Star Wars: The Clone Wars that Darth Bane is formally introduced too, appearing as a vision on Yoda's mission on Moraband. This is where The Clone Wars became particularly important in what we know of the Sith, because it stripped away a lot of the previously established lore behind them, leaving instead only Bane and his Rule of Two as a means of effectively tidying up the mythology. Our understanding of Light and Dark is enhanced too, thanks to the "Mortis" arc which introduces the Son and the Daughter, too Force-beings, one for each side, who keep the Force in perfect balance, which shifts things away from the idea of the Sith needing to be destroyed in order to create a perfect balance.
The Sith Troopers In Star Wars 9
Star Wars 9 appears to be bringing the Sith back in a big way. Emperor Palpatine will somehow return in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which may establish that he learned the final skill his own master, Darth Plagueis, never did: the ability to cheat death oneself. If that is the case, then it's another power-skill to be attributed to the Sith, but while that's speculation, what we know for sure is that Star Wars 9 will include Sith Troopers.
These red Stormtroopers were revealed just before San Diego Comic-Con, and while their appearance is striking, it's the word 'Sith' in their name that's most intriguing, because there so far haven't been any Sith in Disney's Sequel Trilogy. The name suggests they might be connected to Palpatine, but the fact they're supposed to be the next evolution of the First Order Stormtroopers instead fits with them working for Kylo Ren. This is another big change, because Sith Troopers first appeared in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic as soldiers of the Sith Empire.
That could be setting up Kylo Ren to become a true Sith himself in Star Wars 9, or it might simply be adopting the name for another purpose, taking it away from the Sith Empire and Dark Lords of the Sith as previously established in canon, and applying it to the Stormtroopers. This wouldn't just be a big change of the name Sith in Star Wars 9, but it'd also loop back around to the original ideas George Lucas had for the Sith. Prince Valorum, one of those original Sith, became a Stormtrooper; now, Star Wars is giving the Sith name to Stormtroopers too. It's almost like it rhymes.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019