A Dynasty of Evil: A Sith Lord Timeline
Calling Star Wars popular is an understatement. It’s one of the biggest films of all-time, while also becoming the rare franchise to build a very large and devout following. It’s spawned six films, countless books, a few tv spin-offs, video games, cartoons, action figures, and countless other media and collectibles. And despite George Lucas’ best efforts, it remains popular all these years later.
If you were to ask fans who their favorite character is, the most common choices would be Darth Vader or the “I shot Greedo first” Han Solo. If you limit the selection to characters new to the prequel trilogy, Darth Maul’s name comes up often. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Sith Lords in general are considered the ultimate of cool among Star Wars characters.
Vader was a bad ass in the original trilogy, choking the life out of anyone who displeased him complete with James Earl Jones’ imposing voice. And he had great theme music, the Imperial March. Then Episode 1 rolls around with Darth Maul and his double bladed lightsaber. He stole the show in that movie (not hard when your competition is a mini-Anakin and Jar Jar Binks) even though he’s barely on screen. But how much do you really know about these dark lords? Unless you dress up like a Stormtrooper every Halloween or worship the ground that Mark Hamill walks on, your knowledge of anything Star Wars probably derives solely from the motion pictures. But beyond the films is a whole Universe of information, ranging from books to cartoons. These other sources help supplement the original material and form and even more in-depth look at a galaxy long ago and far, far away.
Examining the Sith is no easy task. Their history is long and complex, spanning tens of thousands of years. And really, we don’t want to go into that kind of detail. However, you might remember this exchange concerning the Sith from Episode 1:
Yoda: Always two there are, no more, no less. A master and an apprentice.
Mace Windu: But which was destroyed, the master or the apprentice?
This brings up the Rule of Two in the Sith Order. The idea that at any time, there are only two Sith Lords in existence. That should make tracing their lineage somewhat easier, much like the chronology of kings and queens of Russia or France. It’s this segment of Sith Lord history that I wish to examine. Who were the Sith Lords before Darth Vader? How far back can we trace the line? One problem with that logic is that the Sith didn’t always operate under the Rule of Two. A little history is needed before the doctrine comes into play.
The Sith initially started as a humanoid species that was Force-sensitive, with their home on the planet Korriban. A warlord named Adas managed to briefly unite the inhabitants and a culture formed. Think of him as an ancient Genghis Khan. This cohesion would not last, however, foreshadowing the tension that would always exist between followers of the Sith philosophy. Sith itself became more of a religion, and the term evolved to describe those dedicated to the ancient Sith philosophy, not the people of Korriban. Many schisms would occur among its followers, leading some to follow the Dark Side and others the Light Side of the Force. Those on the dark side would become known as Dark Jedis, a term that soon became synonymous with Sith. It also led to the first use of the title Dark Lord of the Sith, a title bestowed upon the Sith leader. As the terms Dark Jedi and Sith merged into one, a Sith Order was formed representing the sect of the dark side of the Force. In a classic tale of good an evil, the Sith became known for being bent on destroying the Jedi.
Over the years, the Sith spent much of their time battling with the Republic or biding their time in anticipation of their next strike. One of the more famous names in Sith lore is Darth Revan. Here’s an amazingly in-depth article on him and his history. The Sith were constantly fighting the Jedis of the Republic, but often found themselves on the losing end of the skirmishes. But while the Sith often were defeated, their battles often hurt the strength of the Jedi Order as well. This would led to certain Jedis falling to the dark side and renewed conflicts. It wasn’t all defeat, however, as at one point the Siths conquered most of known space. But the Sith nearly proved to be their own undoing as they turned on each other, all but destroying their order. After the Great Sith War, only one Sith Lord survived: Darth Bane. To guard against the Sith destroying themselves or losing sight of their “ideals” once again, Bane took only one apprentice, restarting the tradition of the one master, one apprentice and that of passing the name Darth to each of his successors.
Thus starts the Rule of Two in the Order of the Sith, a doctrine which ushered in a new age of secrecy. Here is the known history of the Sith Lords under the Rule of Two from Darth Bane to Darth Vader in chronological order:
Born Dessel, he was raised as a poor miner on the Outer Rim planet Apatros. After killing a Galactic Republic ensign, he was sought by the authorities. On the run from the Republic, he was recognized as a Force-sensitive, and taken to the Sith Academy on Korriban.
He studied there for a time, quickly becoming one of the best students. He was taught the ways of the Sith under the existing masters, and on his own initiative frequented the archives in the academy to learn more about the Dark Side and the history of the Sith. He quickly realized true power came from knowledge, and to that end he devoted much of his life locating and studying the ancient teachings of the Sith. These actions were something that was discouraged by the current Sith Masters who emphasized their teachings, rather than continuity to the ancient Sith. Bane, as he was now known, would lose confidence in the Siths and its leader, Kaan. He deserted the order for a time, studied the holocron of Darth Revan, and, armed with new knowledge, helped destroy the existing Siths at the sixth battle of Ruusan.
This allowed him to create his own Sith Order where he promulgated a harsh new directive, the Rule of Two to avoid the infighting that had plagued the Sith for millennia. As he later stated to his apprentice Zannah, “There are no other Sith. There never will be, except for us. One Master and one apprentice; one to embody the power, the other to crave it.” Bane also began the teachings of patience, planning, and secrecy, and each Sith was to take on the title of Darth, a tradition that had dated back to the time before the Jedi Civil War.
Master: Various, before the Rule of Two
Apprentice: Darth Zannah
Fate: Unknown, probably killed by Darth Zannah or possibly the Jedi.
Known in her youth as Rain, Darth Zannah was born on the planet Somov Rit. She was one of many children recruited by the Jedi to the Army of Light in order to fight the Sith. However, she was presumed dead when she fell out of the starship that was carrying her. She survived the fall and was rescued by the Bouncer Laa, whom she befriended. Rain was one of the few survivors of the sixth battle of Ruusan, but soon turned to the dark side when Laa was haplessly killed by two Jedi. Overcome with with grief, Rain lashed out and killed the Jedi. Shortly after, she was found by Darth Bane who decided to make the young girl his apprentice in his his fledgling Order of the Sith Lords. She once stated of her master, “I am Darth Zannah, apprentice of Darth Bane, Dark Lord of the Sith. And one day I will destroy my Master and choose an apprentice of my own, continuing the legacy of the dark side.”
Master: Darth Bane
The timeline is murky between Darths Zannah and Cognus, but we know Cognus was a female Sith Master, or Dark Lady of the Sith, of the Iktotchi species that descended in the Sith lineage from Darth Zannah. Precognition is a natural ability of her species, and her name is probably an allusion to that. She took on an apprentice by the name of Darth Millennial, but he abandoned her teachings and she eventually took another apprentice as a replacement. Or you could say that Cognus. angered by the beliefs of her apprentice, drove him away. Either way, in her mercy, she allowed Millennial to live.
Master: Unknown, somewhere down the line from Darth Zannah
Apprentice: Darth Millennial, another
Millennial was a three-eyed mutant trained as an apprentice under Darth Cognus. He proved to be a talented user of the Force, but often disagreed on many aspects of the Sith with his master, Darth Cognus. She was firmly entrenched in Bane’s philosophies, including the rule that only two Sith Lords would exist at any one time. He was in disagreement with that principle, instead believing that there should be many Sith, with the leader being whomever was the strongest at any one time. A true Darwinist, he insisted it was natural for the strong to rule over the weak.
Millennial eventually split from his Cognus and fled to the remote planet of Dromund Kaas, where he sought refuge from his Master’s wrath. He started his own Sith tradition, the Prophets of the Dark Side, while his ideas were codified into the Dark Force religion. You might remember a line from The Phantom Menace, wherein a shocked Jedi Council member asserts that, “The Sith have been extinct for over a millennium!” Darth Millennial is believed to have become a Sith close to the time the Sith were believed to have become extinct, making his name literally prophetic.
Master: Darth Cognus
Fate: Millennial became the Supreme Prophet of the Dark Side as founder of a religion outside the Order of the Sith.
There again is a gap between Darth Cognus and where Darth Vectivus fits he. Known as a shrewd but fair business man, he got his start as the administrator of a mine on an asteroid near Bimmiel. I guess not every Sith can be as evil as Sidious, Vader, or Bane, although these days corporate businessmen seem pretty evil themselves.
The inherent dark side energies of the asteroid had been enhanced and as someone Force-sensitive, Vectivus could feel the energy held in the asteroid. He began to study it, performed experiments, and started to acquire new powers. After the dark side energies slowly began to drive his mining crews insane and the grade of the ore began to decline, Vectivus shut down the mine. He departed to seek out the Sith and years later returned as a a full-fledged Sith Lord. As a Sith, he was known as a master of long-distance manipulation.
Fate: He lived out the rest of his days surrounded by friends and family on the asteroid.
Also known as Darth Plagueis the Wise, he was a Muun and a very powerful Sith Master, although little was known of his origins. He was obsessed and spent an enormous amount of time trying to cheat death and create new life from the midi-chlorians that influence the Force. He did manage to learn how to use the Dark Side to control the midi-chlorians, even how to manipulate the Force to extend his own life. It is unknown how long Darth Plagueis lived, but he did not cheat death forever. Despite his great power and discoveries with the Force, his most infamous action came when he took Palpatine as his apprentice and named him Darth Sidious, although no one is sure how he came to train Palpatine.
Apprentice: Darth Sidious
Fate: Sidious, concerned with being replaced as Plagueis’ apprentice, eventually killed him in his sleep. As Palpatine said to Anakin Skywalker, “He became so powerful, the only thing he was afraid of was losing his power, which eventually, of course, he did. Unfortunately, he taught his apprentice everything he knew. Then, his apprentice killed him in his sleep.”
We have now reached the part of the timeline which the movies cover. Palpatine, aka Darth Sidious, was the last Chancellor of the Galactic Republic and after he engineered its collapse, the first Emperor of the Galactic Empire. He was able to take control of the galaxy and bring about an age of the Sith by finally triumphing over the Jedi. For these feats, many consider him to be the most powerful Sith Lord who ever existed. He was a calculating man with foreknowledge of the future that slowly built his dark empire.
He was able to establish his Empire by concocting a complex master plan, which involved starting the Clone Wars, a galaxy-wide conflict that cost billions of sentient lives. A native of the planet Naboo, Palpatine worked his way up in politics to become that sector’s senator in the Galactic Senate, gaining political support along the way. Unbeknownst to everyone, Palpatine also learned the ways of the Dark Side of the Force and became a Sith Lord. He orchestrated the Invasion of Naboo to win election as Chancellor, replacing then Chancellor Valorum with a no-confidence vote. Now Supreme Chancellor, he utilized Darth Tyranus to start the Clone Wars. Palpatine himself headed both factions of the War, the Galactic Republic as Chancellor and the Confederacy of Independent Systems through Darth Tyranus. This allowed him to prolong the conflict in order to gain more executive powers from the Senate. He played both sides to gain all the power he could, and when his power as Chancellor had reached its dictatorial peak, Palpatine abolished the Republic and replaced it with the first Galactic Empire with himself as leader.
As the Clone Wars ended, Palpatine fabricated a Jedi plot to overthrow the Republic, and instigated the great Jedi Purge that all but wiped out the Jedi order. Taking Darth Vader as his apprentice, he ruled the galaxy through fear, later disbanding the Galactic Senate all together. It would take many years before a rebellion was organized and strong enough to rise against him.
Sidious was always planning ahead and scheming. As an apprentice of Darth Plagueis, he began training his own apprentice, Darth Maul, without Plagueis’ knowledge. He may have trained other apprentices before Maul as well. But Sidious was no fool, he would not kill his master until he understood the lessons of Plagueis and had become powerful enough to defeat him. Although known for his scheming and great foresight, Sidious was a plenty good fighter as well:
and against Yoda…
Master: Darth Plagueis
Apprentice: Darth Maul, Darth Tyranus, Darth Vader
Fate: He was killed by his former Sith apprentice, Darth Vader, who dropped him down a reactor shaft during the Battle of Endor.
Darth Maul was a Zabrak born on Iridonia, the home planet of his species. Much of his early life is unknown, including his real name, but it is known that his Master, Darth Sidious, took him from his family at a very early age to be trained in the ways of the dark side of the Force. His training was complete when he was willing to kill his own Master in a duel. It has been said that he was forged by the hateful energies of the dark side to ensure the victory of the Sith over the Jedi. Simply put, Maul was a creature of pure evil, having no personality beyond his ultimate devotion to his Master. And his life goal was a simple and singular one, to exact vengeance upon the Jedi.
He is a key character in the Invasion of Naboo that takes place in Episode 1 when the Sith reveal themselves after their disappearance from the galaxy for the last millennium. The goal of the Invasion was to get Sidious, as Senator Palpatine, elected Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. Maul scouted the galaxy for the missing Queen Amidala before returning to Naboo for a battle against Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi. Though he killed the Jedi Master, he underestimated Kenobi’s skill, and was slain by the Padawan. Here’s some video of his undeniable skill:
Maul was a master of Juyo, Jar’Kai, and Teräs Käsi, and chose to use a red double-bladed lightsaber for combat.
Master: Darth Sidious
Fate: Cleaved in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi on Naboo.
Following the death of Darth Maul, Lord Sidious sought out another apprentice. With time of the essence, he was unable to train a new apprentice from birth, so he turned to the Jedi ranks. Dooku was a powerful, yet unsatisfied Jedi Master that had grown unsettled with the restrictions the Jedi put on the studies of the Force. Additionally, he was unsastified how the Jedi became entangled with politicians. After nearly seventy years as a Jedi, a disastrous battle on Galidraan shook Dooku’s faith in the Jedi and the Galactic Republic and he fell under the influence of Senator Palpatine, leaving the Jedi Order.
The heir to vast wealth and the noble title of Count on the planet Serenno, Dooku reclaimed his birthright and his vast fortune. After learning that Senator Palpatine was secretly the Sith Lord Darth Sidious, he turned to the dark side and became a Dark Lord of the Sith himself. As Sidious’s new apprentice, he was given the Sith name Darth Tyranus. He conspired with Sidious to force the galaxy into a war that would bring the Sith to power. He forged ties between corporations and planets discontented with the Republic, and became the leader of the Separatist movement that coalesced into the Confederacy of Independent Systems. Thousands of star systems flocked to Dooku’s banner and seceded from the Galactic Republic.
On Geonosis, the first battle of the Clone Wars broke out and Tyranus was confronted by Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. As a Jedi, Dooku became a respected instructor in the Jedi Temple and more importantly one of the most renowned swordsmen in the galaxy. Dooku had even trained Obi-Wan’s master, Qui-Gon Jinn, as a Padawan. He bettered the duo before Jedi Master Yoda interrupted him. Here’s the Sith Lord in action:
Master: Darth Sidious
Fate: Executed by Anakin Skywalker at the instigation of Supreme Chancellor Palpatine. Such is the way of the Sith.
Believed to have been conceived by midi-chlorians, Anakin Skywalker was born to Shmi Skywalker with no known father. At age three he moved to Tatooine where he and his mother fell under the domain of the Hutts. Anakin would win his freedom by capturing the famed Boonta Eve Pod Race, and quickly showed to be Force-sensitive. In fact, it has been said he had the most potential of any Jedi or Sith. Trained by Obi-Wan Kenobi in the ways of the Light Side of the Force, he soon became good friends with Chancellor Palpatine, who was almost like a second Master for him. His first obvious step towards the Dark Side came when he slaughtered an entire camp of Tusken Raiders over the death of his mother. Anakin also engaged in a forbidden love with the former Queen Amidala, and he and Padme were married soon after the start of the Clone Wars.
Throughout it all, Anakin continued to carry with him a great sense of loss in addition to great anger. He killed Count Dooku in cold blood at Palpatine’s insistence, taking another step towards the Dark Side. He had a vision that foresaw that Padme would die in childbirth, and became preoccupied with trying to save her. His inability to control all these traits led to his downfall when he turned to the Dark Side. Sadly, his fall to the Dark Side ultimately drove off the one thing he most loved in the galaxy, Padme. Apprenticing to Darth Sidious, he became Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire was founded with Palpatine at the helm. Vader was the Emperor’s right hand man, constantly on the move and traveling throughout the galaxy to defeat rebel uprisings or arrest corrupt Imperials. As a master of the Dark Side, Vader became the scourge of the Jedi, as the warriors were exterminated in the Great Jedi Purge, with only a few surviving. In a vicious lightsaber duel on Mustafar between him and his former Master Obi-Wan, Anakin was horribly wounded and burned, which is why he wears the trademark protective black armor and breath mask.
Padme did give birth to twins, Luke and Leia, although Vader remained unaware of their existence. It was only after Luke destroyed the first Death Star that Vader knew he survived. Initially, he fought the Rebel Alliance while concocting a plan to turn his son to the Dark Side. However, in his last confrontation with Luke, Vader finally returned to the Light Side by throwing Palpatine into the reactor core to save his son. Here’s Vader in action:
and in A New Hope…
and in Return of the Jedi…
Master: Darth Sidious
Fate: When he tossed Sidious down a reactor shaft, he was badly wounded by the Emperor’s Force lightning and his breathing apparatus short-circuited.
When Sidious is dropped down a reactor shaft, there was a presumed extinction of the Sith Order, thus fulfilling the Ancient Jedi Prophesy of the Chosen One. Of course the Expanded Universe of Star Wars knowledge doesn’t agree with this, as there are many stories that take place after the events of the Return of the Jedi. And logically, anyone can become a Sith Lord with the right Force-sensitive nature and with some of the teachings. But this ends the Rule of Two, so you’ll have to do further research on the other Sith Lords post-Vader.