Written by robotical712, all views expressed are my own.
In part three I explored the history of the Jedi and Sith. Now I’ll examine how that history culminated in the greatest Sith Lord: Palpatine.
- The Nature of the Force and Balance
- The Plans of Emperor Palpatine
- A Wound in the Force
- The Dawn, Rise and Fall of the Jedi Order
- Palpatine: The Ultimate Sith Lord <
- Downfall of the Jedi and Rise of the Empire
For a thousand years the Sith remained in the shadows, building their power. Each Master acquired knowledge and trained an apprentice. Each apprentice craved their master’s power and when they could learn no more, killed them and took their place. Ignorant of the Sith’s survival, the Jedi Order worked to preserve the Republic. In that time, the Order stagnated and rot spread through the Republic even as it grew. When the Sith found its champion in Darth Sidious, the Republic and Jedi were ripe for the plucking.
One Thousand Years of Peace?
The Sith plan from Darth Bane on was to always seek revenge on and destroy the Jedi. Yet a thousand years passed before Darth Sidious finally revealed the survival of the Sith and brought down the Republic and Jedi. Over the course of that thousand years were an unknown number of generations of masters and apprentices. Each expanded the knowledge and power available to the Sith, yet none attempted to bring down the Jedi or revealed the Order. Was this by accident or design? Why didn’t anyone attempt to do what Palpatine did?
The Sith place the personal pursuit of power above all else. Working towards a goal to be achieved in the future by another is rather uncharacteristically altruistic of a Sith. Each must have believed they were the one to bring down the Republic and destroy the hated Jedi. Yet each was replaced in time by an apprentice until Palpatine. As many masters must have thought up schemes to overthrow the Republic, there must have been times when their activities could have been discovered. Perhaps the Jedi were so secure in their belief in the Sith’s extinction they overlooked these signs. In any case, the Sith’s activities over the centuries must have contributed greatly to the stagnation and corruption of the Republic and Jedi.
Perhaps the key advantage Palpatine had over his predecessors was his powers of foresight. Eschewed by the Jedi, foresight allowed Palpatine to see the results of various actions. It is likely the Sith themselves refined this power over generations and it was Palpatine who perfected it. As we shall see in a later article, Palpatine would refine it to the point of being able to direct events decades after his apparent death. Early on, it would have been invaluable to allow him to work his way into the Republic political system and dispose of his master.
How Old is Palpatine?
In Legends, Palpatine’s origins were laid out in the book Plagueis. There he was apprenticed by Plagueis who explored manipulating life with the Force. It’s well received by many fans, however it’s also unlikely to be what Lucas envisioned. Reportedly, the canceled Underworld TV show would have gone into Lucas’s ideas for him. In that, Palpatine purportedly turned to the dark side after being spurned by a lover. If that is indeed what Lucas envisioned, it’s possible a version of that will become the Canon backstory, though Lucasfilm may decide that would be far too controversial for their tastes.
In any case, Palpatine was an apprentice of Plagueis’s and the two explored influencing the midichlorians and life in a bid to achieve immortality and perhaps more. Eventually, Palpatine killed Plagueis in his sleep and became the reigning Sith Lord. We also know he spent time on Dathomir and considered Mother Talzin as an apprentice before settling on her son, Maul. At some point prior to 44 BBY he became the senator from Naboo (note: Palpatine first met Jedi Master Dooku as a Senator in Jedi Lost which is also around that date).
Straight forward enough, but it all gets very interesting when one considers the timeline. Per Tarkin Palpatine was 65 when he became Emperor, which would put his birth in 82-86 BBY. Maul was roughly six when Palpatine kidnapped him and he was born in 54 BBY. Therefore, Palpatine took on Maul as his apprentice around 48 BBY and was on Dathomir for a time prior to that. In the famous Revenge of the Sith opera scene, Palpatine says Plagueis learned how to create life and implies Anakin’s birth was a consequence of this knowledge. Anakin was born in about 42 BBY which puts his conception in 43 BBY.
The strange part is that he appears to have been on Dathomir alone for a significant amount of time. Either Plagueis gave him an improbable amount of independence or he was already out of the picture. Palpatine would have been 36 when he took Maul as an apprentice and his time on Dathomir would push back the date he killed his master further. So we need to believe either Plagueis let his apprentice learn secrets of the Force out of his sight for an extended period of time or Palpatine learned everything he could from Plagueis and killed him before he was in his mid-thirties. Both seem unlikely.
In the course of looking into Palpatine’s age, I came across a transcription of an old tweet (since deleted) from Pablo:
This is startling as Dooku was born in 102 BBY, eighteen years before the date given in Tarkin. Either Pablo transposed the two Sith or the information in Tarkin is wrong. (I attempted to clarify with Pablo and Matt Martin, but received no response.) What would explain the information in Tarkin then? First, the information is the same given in Plagueis, which Luceno also wrote. Second, the book is one of the first Canon novels and it’s possible the Story Group simply missed it or didn’t realize it would be something that should be left ambiguous at the time. It’s also of course possible they’re keeping the Legends birth-date, however the alternative is far more intriguing.
If Palpatine had used the dark side to artificially extend his age, he would not be the first Sith to do it:
“Did you know that Sith Lords could sometimes drain the Force energy from their captives? Siphoning life from them and using it to strengthen their connection to the dark side? Extending their own lives, as well, so that they could live for centuries beyond their intended expiration?“Yupe Tashu, Aftermath
As Yupe Tashu was Palpatine’s advisor on the Sith, he would have also known about this power. However, the Opera scene suggests an alternative to what is essentially vampirism:
Palpatine: I thought not. It’s not a story the Jedi would tell you. It’s a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith so powerful and so wise, he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create… life. He had such a knowledge of the Dark Side, he could even keep the ones he cared about… from dying.
Anakin: He could actually… save people from death?
Palpatine: The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.Revenge of the Sith
After Mace’s death:
Anakin: Just help me save Padmé’s life. I can’t live without her.
Sidious: To cheat death is the power only one has achieved, but if we work together, I know we can discover the secret.
As the only people Sith care about are themselves, “the ones he cared about” is no doubt self referential. What’s particularly interesting is Palpatine states that only one has cheated death. Anakin and the audience of course assume this was Plagueis, yet note Palpatine stated earlier that Plagueis taught his apprentice (aka Palpatine) all he knew before he was killed. Logically, Palpatine would not need to learn a secret he already knew, nor would immortality be something he would pass up. Therefore, the only person who’s cheated death… is Palpatine himself!
The idea Palpatine is the one who has cheated death carries some significant implications. First, he’s likely quite a bit older than assumed. This means he’s had a lot more time to learn the secrets of the dark side and execute his long term plan of taking over the Republic. As he is the reigning Sith Lord, this reduces the number of Sith generations there were since Darth Bane. Second, one way or another, he’s directly responsible for Anakin’s birth. It’s possible Sidious deliberately triggered the birth of the Chosen One per the prophecy. Third, it opens up the possibility Maul Palpatine’s first Sith apprentice, but not his first student.
Only Two There Are
Perhaps the one rule the Sith adhered to was the Rule of Two. Each master took on one apprentice at a time until seceded by that apprentice. Perhaps Darth Sidious’s biggest advantage over his predecessors was he interpreted it to only apply to Sith apprentices. While he only trained a single apprentice at a time, he had no issue with other Force sensitives serving him or even his apprentices. He allowed Dooku to train Asaj Ventress and then had him dispose of her when he deemed her a threat. The Count then took on Savage Opress, presumably with Palpatine’s approval. After Order 66, Palpatine formed the Inquisitorious to hunt down Jedi and placed them under Darth Vader. The rule of two was a rule to be followed – loosely.
One of the more surprising revelations during The Clone Wars television series was Dooku was the one who arranged for Sifo Dyas’s (a childhood friend of his) death before the events of The Phantom Menace. This means Dooku must have been serving Sidious prior to becoming a Sith. This brings up a question, how many other Force sensitives had served Palpatine and in what capacity? Dooku became the public leader of the Seperatist movement, but any other servants would have had to be in the shadows. One of these servants may have even been Snoke.
The Long Game
Sith teaching emphasizes using anger and hatred to bolster the Sith’s power. Darth Sidious is thus remarkable in that he isn’t driven by hatred or anger. He’s driven by the pure pursuit of power. Transgressions against him never go unpunished, but he does so at a time of his choosing and often in a way that furthers his other goals. Where he instilled an insatiable thirst for revenge against the Jedi in Darth Maul, Sidious himself seeks to destroy them as a threat to him and his plans. Even when Maul attempted to rival him, Sidious refrained from killing him. The Sith Lord used him to find the real threat against him – Mother Talzin – and allowed Maul to escape once she was destroyed. For Sidious, there are only tools and obstacles.
Palpatine’s drive for power and patience coupled with his powers of foresight allowed him to rise to become the greatest Sith Lord in history. Assuming he is indeed considerably older than he appears, it is likely Sidious spent several decades under Plagueis until he had learned the secret to cheat death. At that point, he had all the time he needed and eliminated his Master. Palpatine, however, learned from the mistakes of his predecessors and did not take on a proper Sith apprentice for a long time. In all likelihood, he found a selected a few individuals to assist with his plans, but did not train them as Sith. This way, Sidious could build his own power to a point; a mere apprentice could not threaten him.
As Sidious accumulated knowledge and power, he would have been very careful to keep his activities hidden. While he certainly would have taken the opportunity to directly weaken the Jedi or Republic when it presented itself, such moves would have been very carefully thought out and weighed. Crime syndicates and other less than savory types would have been his natural tools and used as needed. At the same time, Palpatine would not have lost sight of his long term goals and every step would have set plans in motion that would eventually wear down the stability of the Republic and breed corruption across the galaxy.
By the time Dooku was an initiate, Palpatine’s strength in the dark side was becoming palpable for those Jedi willing to listen to the Force (Sifo Dyas’s master, Lene Kostana, tried to warn the Jedi Council something was coming for years in vain). Indeed, the awakening of the Tirra’Taka on Serenno was likely partially in reaction to the shift in the Force. Across the galaxy, places, people and things touched by the dark side became restless. All the while, the Jedi remained oblivious to it (in all likelihood, one of Dooku’s first tasks under Sidious was keeping it that way by eliminating Lene Kostana).
When Maul was born in 54 BBY, Sidous was ready to execute his grand plan. Finally ready to take on an apprentice, the Sith Lord traveled to Dathomir and worked with Mother Talzin for a time. He promised to make her his apprentice, but he was really drawn to the potential of her young son, Maul. Betraying Talzin, Palpatine kidnapped Maul and trained him in the ways of the Sith in about 48 BBY. As Palpatine is already a Senator in 44 BBY when Dooku first meets him, it’s likely he was appointed to the Senate some time in the previous four years. In all likelihood, Palpatine was responsible for a few premature deaths in the course of gaining the office.
Some of the greatest mysteries of the franchise surround Anakin’s birth. Did Palpatine directly create him or was his conception the Force’s response to the Sith? If he was a response, what was Palpatine doing that resulted in his birth? Perhaps Palpatine knew of the prophecy (or the Sith had their own version) and deliberately triggered his birth, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless, it’s likely Palpatine was experimenting with creating the ultimate Force sensitive or making himself one. In Palpatine’s quest for ever more power, he likely realized he needed a being with the potential to manipulate the Force greater than any that had ever lived (more on this later).
With a seat in the Senate and an apprentice, Palpatine could start to reap the seeds he had planted so long ago. Piracy was on the rise, particularly in the outer rim, and the rapid expansion of the Republic led by, Trade Federation colonization efforts, resulted in the Judicials being severely overstretched. The Republic’s inability to protect its members led to a rise in private security forces. No doubt arranged by Palpatine, Serreno became a victim to raiders after it attempted to go it alone. Dooku’s brother refused to pay Serreno’s dues to the Republic and, when raiders seized the world, the Senate refused to help. In defiance of the Jedi Council’s decision to side with the Senate, Dooku traveled to his birth-world to help. After routing the raiders and overthrowing his brother, Dooku left the Jedi Order to become the leader of his world.
It’s not clear how much of a hand Sidious had in Dooku’s fall.2 Dooku and Palpatine had only met just prior to Dooku leaving for Serenno, but it is certainly not impossible Palpatine identified Dooku as a possible asset much earlier. Regardless, Dooku was the perfect person to become the focal point for the burgeoning discontent in the Republic. After luring Dooku to the dark side, Sidious put him to work setting the galaxy on a course for war. On the Republic’s side, Dooku murdered his one time friend, Sifo-Dyas, after the latter commissioned a secret clone army in response to visions he had of a coming war.3 On the other side, Dooku fanned secessionist sentiments across the galaxy and secretly made deals with major corporations to supply droid armies.
With all of the pieces on the board, it was time to take control of the Republic. After engineering the Naboo crisis, Palpatine succeeded in gaining the Republic Senate’s Chancellorship, the most powerful office available. His bid for the Senate did not come without cost however. Unexpectedly, the young Queen of Naboo turned out to be more resourceful than he anticipated and fled the system. Not able to let the Jedi and Queen jeopardize his plans, Palpatine was forced to send his apprentice, Darth Maul, and reveal the existence of the Sith.
Palpatine suffered a more significant setback when he sent Maul to dispatch the two Jedi he had encountered on Tatooine. Maul succeeded in killing Qui-Gon, but fell to his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Qui-Gon’s death would have unforeseen consequences, however, as he was fast becoming the father figure the boy with the greatest potential ever measured, Anakin, needed. Obi-Wan, newly promoted to Jedi Knight, took on Anakin as his apprentice in keeping with his promise to his dying master. For his part, Palpatine took a great interest in the young Skywalker.4
With Maul’s death, Palpatine made Dooku his apprentice with promises they’d rule together. However, Palpatine now desired Anakin and worked to gain the apprentice’s trust and friendship. Over the next ten years, Sidious played the part of the seemingly benevolent, but overwhelmed Chancellor, in public. Behind the scenes, he subverted the institutions of the Republic and worked to lay the seeds for an Empire. By the time the Clone Wars had begun, it was all but too late to stop him.
- Maul’s interest in the underworld was highly unlikely to have been unique among the Sith. Syndicates and gangs were natural tools for the Sith and likely contributed significantly corruption in the Republic.
- My rule of thumb when it comes to seemingly random events: “When in doubt, blame Palpatine.”
- Whether Palpatine and Dooku simply took advantage of the clone army or manipulated Sifo-Dyas into creating it is an open question, but see note 2.
- Qui-Gon’s death would in fact have even greater consequences down the line and set in motion Palpatine’s downfall and the Jedi’s salvation.