Star Wars is often focused on good versus evil, and one of the things we love about it is that it rarely moves into shades of gray – characters are either good or evil. It encourages us to cheer for the good guys, but part of its power is the magnetism of the bad guys. Let’s face it: your typical Sith lord is way cooler than your typical Jedi knight.
So let’s indulge ourselves today, and take a look at our favorite Sith lords in the Star Wars universe.
How do we define “best Sith lord” anyway?
But what makes a Sith lord the best, anyway? Are we talking about the most powerful Sith lords, or the villain with the greatest Force powers, or the most likely to win a lightsaber duel? Well, all of those things are good criteria, but let’s also add how successful each Sith lord was in accomplishing his or her goals, and who can ignore the sheer badassery of some of our faves?
So let’s get started.
8) Darth Tyranus
Few can touch Darth Tyranus, better known as Count Dooku, for style. Well-dressed, elegant and always ready with a pithy comeback, this stylish former Jedi master ruled an entire world and led half the galaxy in a war.
He’s the kind of Sith lord you could sit down with, sip brandy and politely debate the causes of the Jedi Civil War, or enjoy fine canapes over a lively discussion over the relative strengths of Darth Sion, Darth Nihilus and Darth Traya in the ancient Sith Triumvirate.
You’d know that lightsaber combat was inevitable, and that Dooku was going to try very hard to kill you, but you’d enjoy the moment. Especially when he fought you literally with one hand behind his back – I mean, seriously, that’s badass.
Honorable mention: Asajj Ventress
A different kind of badassery carried Asajj Ventress to fame in the fandom. Dooku’s apprentice until he turned on her, Asajj is one of the most interesting villains in Star Wars because she changes over time, going from a truly vicious Sith assassin into a vengeful free-lancer into a jaded bounty hunter and, finally, into something approaching virtuous.
7) Darth Krayt
Reaching back into the Expanded Star Wars Universe, Darth Krayt is a character many fans would like to see returned to canon. Basically, he’s a Tusken Raider Jedi turned bounty hunter who trained under Jedi Master Ki Adi Mundi, captured Aurra Sing, kept the dark secret of Anakin Skywalker, went into battle against Obi-Wan Kenobi, fell to the Dark Side, named himself after the krayt dragon he slew and overturned a thousand years of tradition to create the One Sith before becoming a new emperor…
Okay, so not all of that would fit into the new canon, but there’s a reason Darth Krayt is one of the most popular characters in Star Wars Legends. It wouldn’t take much to fit most of his life as we know it back into the galaxy.
6) Darth Maul
Another fan favorite, Darth Maul is the single best reason to watch the Star Wars animated TV series Clone Wars and Rebels. If all you’ve seen is the movies, Maul is a fairly minor character in Phantom Menace who looks cool and fights like a boss, but who ultimately has little screen time and no character development.
But enter Dave Filoni and the animated shows, and over many seasons we’re treated to a complex, damaged, cunning and ultimately tragic figure who earns some degree of our sympathy while still remaining utterly evil. Darth Maul was never the most powerful Sith lord, but he is one of the best Sith characters in all of Star Wars.
Honorable mention: Savage Opress
No discussion of Maul in the animated Star Wars universe would be complete without mentioning his brother, Savage Opress. Savage is a truly tragic figure, an innocent who enters the drama as a good and honorable man who is twisted into evil first by Ventress, then by Dooku and finally by Maul.
He believes the lies Maul tells him about how they’ll establish a new Sith order but is no match for the true Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Sidious, who arrives on Mandalore and demonstrates what real power in the Dark Side of the Force looks like. Savage is slain and, in keeping with the nature of Sith lords, is discarded and forgotten by both Sidious and Maul.
5) Darth Revan
Darth Revan is another Expanded Universe (now Star Wars Legends) character who’s currently not canon (although some will disagree with me…) but who many fans want to see return. And what’s really interesting about Master Revan is that the origin story comes from a most curious source: a video game. Revan is the central player-character in Knights of the Old Republic and thousands of fans have played him/her over the years.
Revan is portrayed as a man in the subsequent EU (now non-canon) books, but the original game let the player decide so I say that Revan’s gender is still up for grabs. And Revan is a total badass: a fallen Jedi / former Sith / maverick Force wielder with blood on their hands, a mysterious past and more Force power than you can shake a stick at. Add in the Mandalorian wars, the old Sith Empire and a battle that wipes out almost the entire Jedi Order, and you’ve got a pretty awesome Sith character.
4) Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader
You might be wondering why this Sith lord only ranks fourth in our list. I mean, Anakin / Vader is the central character for the first six Star Wars films, and the arc of those movies is centered entirely around his fall and redemption. Yes, and if this list was ranking Sith lords for pop culture influence in the past 50 years, Darth Vader would be so far out on top it would be silly.
But was he a good Sith? When we examine his actual record, it’s not exactly Dark Side gold.
When Emperor Palpatine revealed himself as Sidious and executed Order 66, Darth Vader was his hatchet man. Vader did a good job at slaughtering younglings, but an increasingly large number of Jedi escaped the purge and continued to evade Vader for years.
And let’s not forget that whole Death Star thing. Vader was sent there personally to oversee the first battle station’s maiden voyage – which ended in it blowing up. A few years later, Vader was sent to oversee the final construction of the second battle station – which ended in it blowing up. Dramatically, I know that George Lucas was just telling a good story, but I doubt the other Sith would have been impressed by Vader’s inability to stop a pesky band of rebels.
And, let’s be honest, Vader was unable to kill his son Luke Skywalker not once but twice. His connection to the Dark Side of the Force was strong, but far from absolute and eventually he turned on his own Sith emperor and went back to the light.
In his darkest moments, Vader was certainly powerful, certainly evil, and most definitely badass, but of all the Sith lords we’re talking about today, he definitely had the softest heart. That makes him a complex and fascinating character, but not quite the best Sith.
Honorable mention: the Inquisitors
Although not technically Sith lords, the Inquisitors were pretty badass. Former Jedi broken by Darth Vader and charged with hunting down the surviving members of the Jedi Order after Order 66, the Inquisitors were ruthless, ambitious, ill-tempered and stylish in their shades of red and black. Powerful Dark Side users, they terrorized the galaxy during their two-decade reign and are a worthy addition to Star Wars villainy.
3) Darth Plagueis
The Sith lord who lived just before the events of the Star Wars movies, Darth Plagueis was the master to Darth Sidious and in the thousand years since the Great Sith War was perhaps the first to come close to achieving immortality. Building on the knowledge of all the masters before him, Darth Plagueis brought his own immense power into focus as he searched for the secret of eternal life. The goal of every Sith lord, Plagueis was notable for just how close he came.
But before he could complete his goal, Darth Plagueis was murdered by his apprentice and the Sith “Rule of Two” continued its deadly trajectory.
2) Darth Sidious
The apprentice of Plagueis was truly a Dark Lord of the Sith. Darth Sidious accomplished what none of his predecessors could do: he created a Sith empire with him at the apex of power as Sith emperor. With his masterful manipulation of galactic events, his seductive influence over Jedi such as Dooku and Anakin, his creation of the destructive Clone Wars, his mastery of the lightsaber and his vicious Force lightning, Emperor Palpatine was unquestionably one of the most powerful Sith of all time. He crushed the Jedi, exile being the only alternative to death left open to the survivors, and consolidated all power in the galaxy into his own person.
And not only was Sidious a Dark Side master, he was wicked cool as a character. Thoroughly evil in his guise as Sidious, he could still hide in plain sight as the soft-spoken, “favorite uncle” figure of Palpatine. He clouded the vision of some of the most powerful Jedi in history and defeated them so utterly that strong men like Obi-Wan Kenobi and even Master Yoda lost all hope. Sidious achieved what the Sith had worked toward for a thousand years.
So why does Sidious not top our list of best Sith? Simple. He succeeded… but only for a while. Within twenty-five years his Empire was destroyed. He went into hiding and rebuilt his forces in a new, horrific Sith Eternal – and was defeated again. He came close, but ultimately Sidious failed.
1) Darth Bane
But you know who didn’t fail? Darth Bane, perhaps the most legendary Sith lord in all of Star Wars. He’s another character who hails from the Expanded Universe / Legends, but he made the official leap back into canon during a single episode of Clone Wars, when Yoda encounters his ghostly form during a kind of Force spirit quest. Much of his story is still undetermined, since almost everything we know about him is non-canon, but we do know that Darth Bane is the ancient Sith who created the Rule of Two.
He understood that the nature of the Dark Side is to destroy, and that the Sith would never rule the galaxy or destroy the Jedi because it was inevitable that Sith lords would turn on each other. So Bane set out to accomplish something truly diabolic: he destroyed the Sith in order to save it.
According to Legends, Darth Bane and his apprentice Darth Zannah discovered a weapon that could kill any Force-user in the vicinity. They encouraged their Sith comrades to attack a Jedi enclave, then activated the weapon. Both the Jedi and the Sith were killed, but whereas the Jedi Order survived in the wider Republic, all the Sith (except Bane and Zannah) were wiped out.
Bane had no interest in being a Sith emperor over the galaxy. Instead, he wanted to defeat the Jedi and establish a new order for the Sith to grow their power in darkness, with a master who held the power and an apprentice who craved it. The Rule of Two personified the essence of the Dark Side and allowed the Sith to survive unmolested for a thousand years until they struck again.
Bane may also be the only Sith to ever achieve immortality. Although even the Legends sources are unclear, it’s possible that Bane managed to transfer his consciousness to his apprentice before he died. And even if he didn’t, his deeds were so infamous that his name lived on for a millennium, with Yoda knowing who he was the moment his ghost appeared.
Star Wars and the Dark Side
Star Wars is known for its heroes, but every great hero needs a great villain to counter. And looking back over the best Sith lords of the galaxy, it’s easy to see why the stakes in Star Wars were always so high. Sometimes it’s fun to love the villain even as we hope they fail, and from Bane to Ventress we’ve had no shortage of awesome characters.