The Sith are an ancient order of dark side Force users in the Star Wars universe. They have a long and complicated history, but one of their key tenets is the “Rule of Two” which states there can only ever be two Sith at one time – a master and an apprentice.
The History of the Sith
The Sith originated over 6,000 years before the events of the Star Wars films, when a rogue Jedi named Ajunta Pall split from the Jedi Order and founded the Sith tradition on the planet Korriban. The early Sith built a vast empire and were involved in many wars with the Jedi and the Old Republic.
Over the centuries, the Sith underwent many changes and power struggles. Sith Masters would train Sith apprentices, who would eventually turn on their masters and take over. This constant infighting for power is what eventually led to the downfall of the original Sith Empire.
After the fall of the first Sith Empire, the Sith were thought to be extinct for nearly 2000 years. They eventually resurfaced and reconstituted their order under Darth Bane in 1000 BBY (Before Battle of Yavin). At this time, Darth Bane established the Rule of Two to prevent the infighting that had destroyed the Sith in the past.
The Rule of Two
Darth Bane realized that the main weakness of the old Sith order was the internal power struggles between multiple Sith vying for power. To remedy this, he established the Rule of Two, stating:
“Two there should be; no more, no less. One to embody power, the other to crave it.”
This rule decreed that there would only be two Sith at any one time – a master to embody the power of the dark side, and an apprentice to crave that power and eventually overthrow the master. This ensured each new Sith Master would be more powerful than the last. It also minimized in-fighting and united the Sith in their ultimate goal of revenge against the Jedi and the Republic.
Key Points of the Rule of Two
- There can only be two Sith at any one time – no more, no less
- One Sith serves as the Master, the other as the Apprentice
- The Apprentice seeks to learn the ways of the dark side from the Master
- Once the Apprentice has learned all they can, they will challenge and attempt to kill the Master
- If successful, the Apprentice becomes the new Master and takes their own Apprentice, continuing the cycle
- This transfer of power ensures each new Sith Master grows stronger in the dark side
For nearly 1000 years, from Darth Bane to Darth Sidious, the Sith followed this Rule of Two doctrine, operating in secrecy as they sought to undermine the Jedi and the Republic.
Exceptions to the Rule of Two
Despite being a core Sith doctrine, there have been certain exceptions and deviations from the Rule of Two over the millennia:
Darth Tenebrous’s Apprentices
Around 200 BBY, the Sith Lord Darth Tenebrous broke the Rule of Two by secretly training two apprentices simultaneously – Darth Plagueis and Darth Venamis. However, when Venamis learned of Plagueis’s existence, he confronted Tenebrous, only to be killed. This consolidated the Rule of Two once again under Plagueis.
Darth Sidious’s Apprentices
During the events leading up to and during the Clone Wars, Darth Sidious (Palpatine) violated the Rule of Two by taking on multiple apprentices:
- Darth Maul was Sidious’s first known apprentice, who was defeated by Obi-Wan Kenobi on Naboo
- Count Dooku became Sidious’s new apprentice as Darth Tyranus during the Separatist crisis
- Anakin Skywalker was seduced to the dark side towards the end of the Clone Wars to become Darth Vader
For a brief period of time, Sidious had three apprentices simultaneously. However, this changed when Dooku was killed by Anakin on Sidious’s orders, once again returning to just two Sith Lords.
Darth Vader’s Secret Apprentice
Around 3 BBY, Darth Vader took on a secret apprentice named Galen Marek, codenamed “Starkiller”, without the Emperor’s knowledge. Vader trained Starkiller with the aim of one day overthrowing Sidious so they could rule the galaxy together. However, Sidious discovered the plot and forced Vader to kill Starkiller.
Could There Be 3 Sith After All?
Based on over 1000 years of Sith history and doctrine, the standard view is that there can only ever be two official Sith – a master and apprentice. Having three Sith at the same time has generally only occurred in rare exceptions or temporary deviations from the Rule of Two.
However, some argue the Rule of Two is not absolute and without exceptions. There are a few hypothetical scenarios where three or even more Sith could coexist:
If the Sith Order splintered into multiple factions that did not recognize each other’s legitimacy, each faction could have their own master and apprentice, potentially resulting in more than two Sith overall. For instance, if a powerful Sith Master’s two apprentices both claimed the mantle of master after defeating him, this could create two rival Sith factions.
Alliance of Convenience
Pragmatic Sith Lords may put aside the Rule of Two and work together if it served their mutual interests. For example, two weaker Sith could ally themselves with a stronger master if they shared a common enemy like the Jedi or Republic. However, this alliance of convenience would likely only last until their combined strength defeated the enemy, after which they would turn on each other.
A powerful Sith Master could conceal the existence of multiple apprentices from each other, similar to how Darth Tenebrous trained Darth Plagueis and Darth Venamis secretly. Each apprentice may believe they are the true heir to the master, only discovering the deception after the master’s death.
However, most Sith scholars argue these exceptions rarely last long before the legitimate Rule of Two reestablishes itself. The quest for power compels most Sith to seek dominance, not settlements. But the dark side can lead Sith to break even their most sacred traditions if it served their ultimate goals of power and vengeance.
The Rule of Two remains the orthodox doctrine of the Sith Order for over 1000 years. It promotes single-minded focus on accumulating power and weeds out the weak. Attempts to break the Rule of Two typically fail or are temporary violations at best. Having more than two official Sith at one time goes against over a millennia of doctrine. Yet the dark side can drive even the most dogmatic Sith to violate rules for their own benefit. So while unlikely and unstable, the possibility of three or more Sith cooperating, even briefly, cannot be completely ruled out.