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In STAR WARS lore, the Jedi channel the Force as galactic peacekeepers. Their opposites are the Sith Lords, masters of the dark side of the Force whose destructive and manipulative abilities are in service to a deep desire for power and conquest.
There can be only two Sith at any one time — a master and an apprentice — and they traditionally use the designation Darth as an honorific indicating their status. (Also, "Darth" sounds pretty scary.) The most famous Sith in STAR WARS movie history are Darth Vader and his master, the Emperor, aka Darth Sidious. Because there can only be two Sith at any one time, we haven't seen a lot of them in the movies — here are the Star Wars Sith Lords ranked in terms of power.
In STAR TREK there's a joke about redshirts, those anonymous crew members who are the first to die on an away mission to a new planet. Darth Maul isn't quite the STAR WARS equivalent of a Dark Side redshirt… but he's close. This cool-looking character, played by stuntman Ray Park in 1999's THE PHANTOM MENACE, takes part in a visually-impressive lightsaber duel with Qui Gon Jinn and Ben Kenobi before being sliced in half and falling down a shaft to his (supposed) death. The TV series "Star Wars: Rebels" and eventually a brief scene in SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY proved that Maul has found a second life. Still, there's no question that the guy is on the low end of the Sith power structure.
The unfortunately-named Count Dooku, played by legendary actor Christopher Lee, is a former Jedi who allies with Emperor Palpatine in ATTACK OF THE CLONES. He becomes the Emperor's second apprentice, following the death of Darth Maul, and his existing mastery of the Force made him a strong Sith warrior, taking the name Darth Tyranus. As leader of the Separatist movement, he helped foment rebellion against the Galactic Republic and, in a battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, he severs Anakin's right arm. He was handicapped from the start, however, due to the fact that the Emperor really only say Tyranus as a stepping stone to recruiting Anakin.
There are many Sith Lords which appeared only in books, comics and other aspects of the old Star Wars Extended Universe, many of which are no longer officially part of the STAR WARS storyline. Then there's a figure like Darth Bane, who appears in two places: the novelization of THE PHANTOM MENACE, and in an episode of the "Clone Wars" TV series. We're including Bane because he is important as the Sith Lord who instituted the "Rule of Two," which says there can only be two Sith at any one time: a master and an apprentice. When the apprentice becomes powerful enough, that Sith slays their master and supplants them, and eventually chooses a new apprentice. Bane is said to have been a powerful leader — he was strong enough to outlive all the other Sith of his time, back when they were as numerous as Jedi — and to enforce a rule that lasted for centuries.
Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side was completed in REVENGE OF THE SITH, and by the time of STAR WARS the one-time Jedi had become not just an apprentice to the Emperor, but one of the most fearsome warriors in the galaxy. Darth Vader had an impressive arsenal of Force-based skills, was still an amazing pilot, and understood how to use intimidation to pressure even high-ranking officers to bow to his demands. And while Darth Vader's mask and suit are mostly designed to keep him alive following his near-death following a duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Vader's suit also turned him into a symbol of fear and the power of the Empire.
In the lineage of the Sith, a strong apprentice rarely comes to power under a weak master. Since Darth Plagueis counted the future Emperor as his apprentice, we're going to hold on to the impression that Plagueis was incredibly powerful. We've only heard tales of the Sith Lord in the STAR WARS movies, but we do know that Plagueis was able to manipulate life and death. The Emperor used that story as a lure to draw Anakin to the dark side. As THE RISE OF SKYWALKER shows, the Emperor also learned the secrets which were supposedly known only to Plagueis.
In public, Galactic Senator Sheev Palpatine spent many years as a supposedly fair politician while secretly developing dark plans as Darth Sidious. He was originally the apprentice to Darth Plagueis before murdering his mentor and securing his position as the supreme dark power in the Galaxy — and eventually, as Emperor, he was the top political figure as well. Sidious duplicated and extended his mentor's power over life and death, creating Supreme Leader Snoke as a puppet which allowed Sidious to continue his rule in secret even after he was believed dead. He even gathered a massive cult, the Sith Eternal, to carry out his plans and act as an army. What's more powerful than that?
All images courtesy of Lucasfilm.
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