I’d like to spare a few words on the Rule of Two from the Star Wars universe, and exactly how it works. A thousand years before the Skywalker Saga, all the Sith killed each other, leaving only one survivor: Darth Bane, who crafted a new doctrine. Thenceforth, the Sith would consist of one master and one apprentice, one to embody power, the other to crave it. In an unbroken line, his new Sith cult would execute a grand plan that would eventually see Darth Sidious elevated to the leadership of a galaxy-spanning Sith Empire.
Some fans have raised questions as to exactly how the Rule of Two works; in particular, some object, the Sith ideology stands for serving only oneself and breaking all the chains that bind, which is in tension with the idea of training an apprentice to become more powerful than you and overthrow you.
Why the Rule of Two makes Sense as-is
Personally I don’t think it’s inconsistent at all: the Sith also seem to be into the idea that might makes right, with any master losing to any apprentice being presumptively unworthy of survival as a Sith, and the dark side seems to make you arrogant, a tendency reinforced by Sith ideology; as some fans have pointed out, the survival of the Rule of Two as an institution depends on every master believing they’re the exception and are too powerful to ever be overthrown.
Some fans have also objected: why train an apprentice at all, taking the chance someone will replace you? As Palpatine himself pointed out, a master without an apprentice is a master of nothing: people who are after power love nothing better than having minions to boss around, and for a variety of reasons apprentices are useful for their masters anyway, otherwise it’s doubtful even the Jedi would take any on, let alone the Sith. Iron sharpens iron, after all, and I have no doubt even many Sith would relish the idea of someone else being there to continue the noble work of gaining unlimited power in case something should happen to them.
So my fan theory is that the Rule of Two makes sense for exactly the reasons the old Star Wars Expanded Universe says it makes sense.
Essence Transfer and its Temptations for Fans
But there are a few wrinkles: according to the Darth Bane novels, he knew about a Force technique called “essence transfer”, first perfected by (what were even to Bane) ancient Sith lords like Darth Andeddu, where one can transfer one’s consciousness to another body, or even to an inanimate object. When possessing another person, a battle of wills ensues, where one or the other soul must prevail, the other destroyed. Darth Bane attempted to possess his apprentice Darth Zannah in this fashion in their final duel, but Zannah defeated Bane, consigning his spirit to oblivion, and causing the secret of essence transfer (which Bane never revealed to Zannah) to be lost to time.
Darth Sidious rediscovered the secret at some point and came back to life through cloned bodies in the “Dark Empire” comics; note this is in the Expanded Universe (now officially known as “Legends”), a distinct continuity from the Disney Star Wars canon, where he comes back in somewhat similar fashion in “The Rise of Skywalker” (which in terms of the basic premise is Dark Empire Deluxe). Interestingly, we learn a lot more about the ability in “Dark Empire” than we do in “The Rise of Skywalker”, where the only real clue we get is Palpatine telling Kylo Ren “the dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural”, a callback to when he was luring Kylo’s grandfather with the promise of immortality in “Revenge of the Sith”.
“I am all the Sith”: revising the Rule of Two?
Sidious’s ability to return in both continuities seems to be rather extraordinary next to what your average Sith Lord can do, but in particular, Palpatine’s declarations in “The Rise of Skywalker” that “all the Sith live in me”, and that “I am all the Sith”, has gotten fans speculating that perhaps there’s a darker angle to the Rule of Two, one that might reconcile the precept of self-interest with the precept that the apprentice must overthrow the master: what if the master’s soul possesses the apprentice when he’s overthrown, and in some fashion the entire Baneite Sith line is Darth Bane, just with new stronger host bodies with every succession?
The idea doesn’t really hold up, in my opinion; in particular, if it really was the same spirit we wouldn’t see the Sith Lords have as distinct personalities as the Sith Master as they in fact do. Even if we accept that, it’s still possible there’s a combination of souls upon the overthrow, leading to a melding of the minds, as not full immortality but perhaps the closest the Sith can come to it with the knowledge they have.
Which would be a cool idea, but according to the “Darth Plagueis” novel, Plagueis was alive and kicking as the Sith Master as late as the events of “The Phantom Menace”, Sidious having killed and overthrown him midway through the film (specifically, the night Palpatine was elected Chancellor), and Darth Sidious seems to have underwent no personality change whatsoever over the course of the film, or even between that film and the next installment that was set ten years later, “Attack of the Clones”. So if we accept even the basic outline of the “Darth Plagueis” novel as canonical, even that more moderate premise doesn’t hold up.
The ultimate Case against Sith Immortality
There’s a more profound argument against these ideas, though: a big theme of Star Wars is that the Sith seek immortality through overpowering the Force with their own will, while the Jedi accept their mortality and become one with the Force. The superiority of the Jedi approach, and the ultimate power of the light side of the Force over the dark side, is demonstrated by the Jedi and other light-siders having the ability to become Force ghosts, retaining their individuality in the Force after death.
Yoda says as much, denying that the dark side is stronger in “The Empire Strikes Back”; now, Yoda isn’t exactly the most reliable source on what’s true or not in the Star Wars universe (neither is Obi-Wan “From a Certain Point of View” Kenobi…), but the superiority of the way of balance, of rejecting the corruption of the dark side and existing in harmony with the will of the Force, is clearly the creator’s, i.e. George Lucas’s, intent. For example, Lucas is on the record as vetoing the idea of any true Sith Force ghosts in Star Wars.
So any way in which the Sith could truly live on forever is in contravention to a key theme of the Star Wars saga, and as such in my view should be dismissed if possible.
What if: Sith Essence Transfer, but no meaningful Immortality?
Nevertheless, I myself am fond of a view I read on the Maw Installation subreddit recently that might integrate both of these concepts. What if a piece of every Sith master’s essence is indeed transferred to the apprentice, but it’s a small, perhaps nearly dormant piece of the master’s soul with little awareness, but with enough of the spirit left to perhaps be brought back and resurrected in full if a future Sith Master unlocked the secret to true immortality, enabling all of Darth Bane’s line to rule together with god-like powers over the Force as some sort of Sith Pantheon.
The fact this will never actually happen in the Star Wars universe is immaterial: the Sith believe it can, and that’s what matters to them. Whether the pieces of the master’s souls have little awareness, are aware and living in a living hell, or even are aware and enjoying themselves immensely I leave as an exercise to the reader.
Such an idea, while not violating the precept against Sith immortality set forth by Lucas, would explain a lot. In particular, Palpatine in “Revenge of the Sith”, after he shows his full power in the dark side for the first time and no doubt revels in it, has a reverb to his voice, a quality to it that certainly makes it seem to the viewer like he’s channeling the spirits of many ancient Sith. What if he was doing just that?
The novelization says in his christening of Darth Vader he meditated deep into the dark side of the Force and sensed a calling, a certain will; which is cool in itself, but what if part of this calling was the pieces of all of the ancient Sith souls from the past thousand years inside him? That might be a rare occasion where all their essences rose to the surface, so to speak.
Possibly this was brought on by how Sidious had to use his full power to dispatch Mace Windu. As an aside, I’m of the school of thought that believes Palpatine’s disfigurement was primarily damage from Sith lightning, not the melting away of any kind of a mask.
No, that was not Palpatine’s true Form
First of all, some fans object other instances of Sith lightning didn’t cause any disfigurement, but they could easily have been at a much lower power setting than what Palpatine was using to protect his own life in the heat of the moment. Letting himself be disfigured would also be useful to underline to Anakin how much peril he was in.
Secondly, in the actual movie it certainly looks like the lightning is changing the surface of his skin. Thirdly, if his prior appearance was a mask, why not simply forge a mask again? Why would anybody look like that if they didn’t have to? It’s also been objected that real electricity doesn’t do damage like that, but this is a supernatural force that just happens to look and sound like lightning, so the effects could easily be different. This might also explain why Sidious couldn’t simply get cosmetic surgery afterwards; it’s possible Sith lightning damage causes the Force to reject any attempts at cosmetic surgery.
Fourthly, Palpatine’s appearance after he was, to use his own words, “scarred and deformed” isn’t remotely similar to the effects of prolonged deep dark side use on any other Sith Lord, so it seems unlikely to me his post-lightning appearance is his true form borne of his power in the dark side.
Fifthly, Sidious being truly scarred and deformed fits thematically, as a major theme of “Revenge of the Sith” is transformations: what better way to show that than by having not just one but both Sith Lords pay a grievous price for their perversion of the Force, making even Palpatine’s ultimate triumph bittersweet for him? The idea his prior appearance was a mask means Palpatine didn’t really lose anything in the fight with Windu, which doesn’t sit well with me.
I could buy that Sidious was using a Force mask of some sort to disguise the yellow eyes characteristic of someone as steeped in the dark side as he was all the time; indeed, I think it likely. In addition, it’s possible his true form had some paler-greyer skin, premature aging, and wrinkles that are common among powerful Sith Lords, so using a Force mask to cover that up and spruce himself up a bit would be in order. But I honestly don’t think Palpatine’s true form was anywhere near as disfigured as what he was post-lightning. In sum, I’d say his true form was maybe 10% of the way to what we see post-lightning.
Exegol: meant to be taken with a Grain of Salt?
Back to the idea that pieces of all the Baneite Sith’s souls, and possibly souls from Sith Lords even more ancient than Bane, live in some sense in Palpatine, I’ve heard these fan theories about the Rule of Two for decades, but the real stimulus has been Palpatine in “The Rise of Skywalker” saying “all the Sith live in me” and “I am all the Sith”.
We often forget, though, that Rey says “I am all the Jedi”, so maybe we should take that exchange and honestly that entire aspect of the film with a grain of salt, since surely we’re not supposed to believe all the Jedi Masters of the past have been possessing Rey from the get-go. Hmm…on the other hand, it might be a cooler explanation for Rey’s extraordinary power than “Force downloading” from Kylo through the Dyad, which is a bit lame.
Anyway, we’re not even entirely sure the Palpatine we see in “The Rise of Skywalker” is the genuine article, and not some kind of Force entity, a Force vision, or even a manifestation of a powerful Sith holocron. Before “The Rise of Skywalker” came out I honestly was sure Palpatine would return in the form of a Sith holocron, which was a much more intelligent idea than the literal physical return we ended up with. The actual film doesn’t entirely contradict it (indeed, Kylo and Rey only find their way to Exegol by way of a Sith wayfinder, i.e. a holocron; hmm…), so in my headcanon I retain hope that my initial expectation will be retconned in.
In the old continuity of the Expanded Universe doubt was raised as to whether “Dark Empire” and Palpatine’s resurrection in that was a literal event or more of a spiritual struggle experienced by Luke. I actually like this idea for the new continuity too, since Palpatine literally returning raises questions about the Chosen One prophecy and Sith immortality Star Wars would be better off without, and Exegol is obviously a Force nexus for the dark side anyway; if there’s anywhere a convincing Force vision of Palpatine would manifest, it would be somewhere like that.
Exegol the Force Nexus, a la Mortis
Even if you don’t accept this theory, that it was all a vision not meant to be taken entirely literally, another interesting possibility along these lines is that all the Sith spirits may well live in the Palpatine that resurrects himself in his clone bodies on Exegol, not because Palpatine had them in him to begin with, but rather that Exegol is a rare, if not unique, place where they can be accessed, and his resurrection was done with the aid of these spirits.
Indeed, this might go some ways toward explaining why Palpatine would make the headquarters of the Sith Eternal on a world where the fleet would be so vulnerable (the atmosphere interfered with shields…): because that world is the only place he could be resurrected. Perhaps accessing all these Sith spirits at such a Force nexus is necessary for his resurrection, and without those factors it couldn’t have worked.
There’s arguably some precedent: Mother Talzin from “The Clone Wars” series draws her power from the dark-side Force nexus of one specific planet, Dathomir, and also often talks as if there are multiple spirits inside her, a little bit like Palpatine does in that one scene in “Revenge of the Sith”.
As for Palpatine, it’s even possible the Darth Sidious we see on Exegol isn’t Palpatine at all per se, but rather more of an amalgam of Sith spirits, including Palpatine’s, raised from the netherworld of the Force by the Sith cultists. It’s been noted by a few fans that in “The Rise of Skywalker” Palpatine seems more like an embodiment of the dark side of the Force itself than his old self; maybe that’s exactly what’s going on…
The Palpatine Saga continues?
Last but not least, there’s an even wilder and darker theory about “The Rise of Skywalker”. We’re obviously supposed to think Rey summoned all the spirits of the Jedi (which dovetails nicely with my theory that Exegol is a rare place where otherwise-inaccessible spirits can be accessed, not terribly different from Mortis from “The Clone Wars”) and in the ultimate confrontation between the light and dark sides of the Force (Palpatine being the embodiment of the dark side, hence him being “all the Sith”), prevailed, vanquishing the Sith.
But consider: Palpatine proclaims to Kylo, and we seemingly are supposed to believe this is true, that “I have been every voice inside your head”, as Palpatine talks telepathically to Kylo with Snoke’s and Vader’s voices. Vader in particular is interesting, because Kylo is depicted as talking to Darth Vader’s helmet; apparently this wasn’t some “alas, poor Yorick” style one-sided conversation, but something he perceived as actually real. If Palpatine can be every voice inside Kylo’s head, why couldn’t he have faked the Jedi voices Rey heard inside her head?
It gets even more interesting when one realizes Palpatine wanted Rey to strike him down dead with her lightsabers, and this is basically what she does after those voices talk to her! Sure, she reflects his Sith lightning (as an aside, powerful Sith lightning must be really hard to shut off, because Palpatine gets fried by it no less than three times as he just keeps pumping it out!), but nevertheless she does kill him! Does this mean his spirit passed into her and they are now one? Uh oh.
Some fans have objected that for the ritual to work she must strike him down in anger, but when he seems to think it’ll work the first time he tries to goad her into it Rey doesn’t look angry in the slightest; indeed, she seems to be channeling more negative emotions when she destroys Palpatine in the climax!
It doesn’t help that the ending scene is somewhat ambiguous. Rey returns to Tattooine and buries the lightsabers in the sand; the very same sand Anakin hated in the very same planet Luke detested! What better way for Palpatine-in-Rey to insult the Skywalkers? She even takes the name Skywalker for herself at the end, when she declares herself “Rey Skywalker”! Which could be interpreted as the final insult by Darth Sidious to the Chosen One.
While this is, horrifyingly enough, a coherent interpretation of “The Rise of Skywalker”, it’s obviously not the one actually intended. My hot take? If we ever see Rey again and she’s not possessed by Palpatine, that adds ammunition to my theory that Force visions or entites were involved and all on Exegol was not what it seemed.
Rey is Pregnant with Kylo’s Force Babies: search your Feelings, you know it to be True!
I disfavor the “Palpatine won” fan theory myself for a variety of reasons, but as a bit of a Reylo the fan theory I’m fond of that attempts to explain what she was thinking when she declared herself to be a Skywalker is that in the transfer of life force from Kylo to her, his heroic sacrifice, he impregnated her with a child, a bundle of love to continue the bloodline of the Chosen One. Rey declaring herself a Skywalker makes perfect sense if she is to be the mother of a true Skywalker, and effectively Leia’s daughter-in-law (and Anakin’s granddaughter-in-law).
For added symmetry with the prequel trilogy, I would prefer if Rey were carrying twins, a boy and a girl, just like Padme was in “Revenge of the Sith”, only this time it will all be set right; as balance has been at last restored to the Force, events will happen as they should have happened the first time. It also has the poetry of Kylo in his redemption to the light side truly getting his wish he expressed to Darth Vader’s helmet: “I will finish what you started”.
I know a lot of people really don’t like Kylo Ren as a character, don’t like the very idea of him and Rey being lovers, or don’t like the idea of him getting a victory of such a magnitude at the end. That’s a fair critique. But I think the pieces fit together very well for this fan theory; search your feelings, you know it to be true.
It’s also worth noting that canonizing the Force baby fan theory would be by far the simplest way for Disney/Lucasfilm to introduce new generations of Skywalkers in the future, past the sequel trilogy, which they are very likely to want to do at some point.
Anyway, I know this was a bit of ramble, but I wanted to do a deep dive on certain aspects of the Sith and fan theories surrounding them. I didn’t get the chance to write up anything like this yesterday, which was May the Fourth be With You, but perhaps it’s even more appropriate for today, Revenge of the Fifth. Personally, in a time that’s not exactly bringing us the best things in life, I find solace in escaping to that wonderful world of space wizards and laser swords, so this has been a much-welcome diversion. I hope it is for you as well!