Originally written for FandomFollowing/ The Fandomentals.
As a fangirl, I believe in Canon Immersion. Canon Immersion is the need to intake everything in a series that can be considered canon, so that when you talk/write/etc. about it, you are coming from a place of fact. That way any type fandom speculation you come up with will always have a valid basis.
If no one has coined this term yet, let me be the first. If someone has, or this exists in another form already, such is life. I just came here to talk about Star Wars.
In my quest for full Canon Immersion, and a way to best be able to continue writing Star Wars posts for you guys, I made the decision to read James Luceno’s Tarkin and Paul S. Kemp’s Lords of the Sith. In the “new” canon lineup, you are meant to read Lords of the Sith, then Tarkin, both after watching Revenge of the Sith. That’s all good and fine, but I read Tarkin before I read Lord of the Sith, and it was the former that gave me the idea for this post.
In Luceno’s Tarkin, Emperor Sheev Palpatine (Darth Sidious) muses about the need for two Sith lords to fully harness the power of the Dark Side. One to bait it, and the other to be the vessel for it. However, it’s never quite explained what specifically defines either role. So that begs the question: is Darth Vader the bait, or the vessel?
If you’ve read my musings on Star Wars before, you know – without a shadow of a doubt – that I am a huge Anakin Skywalker fan. Creeper stance, dead eyes, and stubbornness included, I will stan for Anakin Skywalker ‘til the cows come home and milk themselves.
Anakin Skywalker is the Force Messiah, and it is because of his conception that I will always consider him The Well from which Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren are just diminishing receptacles of his potential. So you would think that, with all of that Force potential, Anakin Skywalker would be the vessel, right?
I want to say no, or, rather, not always. I think that, at any given moment, Darth Vader was the vessel for Darth Sidious’ power, or the bait for Sheev Palpatine’s manipulation of the Force.
Palpatine/Sidious did not originally intend for Anakin Skywalker to become his Apprentice, or even to become Darth Vader. In The Phantom Menace, the Sith Apprentice is Darth Maul who is cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Darth Maul is later found to be alive, but that failure is what got him ousted by Palpatine. In Attack of the Clones, the Apprentice is Count Dooku, but Dooku was already too set in his ways. Palpatine is the one who orders Dooku’s death by way of Anakin, and it is at this moment that Palpatine decides to forego whatever other plans that he had for Anakin in order to better seduce him to the dark side.
While Palpatine had always intended to take control of the Republic and oust the Jedi, he was only able to do it after he had swayed Anakin to his side. It wasn’t until Palpatine attacked an injured Mace Windu in Revenge of the Sith, that we were even aware that he was a Force user. One could even say that Anakin’s defection to the Dark Side, and the massacre of the Jedi corps, bolstered Palpatine’s abilities. I’m aware that the Force should not work like that, but it is not a stretch to say that Anakin’s turning is what sealed Palpatine’s win, and therefore baited the Force’s scales to weigh more heavily in favor of the Sith.
Again, in Tarkin, the Emperor talks about how two Sith Lords are needed in order to bring out the ten thousand year rule of the dark side. A quick Google search will tell you that this is called the Rule of Two (or the Banite System), and it was put into place to cut down on internal demise within the Sith power structure. The Rule of Two is set up as a Master/Apprentice relationship in which the Apprentice would ultimately kill the Master as a way to show that they were more powerful and therefore capable of keeping the Sith going. It was expected.
In Lords of the Sith, Vader presents this information to us as if it were a possibility that he should kill Palpatine, and not an eventuality. This is because Palpatine had no intention of allowing Vader to get to the point where he would be powerful enough to overthrow Palpatine.
As I have said before, Anakin Skywalker is The Well of Force Potential. He could have been the greatest Force user in the galaxy, but he was never given the training that would have brought him there. The Jedi Council thought a nine-year-old Anakin was too old and already too stubborn to train, and yet Yoda trained Luke at the ripe old age of twenty-two. Obi-Wan Kenobi had enough training to be a Jedi Master, but not enough discipline to curb the padawan he viewed as his younger brother. Palpatine emotionally and physically manipulated Anakin Skywalker into his personal, and admittedly powerful, Sith Lord puppet.
In both Tarkin and Lords of the Sith, most of the ranking members of Palpatine’s Imperial Forces are not comfortable with Darth Vader because he exists outside of their power structure. He is called Lord Vader, and is given luxuries that befit such a title, but, beyond being Palpatine’s enforcer, there is no real power behind that rank. If Palpatine died, the Empire would be understandably run by Grand Moff Tarkin, and not Darth Vader.
Lords of the Sith spends a bit of time building on the the weirdly delicate balance that is Vader and Darth Sidious’ connection. Vader is unfailingly loyal as long as Sidious shows himself to be strong, but Darth Sidious feels the need to continuously test that loyalty.
Darth Vader is never allowed to be alone in his own head. In both Tarkin and Lords of the Sith, Darth Sidious is constantly keeping their telepathic connection open and rooting around in Darth Vader’s mind to make sure that he does not dwell on his past life as Anakin Skywalker. Even when Darth Vader doesn’t feel that it is necessary to kill people, Sidious orders him to kill just so Vader will never be at peace with himself. Darth Sidious knows that if he does not stoke the fires of Darth Vader’s rage, Anakin Skywalker could just as well decide to come back to himself and no longer be a vessel for Dark Side power.
Lords of the Sith, to me, will always be an excuse to say that Palpatine/Sidious is a badass, and a great Force user. However, it also reinforces the idea that Palpatine’s power is bolstered by Darth Vader’s being The Well of Force Potential. I won’t say Palpatine was not always powerful, but he is at his peak when Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader is firmly operating on the Dark Side of the Force. Coincidentally, that’s also the only time that you ever see Palpatine use the Force.
Without his wife or children to fight for, Anakin Skywalker is perfectly fine parading around as Darth Vader. Palpatine shouldn’t have even had to worry because Anakin was not an ambitious man. Wearing that suit and persona of Darth Vader meant that he never had to come to terms with what he had done to himself and the people he’d loved. Luke Skywalker had to almost die by Palpatine’s hand for Anakin to make the move to kill his master. And then, instead of becoming the new Sith Master, Anakin dies because he was only ever meant to be a vessel for the Dark Side and not a true master of it.
Anakin Skywalker’s Darth Vader was both the bait and the vessel for the Dark Side of the Force, and Sheev Palpatine’s Darth Sidious made sure he stayed that way. Palpatine manipulated Anakin to help bring about a Sith rule, and kept him fueled by his own anger in order to bolster it. By doing this, Darth Sidious has managed to perpetuate the Rule of Two whilst simultaneously circumventing it. And I personally believe that Supreme Leader Snoke will try to do the same with Kylo Ren.
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