(Suicide by Star Wars Apocrypha is a foolish attempt to examine the entirety of the now decanonized Star Wars Expanded Universe and quantify its assorted artistic merits. Read the introduction. Check out the archives.)
We’re now entering the part of the Old Republic timeline where the Star Wars prequels begin to exert a clear influence on the setting. Say goodbye to Tales of the Jedi’s retro aesthetic and hello to bad guys with red lightsabers, Jedi Padawans, stubbornly ineffectual bureaucracies, and Sith Lords named Darth Negativeconnotation.
At one point in Knights of the Old Republic: Commencement (2006), Zayne Carrick, our new hero, sarcastically calls female lead Jarael “Darth Sunshine,” a one-off throwaway joke that ruined continuity forever.
Darth, of course, used to be just an evil-sounding name that Luke Skywalker’s father took for himself when he turned to the dark side. While writing The Phantom Menace, George Lucas decided to make it some kind of religious tradition wherein every Sith Lord takes the name.
The EU, as we know, had already featured a plethora of Sith who weren’t named Darth, because even Kevin J. Anderson wasn’t that derivative. This was fine, however, as most of those Sith hailed from ancient times, and the Darth tradition seemed to originate with Darth Bane, the creator of the Sith “Rule of Two” seen in the movies. For all we knew at the time, “Darth Bane,” introduced in the Episode I novelization (1999), might have just been the dude’s birth name and all the Sith of his order, from Sidious to Maul to Tyranus to Vader, renamed themselves in his honor.
That convenient explanation wasn’t long for the canon, however. Wizards of the Coast’s Living Force Campaign Guide (2001) introduced Darth Rivan, a Sith Lord who predated Bane and, more importantly, had chlorophyll for blood. Then the two Knights of the Old Republic games (2003 and 2004) added Darths Revan, Malak, Bandon, Traya, Nihilus, and Sion, bumping the Darth title back thousands of years even further.
However, since all those characters could trace their supervillain origin stories to the Trayus Academy, an ancient Sith training center on the dark-side world of Malachor V, one could reasonably assume a connection between the academy and the Darth name. Maybe at some point there was a dude called Darth Trayus, and Revan and Malak, the villains of the first KotOR, took his name after getting their undergraduate degrees in evil. After KotOR III got canceled, there was no reason not to headcanon that idea.
That is, until John Jackson Miller ruined it by populating the interim period between Tales of the Jedi and Knights of the Old Republic with Darth Sunshine, Darth Hayze, and Darth Luzion, none of which were really the names of any actual characters.
“Heritage of the Sith,” an article in Star Wars Insider #88 (2006), traced the Darth name, like so much else in Star Wars, back to the Rakata, an ancient dark-side race of aliens who ruled the galaxy before the time of the Old Republic. It revealed that “Darth” likely comes from the words Daritha, which is Rakatan for “emperor,” and darr tah, meaning both “immortal” and “conquest through death.”
The Rakata connection would seem to link back to Revan and Malak, as they rediscovered the Rakata’s Star Forge and the remnants of their Infinite Empire after falling to the dark side during the Mandalorian Wars. This was even made explicit in Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force (2007), which identified Revan and Malak as history’s earliest known Darths (it also said that “Darth” was often considered a contraction of Dark Lord of the Sith, because that’s a common method of abbreviation now, why not). The KotOR comics’ casual references to Darth names preclude this, however, so for the Rakata explanation to work it must refer to something in the even more distant past.
Fortunately, “Evil Never Dies: The Sith Dynasties,” an online reference article published as a supplement to Insider #88, established that the Rakata had tried to conquer the Sith species some 27,000 years before the time of the movies. The invention of this confrontation proved to be quite the continuity godsend, as Revan’s uniqueness was soon eroded the same as Bane’s and Vader’s had been. Star Wars: Republic #63 (2004) introduced Darth Andeddu as a long-dead Dark Lord entombed on Korriban, while “Behind the Threat: The Sith (Part 5): Antiheroes” (2008) named Darth Vitus as the gatekeeper of a holocron that was already ancient by the KotOR era.
The EU’s Old Republic and Legacy eras continued to dilute the Darth title by introducing unimpressive and ridiculously named new characters ad nauseum, but for the next few years Sith lore remained mostly unchanged. We still had no idea who the first Darth was, but given the ceaselessly shifting retcons we’d already endured, it was starting to matter less and less. Of course, as with all things, the worst was yet to come.
From the earliest drafts of The Star Wars, where Darth Vader was some random evil general and not anyone’s father, to the comical Darth Andrew from BioWare’s MMO The Old Republic, “Darth,” although occasionally referred to as a title in some sources, had always been functionally a first name (Obi-Wan even uses it as such in the original Star Wars). Discontent to leave well enough alone, however, Paul R. Urquhart, co-author of Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare (2012), prefixed it to Naga Sadow’s name in the book’s section on the Great Hyperspace War.
The addition of “Darth Naga Sadow” to the (now defunct) canon did nothing but further confuse what exactly the Darth name is and further ruin the specialness and mystique that were once attached to it. No small feat, given how polluted the EU had already become with terrible Darth names (see also: Darth Enraj, Darth Vowrawn, Darth Ruyn, Darth Karnage).
Now anyone could be a Darth; you didn’t even have to rename yourself to show the depth of your devotion to evil. You could probably just pay a small fee and get ordained online.
Fucking Star Wars.
Check out the Suicide by Star Wars Apocrypha Archive for more meditations on obscure Star Wars lore.
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[Continuity Note: It bears mentioning that, although Darth Rivan was created first, his name’s similarity to Darth Revan’s was eventually explained in the best possible retcon, at the mere expense of undermining Rivan’s character in every way. Rivan, it turns out, was the galaxy’s biggest Revan fanboy, so much so that when he became a Sith he attempted to rename himself after his hero. Unfortunately, the ancient manuscript he was consulting contained a typo that misidentified Darth Revan as Darth Rivan. The Dark Lord of the Sith’s whole identity was based on a misprint. This was an actual thing that happened in Star Wars canon.
[Rivan then used an ancient Force artifact so ineptly that it somehow transported him hundreds of years into the future, where he was immediately murdered by some rando. It was a quiet Christmas back on the plant-people farm that year.]