From the moment the fallen dark Jedi from legends stumbled across the ancient Sith Purebloods on the planet of Korriban, Sith Lords have reigned with an iron hand over the Empire. In Canon or Legends (Expanded Universe), the Star Wars universe is full of the most ruthless and terrible bad guys in fiction. Here is a comprehensive history of the Sith highlighting some of the most powerful Sith Lords that have left their mark on the galaxy (in either Canon or Legends).
In Legends, the Sith Empire was founded when fallen and exiled Jedi were banished to the far reaches of the Galaxy. Here they found the ancient and evil Sith Pureblood. They interbred with the species and formed the Sith Empire in secret. The original leaders were Karnass Muur, Ajunta Pall, and Xoxaan. They were succeeded by Tulak Hord (who was said to the greatest duelist among the Sith), but there was one attributed with the greatest of regal powers long before the rule of two was instated among the Sith Lords. It was the half breed Sith Lord known as Marka Ragnos. It was he who would show the galaxy what it truly meant to be a tyrannical ruler of an empire. After beheading Lord Simus and claiming the throne of the Sith for himself, he would become the most feared and respected leader of the Sith remembered by all Sith Lords to come. Even after his death he lived on as a Force Ghost in the tombs on Korriban until he was finally destroyed as a spirit nearly 5000 years after he claimed the throne. Many Sith pay homage to Marka Ragnos in their search for power.
After the death of Marka Ragnos, Naga Sadow and Ludo Kressh battled each other for control of the Sith Empire. They were both members of Marka Ragnos’ council and it was Naga Sadow’s intention to conquer the known galaxy after Republic Hyperspace Travelers accidentally found themselves in Sith Space (which up until this point had remained unknown). Ludo Kressh thought the travelers were just a taste of what was to come, that being a full scale invasion of the Sith from the Republic. Naga Sadow battled Kressh, took the throne, and waged war upon the rest of the galaxy. It was his attitude of expansionism that led the Sith Empire out of the darkness and into the spotlight of the galaxy. He eventually met his demise during the Great Hyperspace Wars.
Tenebrae was the illegitimate son of the Sith Lord Dramath. He killed his father and wrought destruction upon his home planet of Medriaas. It was at this point that he was noticed and trained by Marka Ragnos in secret. After Ragnos’ death, Vitiate decided to stay out of the power struggle between Sadow and Kressh. He waited for Sadow’s defeat during the Great Hyperspace war and lured the remaining Sith Lords to the planet Nathema and drained all of their life prolonging his. Then he shed the guise of Vitiate and instated the Eternal Empire. He claimed the title of Emperor Valkorian (making him the first Sith Lord in Legends to use the title Emperor) and secretly instigated the Mandalorian Wars by manipulating the Jedi Knights known as Revan and Malak which tore the Galaxy apart and when Reven and Malak broke free it led to the Jedi Civil War. Valkorian then fathered two sons (Arcann and Thexan), where there was an uneasy truce. Valkorian then came out of the shadows with his Empire and sent his sons to ravage the universe in the Great Galactic War. Valkorian allowed his body to be destroyed by his son Arcann who then killed Thexan. Valkorian would wait in spirit form for the hero known simply as The Outlander to kill Arcann and his sister Vaylin. Valkorian tried to possess the body and power of The Outlander but was ultimately destroyed in a battle of wills between the Outlander and Valkorian’s family. He is the original Sith Emperor and though secret for most of history, remains one of the most powerful and long lived Sith Lords to ever walk the stars.
Revan was a powerful Jedi Knight who was trained in the Jedi Temple of Dantooine. Him and his colleague Alek rose the ranks of the Jedi Order, though Revan remained a constant critic of the Jedi’s inability to aid in the Mandalorian Wars. Revan and Alek (now Malak) left the order to drive back the Mandalorians and fell to the Dark Side. After the war Revan and Malak went in search of a mysterious Sith influence in the unknown regions. It was here that Revan met Vitiate who warped his and Malak’s minds and ordered them to find an ancient weapon known as the Star Forge. However they broke free from the emperors control and vied to find the Star Forge for their own uses and destroy the Eternal Empire to unify the galaxy. They created their own Sith Empire in opposition to the Old Republic and searched for the Star Forge. Revan was ambushed by Jedi Forces and nearly killed but kept alive by Jedi Master Bastila Shan. The Jedi wiped Revan’s memory and Malak assumed control of the Sith Empire. Revan slowly regained his memories, followed Malak to the Star Forge and killed him. Revan disappeared for years until he had visions of Vitiate and left to confront the Emperor. He stalled his process but in the end Revan was tortured and his mind was split into two: the light the dark. The dark side of Revan’s mind wanted to resurrect Vitiate’s body to finally kill him. However, the light side of Revan aided others in the destruction of Revan, allowing him to finally die. Revan is a fan favorite, and was nearly brought into Canon with a deleted scene from Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
Darth Malgus was trained by Darth Vindican, a Sith Pureblood. Malgus rose to fame when him and his master retook Korriban after the Mandalorian Wars and the downfall of the Sith after Revan. He killed Master Vindican and helped to reinstate the Sith on Korriban and on Dromund Kaas. In subsequent battles he was wounded and required a respirator to breathe. After an initial struggle he formed a false truce with the republic. Using this time the Sith launched a full scale invasion of the Jedi Temple on Coruscant and destroyed it, with Malgus leading the assault. He sought to destroy the Republic on Coruscant and burn it all to the ground, but his superiors thought to use the planet for negotiations. There was an unsteady cold war between the Empire and the Old Republic, but it ended with Malgus leaving the Sith because of the infighting between all the Sith Lords and their cowardice to destroy the Republic. He began to form his own Empire but was tracked down and defeated. In Legends, Malgus was idolized by Darth Sidious and particularly Darth Vader. Sidious based Vader’s armor design on Darth Malgus. Vader would spend much time studying this Sith Lord in particular.
Fast forward years and years of continued Sith tyranny and we have the compelling story of Darth Bane. This is where Canon starts to take more of a play in the lore. A thousand years before the Clone Wars, Darth Bane rose to power. Bane noticed that the ultimate downfall of the Sith was the warring of other Sith Lords against each other. Their craving for power was what brought the Sith down time and time again. In Legends, Darth Bane found a Sith Holocron recorded by Darth Revan. Bane greatly admired Revan and found a theory among his teachings that in order for the Sith to become the Empire it was meant to be, there would have to be only two. A master to embody the power of the Dark Side, and an apprentice to crave it. Bane would be the one to put the rule into use. In Canon, Bane came to this realization himself. Bane put the Rule of Two into effect and the Sith was more or less reborn. He took his own apprentice and started to pass on his knowledge. The Jedi heard of the this and killed Bane. After this the Jedi falsely presumed the Sith Order dead, however the teachings of Bane were secretly passed on. Bane was buried as the last of the great Sith Lords in the Valley of Dark Lords on Moraband (formerly Korriban).
Not much is known about Plagueis outside of Canon. In Legends he was trained by Darth Tenebrous and was fascinated with midi-chlorians and the manipulation of them. He wrought havoc upon the Republic by managing crime lords and other businesses to overthrow planets. He made many enemies. In both Canon and Legends he trained Sheev Palpatine, a human from Naboo and they began to experiment with midi-chlorians in order to prolong ones life. Eventually Plagueis achieved his goal and could use the force to manipulate life. His only fear was that as he grew more powerful the force would strike back at him in some form and he would be killed. His fears were realized when Palpatine took a new apprentice and killed Plagueis in his sleep. His largest contribution to history would be training Palpatine. We hear Senator Palpatine tell this story to Anakin in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.
Sheev Palpatine was born on Naboo and was trained by Darth Plagueis. He was given the Sith moniker of Sidious. After the death of Plagueis him and Darth Maul orchestrated an attack on Naboo and masterminded Palpatines rise through the Republic Politics until he became Chancellor (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace). After Maul was killed, he trained Count Dooku and gave him the name of Darth Tyranus. They formed the Confederacy of Independent Systems sparking a civil war and he secretly raised an army of clones under the guise of Master Sifo Dyas for the Republic (Star Wars: Attack of the Clones). Dooku was killed towards the end of the Clone Wars and Palpatine set his eyes on a new apprentice. He seduced Anakin Skywalker, the chosen one, to the dark side and gave him the name of Darth Vader. Sidious activated Order 66, where a chip in the brains of each clone forced the entire army to kill every single Jedi they served. Together Vader and Sidious toppled the Republic and created the Galactic Empire. They killed any Jedi on sight and did what now Sith before them had done: they took the entire Galaxy for the Sith and seemingly eradicated the Jedi.
Anakin Skywalker is the famed Darth Vader. Born on Tatooine and conceived by the Force. Qui-Gon Jinn suspected he was the chosen one that the Jedi were waiting for; the one to bring balance to the Force. Initially the Jedi refused to train him, but when they found out the Sith had returned, they allowed him to be trained. He was trained by Obi-Wan Kenobi and is one of the most powerful duelists and force wielders to be seen, yet he lacked the control and temper to become a true Jedi Master. His emotions always controlled him. He secretly married Senator Padme Amidala, a marriage forbidden by Jedi Order. Slowly he was seduced to the Dark Side by Chancellor Palpatine and desired the ability to prolong his life, but also the life of Padme; for he feared his loved ones dying. After joining Palpatine and becoming Lord Vader he fought Obi-Wan on Mustafar, and after Padme witnessed this (and was choked out by Vader), she died of a broken heart, after giving birth to twins unbeknownst to Vader. Kenobi beat Vader, took his lightsaber and left him maimed and burning on Mustafar. Palpatine took Vader and gave him cybernetic arms and legs (which he had lost in the battle), and a respirator to breath. Vader poured over ancient Sith teachings and mastered every ligthsaber form. His force powers were unrivaled and he ruled with Palpatine for decades until his he killed Palpatine to save his own son Luke and succumbed to his own wounds. Darth Vader had the highest midi-chlorian count of any force wielder ever seen. He had many of the qualities that other Sith Lords had displayed: The duality of Revan, the might of Marka Ragnos, the will of Sadow, the terror of Malgus, and the power of Sidious. Truly he is the greatest of Sith Lords and warriors.
The Sith After Vader
Technically the Sith were destroyed with Vader. He fulfilled his destiny by destroying the rule of two and never training another Sith Lord in Canon. Kylo Ren, son of Han Solo and Leia Organna, and the grandson of Vader, tries to become like Vader, but it has not been revealed in canon if he has revived any of the teachings of the original Sith Order from his Master Snoke, of which we know little to nothing about. In Legends: there were others trained by Vader secretly (Starkiller, Flint, and Lady Lumiya). Palpatine had an apprentice as well, named Vergere, who trained Darth Krayt who ushered in more Sith mayhem. Whether in Canon or in Legends, the Sith are a powerful organization within the Star Wars mythos and their embodiment of the dark side of the force remains deeply ingrained within the galaxies culture.