The Star Wars films confirmed the Sith retreated into the shadows a thousand years ago – so how did the Sith recruit their apprentices..?
The Sith often struggled to find new apprentices, perhaps explaining why they took so long to get their revenge in Star Wars. A thousand years before the original trilogy, Darth Bane reinvented the Sith around the Rule of Two. This established that there should only ever be two Sith Lords at any one time; one to crave power, and the other to wield it. The Rule of Two was inspired by Darth Bane’s realization the competitive nature of the dark side inevitably meant large numbers of Sith would turn on one another.
Darth Bane’s vision naturally meant the Sith retreated into the shadows even as the Jedi expanded. Fortunately, subterfuge and treachery are of the dark side, and the Sith were able to convince the Jedi they had been rendered extinct when Darth Bane’s empire fell. Still, the continuing growth of the Republic across the Star Wars galaxy posed enormous challenges to the Sith; dialogue in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace hints the Republic began conducting midi-chlorian tests on many infants to try to discover potential Jedi, which would naturally reduce the number of potential recruits the Sith could draw upon. It’s likely there were many occasions when Sith Lords found themselves fearing the Sith were in danger of extinction.
Most Sith apprentices were probably recruited from outside Republic space. This approach would prove less than ideal, however, because the Sith would struggle to gain political power in the Republic while drawing on candidates from the Outer Rim. The continued expansion of the Republic into the Outer Rim in the High Republic Era, some 200 years before the prequel trilogy, would have posed a further threat to this strategy. This meant that when looking for apprentices the Sith had to either recruit the remaining weaker beings who had been passed up by the Jedi, or to seduce Jedi themselves to the dark side.
How The Sith Seduced Jedi To The Dark Side
Recent Star Wars tie-ins have suggested the Sith learned to prey upon the Jedi from afar, using the dark side to plant disturbing visions in the minds of those whose commitment to the light side was wavering. This was a smart plan, allowing the Sith to target Jedi and deny their enemies talented beings even as they sought out new recruits. Marvel’s Obi-Wan Kenobi #1 features a flashback that implies a “surge in darkness” around one of Obi-Wan’s fellow Younglings years ago was in fact Sith manipulation, while stories in the anthology book Tales of Jedi & Sith implied both Count Dooku and Barriss Offee were affected by a Sith presence stalking the halls of the temples. Dooku was one of the Sith’s greatest achievements, a potential recruit once seated on the Jedi Council who had taken on a position of political influence after leaving the Order.
Sheev Palpatine, of course, was the Sith’s greatest success. Palpatine’s backstory largely remains a mystery, but somehow this powerful Force-sensitive slipped through the Jedi tests across the galaxy. More importantly, he was born into a wealthy and influential ancient house on Naboo, an ideal base on which to build a political career. The Jedi would have carefully watched a drop-out from their own Order, but they never even seemed to consider the possibility that Palpatine possessed mastery in the Force. He really was the ideal Sith recruit in Star Wars.