Over 45 years and a handful of groundbreaking films, Darth Sidious has been the evil mastermind behind the vast majority of Star Wars content.
The evil Emperor Palpatine is the driving force behind much of the plot across Star Wars films, corrupting and manipulating his way to the very top. Without his many powerful apprentices, however, Palpatine likely wouldn’t have lasted long. He leaned on a number of capable apprentices over the years, using them to maneuver himself into loftier and loftier positions.
Some of these apprentices are extremely well known, thanks to numerous appearances across Star Wars media, but some are far less prominent. In the hunt for his ultimate mentee, Palpatine worked his way through quite a few candidates, many of whom came to unfortunate ends at the hands of the Jedi – or Palpatine himself. Even die-hard fans of the films may have missed one or two, thanks to exceedingly brief stints among the Dark Side’s greatest.
There are also a few characters that become intertwined with Palpatine in a number of extended Star Wars stories, but many of these are not considered canon. Even Luke Skywalker enjoys a stint on the Dark Side in one Star Wars story, warring for his own soul in the Dark Empire run of comics. These stories — while stellar, in many cases — are too far removed from the core Star Wars stories to be included on this list.
In main canon
For our list, we’ll be taking a look at Palpatine’s many apprentices across canon content. This includes all of the main Star Wars films, as well as some of the companion series and comics. There is an absolute wealth of Star Wars content out there, so we might miss one or two, but we’ll do our best to rank each and every one of Darth Sidious’ many apprentices.
He wasn’t an apprentice of Darth Sidious in the traditional sense of the word, but the artificial leader of the First Order is inexorably linked to the former Emperor. He was created by Palpatine in the years following the Empire’s fall as a puppet through which Palpatine could maintain control. He was initially presented, in the first two sequel films, as a capable leader on par with the former Emperor, only to have it revealed in Rise of Skywalker that he was, in a sense, Palpatine all along.
While Snoke does cause plenty of problems for the Resistance, his role as an extension of Palpatine makes him a far less impressive villain than the likes of Vader or even Kylo Ren.
4. Kylo Ren
He didn’t call Sidious “master” — and, in fact, abandoned the Dark Side upon discovery of his involvement — but Sidious was the shadow master behind Kylo Ren’s many dark deeds. A resurrected Palpatine was revealed as the mastermind behind Snoke, and by extension Kylo, in 2019’s Rise of Skywalker, just in time for the character to perish once again. Kylo Ren’s role is central to the sequel trilogy, in which he serves as villain, maybe-romance, and eventual hero. He is a uniquely powerful Sith, as a relative to Vader himself, but frequently shows himself to be particularly unbalanced and dangerous.
Through Snoke, Sidious manipulated Kylo Ren — born as Ben Kenobi — into doubting his family and gradually turning to the Dark Side. His grooming was effective, and eventually saw Ben turn his back on his parents and Luke — his Jedi master — and embrace the Dark Side of the Force.
3. Darth Tyranus
The second of Sidious’ mainstream apprentices, Darth Tyranus debuted in 2002’s Attack of the Clones. Played by the singular Christopher Lee, Tyranus — AKA Count Dooku — is a very different brand of apprentice from Phantom Menace’s Darth Maul. He enters the film as a far more fitting apprentice for Palpatine, though perhaps a less fitting apprentice for Sidious. He is more measured and presentable than Maul — by a long shot — but ultimately has a far shorter stint than his predecessor.
Tyranus is, in many ways, nothing but a placeholder for Anakin while Palpatine finishes off the process of turning him to the Dark Side. Despite this, he showcases immense power — and far more wisdom than the sometimes reckless Maul — defeating both Anakin and Obi-Wan in a two-on-one battle, and even holding up against Yoda — his Jedi master — for a short stint. He is ultimately a victim of his own master, and the apprentice that will succeed him, a fitting (and common) end for a Sith apprentice.
2. Darth Maul
His stint on the big screen was shorter than any of the other Sidious apprentices on this list, but Maul has an enduring presence across Star Wars media. He enters as the mysterious and very cool first apprentice in Phantom Menace only to seemingly die in that very same film, after killing Qui-Gon Jinn and finding his own end at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Despite the fact that he is cut in half at the conclusion of that — again, very cool — battle, however, it does not spell Maul’s end.
The character comes back at several points through the Clone Wars and Rebels series, causing constant trouble for the heroes in each show — mostly Obi-Wan — and shifting from Sith apprentice to the conqueror of Mandalore to, finally, crime lord, before finally finding his end — for the upteenth time — at the hands of a very tired Obi-Wan Kenobi.
1. Darth Vader
The most well-known of all Darth Sidious’ peons, Darth Vader was Sidious’ final official apprentice. He was formed over years of manipulation, with Sidious even being the suspected source behind his conception. The man that was once known as Anakin Skywalker endured quite a bit over the course of his life, from a childhood of slavery on Tattooine to his mother’s butchering at the hands of the Tusken Raiders. Through it all, he proved himself to be a capable Jedi and a skilled swordsman, traits that would eventually make him a nigh-unstoppable Sith Lord.
Anakin is eventually twisted into the rage-filled, constantly suffering Darth Vader. Vader is the most capable of Darth Sidious’ many apprentices, carrying out his will with a hard heart and an iron fist. His influence on the galaxy is unmatched — except, perhaps, by his master — and it is Vader who eventually ends Sidious’ lengthy rule. He is absolutely crucial to the vast majority of Star Wars stories out there, and remains one of the greatest villains of all time.
They’re not all apprentices, in the more traditional sense of the word, but each of these baddies were protégés of Palpatine’s at one point or another. Not all of them are force-sensitive, and one doesn’t appear in any of the live-action releases, but their acceptance among the story’s main canon connects each of the below back to Palpatine. We’re not including them in the ranking, due to their presence as protégés rather than apprentices, but these characters were still integral to maintaining Darth Sidious’ grip on the galaxy.
He’s never made an appearance in a Star Wars film, but Gallius Rax is a favorite among fans of the franchise’s extended canon. He crops up mostly in the Aftermath book series, but also gets a mention in the Star Wars video game Battlefront II. His absence from the main library of films has kept Rax largely off most fans’ radars, but he remains a strong contender for one of Palpatine’s best mentees.
Once theories that he and Snoke were one and the same were disproven, fans were left with only Rax’s original story to enjoy. The character first cropped up in the first Aftermath book as a young Jakku native who eventually joins Palpatine as one of his many protégés. The character worked his way up through the ranks of the Galactic Empire, while simultaneously securing Palpatine’s contingency plan for the Empire in the case of his death. His influence was an instrumental part of the First Order’s eventual formation.
This pale woman remains a fixture of Palpatine’s inner circle for decades, working alongside him both as a senator and as a Sith Lord. While her character is largely relegated to the background through the live-action Star Wars films — as well as the animated series — the mysterious Umbaran is always lurking nearby, a persistent, looming presence in Palpatine’s life.
While the majority of her story is told via accompanying media that is not all considered canon, it’s impossible to deny Sly’s importance in Palpatine’s life. The Legends comics claim she bore his child, allowing the Palpatine name to endure, but even without this detail she’s clearly a vital part of the eventual Emperor’s day-to-day. An examination of the prequel trilogy will reveal her in the background of nearly every Palpatine shot, exposing her importance to the then-Senator.
They’re not technically Sith, but this force-sensitive band of Inquisitors is trained in the Dark Side. This training helps immensely in the organization’s overarching goal to hunt and kill all of the remaining Jedi, a task they take on largely in the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series, as well as Disney Plus’ Obi-Wan Kenobi. A few genuinely awesome Inquisitors have been introduced in Star Wars media, with several boasting unique and impressive abilities — did you know the Seventh Sister can use that badass saber to fly? — but even without special sabers or interesting armor, each and every member of the Inquisitorious is highly capable.
He’s not a true apprentice, and in fact isn’t even force-sensitive, but Wilhuff Tarkin is none the less a vital member of Sidious’ inner circle – for awhile, at least. He is a favorite of the Emperor, evidenced by his essential role as the head of the Death Star project. The first officer to ever be granted the rank of Grand Moff, Tarkin is ruthless and vicious in equal parts, a stellar combination for a servant of the Dark Side. It is his manipulation that reveals the location of the Rebel Base, and leads to the destruction of the planet Alderaan despite Leia’s compliance. Without any of the complexities that surround other Dark Side villains like Vader or Kylo Ren, Tarkin is broadly considered one of Palpatine’s most wicked protégés.
Good news! If this list has you hankering for a Star Wars marathon, you’re in luck. Each and every Star Wars movie, along with all of the companion shows and spin-offs, are available to stream for free with a Disney Plus subscription. You can find them all nestled under the Star Wars banner of properties on the streaming service.