For many years, the conflict between the Jedi and the Sith has long been the focus of George Lucas’ Star Wars saga. Both widely recognized by their colorful lightsabers, long intimidating hoods, and use of the Force, the Jedi and the Sith are two sides of the same coin that can be hard to distinguish from each other.
Of course, if you’re already a huge Star Wars fan or have followed the story long enough to know the difference, then you already know that there are a few defining traits for each side. The Jedi can usually be seen dressed in brown hoods and wielding blue or green lightsabers while the Sith are typically characterized by their black clothing and red lightsabers. Whereas Sith are able to use lightning as part of their connection to the dark side of the Force, the Jedi usually refrain from its application.
In addition to their fashion selections and different-colored lightsabers, there’s one other defining characteristic of the Sith that clearly sets them apart from the Jedi: their yellow eyes.
Why do the Sith have yellow eyes?
If you haven’t already noticed, almost all Sith have the trademark yellow “Sith eyes.” From Emperor Palpatine to Anakin Skywalker, almost every Sith has sported them. According to Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia, “Eyes reflect the emotions harnessed by the Sith. When rage and anger seethe inside a dark side user, their eyes may burn yellow with a fiery-red rim.” Simply put, a Sith’s emotions and strong connections to the dark side are usually the reason behind their yellow eyes.
In fact, the same way that the dark side can cause a kyber crystal to bleed and change the color of lightsaber, the flow of hate and anger will eventually cause a physical change in the Sith. Not only do they manifest the yellow eyes, but their skin also ages and becomes pale as another side effect of the dark side corrupting their souls and bodies, similar to when Tom Riddle allowed dark magic to transform him into the snake-like Voldemort in the Harry Potter series.
Does every Sith have yellow eyes?
Not necessarily. Certain Sith, like Count Dooku and Kylo Ren, don’t have yellow eyes. And during Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Anakin’s eye color changed back and forth between blue and yellow on several occasions before he finally became Darth Vader. Even Darth Sidious had disguised himself as the healthy politician Chancellor Palpatine and was shown with regular-colored eyes. One might conclude that the yellow eyes are a fleeting trait of the Sith, but that’s not entirely accurate either.
According to CBR, despite the hate and rage that fuels them, a Sith’s power level can be determined by their mastery of their emotions and ability to hide their connection to the dark side. Darth Sidious is a prime example of this. In order to effectively orchestrate the fall of the Republic and the destruction of the Jedi, Sidious utilized his role as Chancellor Palpatine to work behind the scenes and sway political opinion.
Of course, that wouldn’t have worked as well if he was walking around with Sith eyes, so whenever he was Chancellor Palpatine, he made sure to keep his yellow eyes hidden with his power. However, stronger fighters like Darth Maul who are engulfed by their hate and unable to master the dark side have a much harder time trying to conceal their physic traits. Younger or less experienced Sith are equally unable to hide their eyes from others because their dark emotions are too new to control.
This explains why Anakin Skywalker’s eyes continued to change back and forth while he was slowly being drawn to the dark side. In Star Wars: The Visual Encyclopedia, Anakin’s transformation is described as such: “On Mustafar, Darth Vader’s eyes glow as he massacres the Separatist leaders, but return to normal when his wife Padme Amidala arrives.” This infers that Anakin’s yellow eyes only came into play when his rage was exhibited and returned back to normal once he saw his lover and calmed down.
It all makes sense when you think about it, but there are still a few issues with that theory. If rage fuels the Dark Side and the yellow eyes are a defining trait of that, then why have we never seen Count Dooku’s yellow eyes? Or Kylo Ren’s?
Why Count Dooku and Kylo Ren don’t have yellow eyes
You would think, at least in Count Dooku’s case, that he would have definitely manifested yellow eyes at some point during his time on screen. As apprentice to Darth Sidious himself for nearly a decade, Dooku was a formidable opponent, so it’s plausible for him to be powerful enough to hide his eyes. But that’s not the real reason.
Unlike his fellow Sith, Dooku did not have the same motivation and emotions as other Sith. He was an idealist who left the Jedi because he felt they had lost their way and he was displeased with the growing corruption in the Republic’s Senate. He joined the Sith motivated by philosophical and political goals, not by dark side emotions like rage and conquest. As a more practical thinker, Dooku did have total control over his emotions and never really found a purpose in being angry, which may be why his eyes were never yellow.
Kylo Ren’s case is a bit different. Of course, we saw how angry he always was and it was clear that the Dark Side had its hooks in him, but interestingly enough, we never saw him with yellow eyes. That’s because just like his grandfather Anakin before him, Ren was conflicted between his good and bad sides. As a result, his dark side was not able to fully corrupt him and change his appearance.