I understand the Rule of Two, there's always a master and an apprentice. But if that's true, then there should be exactly two Sith at any given time. In The Empire Strikes Back, Vader and the Emperor agree to recruit Luke as an ally. Clearly when Vader is trying to recruit Luke, he's fulfilling the spirit of the Rule of Two by offering a plan to overthrow the emperor. However in the initial conversation between Vader and the Emperor, it seems possible that Luke could become an additional third dark Jedi.

Would it have been even feasible for all three to be allied? Wouldn't the Emperor have assumed that Vader/Luke would team up against him? If so, why would he even agree to that? Why would both Vader and the Emperor agree to potentially have a third Sith as a "powerful ally"? Is there an implicit understanding that although they may try to recruit Luke, only two will actually survive from the three of them? Or is there perceivably a workable relationship where all three are allied?

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    I've brought up some questions that touch on this, but aren't the same. Here's one about if Vader would have realized he was becoming redundant due to the Rule of Two and here's one about if the Rule of Two serves an actual purpose. The answers aren't direct answers, but they cover related material.
    – Tango
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 0:58
  • part of my answer for another question covers this: scifi.stackexchange.com/a/9003/373 - Sidious/Palpatine seemed to be planning a Sith succession gambit...
    – HorusKol
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 5:48
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    I see two different outcomes that would have maintained the rule of two, both of them very logical: Vader planned to use Luke to the Emperor, and the Emperor planned to use Luke to kill Vader. Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 3:20
  • I know I'm years late on this bandwagon, but I added an answer with quotes from earlier script drafts and from Lucas that make it explicitly clear that only two were supposed to survive the encounter.
    – user45623
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 19:47
  • Not one of the answers mentions how the Emperor offers Luke the chance to kill Vader.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 19:34

12 Answers 12


You have to wonder how much Yoda and the Jedi council really understood about the Sith if Palpatine could orchestrate a complete takeover of the Republic right under their noses, recruiting ex-Jedi to play major roles in the takeover. Clearly the Jedi leadership had grown complacent and understood a lot less than they thought about their enemies.

Even so, the "rule of two" never seemed to me to be a strict rule about two Sith as much as it was a rule about Sith strategy. Meaning, there's at least one powerful Sith out front but there's always a greater power behind the scenes providing direction. Palpatine was the hidden master in episodes 1-3, with Maul and Dooku being the overt dark aggressors. We saw no signs that any of them thought they were going to be replaced in their roles. The rule should be simply interpreted as "look out for the Sith that you can't see."

As for Luke, it is hard to imagine Palpatine or Vader feeling threatened by him. Could a naive farm boy still shaking the sands of Tatooine out of his hair realistically orchestrate a takeover of the empire from Palpatine? It's more than just being able to kill the Emperor and Vader; the various powers of the Empire would have to be willing to accept Luke's leadership and/or fear him enough to fall in line. So if Luke joined Vader and Palpatine there would have to be an alliance. It's a big galaxy, with plenty to carve off for Luke if he wanted to channel his inner dictator. Or Luke could just be well-paid muscle and let the aging Vader slide more into the consigliere role. There are many possibilities.

  • About that "never seemed to be a struct rule" - notice that every Sith Lord who violated the Rule of Two was destroyed more quickly than those, who kept it. Also, Sidious didn't violate it. He lost Maul, then took Dooku as temporary apprentice, while Grievous was just a tool, never Sith. Palpatine didn't violate it and lived long (or even very long, as for one technically killed... few times). Bane was probably one of the wisest Sith Lords, as Rule of Two always gave strength, while violating it brought defeat.
    – Griwes
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 21:34
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    So Dooku was totally good and on the light side until Maul bought it...and Palpatine made no steps to subvert Anakin unitl Dooku was dead?
    – Oldcat
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 18:33
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    @Oldcat Subverting someone is different than giving them the rank of Sith Lord and officially endorsing them as your apprentice.
    – DCShannon
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 21:20
  • @Griwes Sidious plus Maul plus Jar Jar makes three Sith. Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 3:58
  • One of the reasons for that is that the temple on coruscant is sitting on top of a sith shrine, clouding the Jedi. Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 13:10


Leaving aside all the ways this could be discussed (as it is below) in the framework of the Rule of Two, EU novel "Plagueis" explicitly notes that Darth Sidious did not believe in, or intend to follow, the Rule of Two - ironically, neither did Plagueis, his Master.

Would it have been even feasible for all 3 to be allied?

Not according to canon for those 3. The Emperor was always planning to have Luke off Vader as a passage to Apprenticeship in Dark Side.

But yes, theoretically, having Luke as just another Sith (NOT on Apprentice level) would be feasible in theory.

Wouldn't the emperor have assumed that Vader/Luke would team up against him?

Of course. He'd be an imbecile not to. But he was counting on him being so much more powerful and convincing Luke to become HIS apprentice rather than Vader's. If you recall, he already successfully conned Tyrannus into letting Anakin win over him and then getting Anakin to kill Tyrannus, who wasn't any dummy.

If so, why would he even agree to that?

See above. I don't have the EU quote handy to back this up, but the Emperor's plan was always to have Luke off Vader as the rite of passage to apprenticeship; same way Vader started off by first murdering Darth Tyrannus and later trying to destroy Mace Windu and Obi-Wan.

Why would both Vader and the Emperor agree to potentially have a 3rd sith as a "powerful ally"?

Because they already had plenty of Dark Jedi running around helping them, and a very powerful Force User would be of an obvious benefit, up till the point where he becomes worthy of Apprenticeship level at which point he helps fulfill the Rule of 2 by either offing the current Apprentice or helping the latter to off the Master.

UPDATE: The Emperor had specific plans for his dominance over the Force (not the Galaxy) as was covered in "Tarkin" novel; and Vader was supposed to help him with that. However, Vader went ahead and de-limbed himself though inferior tactics against Obi-Wan; making him less powerful and thus useful. Luke would offer a better helper than Vader.

Is there an implicit understanding that although they may try to recruit Luke, only two will actually survive from the three of them?

Yes. Exactly what I said in my previous paragraph, albeit a lot more elegantly put than I managed.

Or is there perceivably a workable relationship where all 3 are allied?

It's a function of Luke's progress. There's a workable 3some up till he can take his rightful place as an Apprentice, under either Palpatine or Vader.

Of course, BOTH of them were supremely sure that Luke would be aside him.

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    Just a note - they could have turned Luke dark and used him as an enforcer or an Emperor's Hand without teaching him the ways of the Sith. That wouldn't violate the rule of two.
    – Jeff
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 13:47
  • Yeah, I kind of shortcutted by conflating the "Dark Jedi"/"Sith" options into one for brevity. You're absolutely correct Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 13:54
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    I remember that Plagueis wanted to discard the Rule of Two in the novel Darth Plagueis, but is there evidence that Sidious ever agreed, or was he just going along with Plagueis to humor him until he got his chance to destroy him? While he was killing Plagueis, Sidious spoke sneeringly of his past, saying at one point "Plagueis the Wise, who in his time truly was, except at the end, trusting that the Rule of Two had been superseded, and failed to realize that he would not be excused from it." So this line makes it sound like he was mocking Plagueis' decision to stop following the Rule of Two.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 20:24

No, Palpatine was not ignoring the rule of two. He never intended to take two apprentices, only make Vader think this was his objective. His true plan was for Luke and Vader to battle to the death, with the victor becoming his apprentice. Were Luke to win, killing his father would complete his journey to the Dark Side. Were Vader to win, killing his son would steady his Dark Side foundation that was starting to waver.

Palpatine expected and wanted Luke, the younger and stronger warrior, to win, but would have settled for keeping Vader if Luke couldn't best him in combat.

This is clearly reflected in earlier drafts of the script:

Force Ghost Kenobi (to Vader): You will be destroyed, if not by Luke, then by your Emperor


Emperor: You are old and weak, Lord Vader. Had you destroyed the boy, you would have been given half the Empire to rule as you will, now the boy shall have that honor.


Emperor: Destroy him, and half the Empire will be yours...

George Lucas explains to staff during a story meeting (emphasis mine):

The Emperor and Vader are in total agreement about what's going to happen. They both want to get a hold of Luke. They both want him converted to the dark side: the Emperor to replace Vader, and Vader to replace the Emperor.

(source: The Making of Return of the Jedi by JW Rinzler)


The Rule of Two is self-enforcing as much as anything. One Sith is too easy to kill, and then the Sith are extinct, and so the Sith are encouraged by their tradition to take an apprentice. Three or more Sith will fight and kill each other for dominance. One Master, one apprentice is thus a self-balancing system.

As for Vader's and Palpatine's view of Luke, note that Vader sees Luke as a potential "ally", while Palpatine views him as an "asset". This is in keeping with their personas from the prequel movies (yes I know those were written later) and other EU sources; Palpatine has played fast and loose with the Rule of Two for his own ends since before he killed his master, Darth Plagueis. He was training Maul before killing Plagueis, and had Tyrannus as an apprentice while luring Anakin (Anain's turning required a surprising amount of patience, considering how little of it Anakin himself had).

Vader, for his part, had many of his own apprentices in the EU, seen by Vader as near-equals instead of Palpatine's view of - well, basically everyone - as pawns. Vader's training of new Sith cannot have gone unnoticed by Palpatine; at least one notable example - Lumiya - was culled from Palpatine's own Emperor's Hand cadre. Vader also tells Luke:

Luke, you can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny. Join me, and we can rule the galaxy as father and son!

Palpatine probably has a way out of that possible future, but if that statement was true and not just a tempting lie, then Palpatine did indeed foresee his own death. It just didn't come in exactly the way he may have seen.

Luke says it himself in RotJ: "Your overconfidence is your weakness"; for over 30 years, Palpatine has played with the galaxy and its factions like a chess game, and has, like a true grand master, seen hundreds of moves ahead and had an answer for every move, no matter how bad the move may have seemed, that placed him at an advantage to any opponent. With his elaborate checkmate of the Rebel Alliance in full swing, and the last real threat to his rule writhing in pain at his feet, he was reveling in his own genius. Everything was going his way...

Except that in his glee, he had ignored his trained dog, Vader. Palpatine was, in the first place, ready to discard him in favor of Luke, exactly as he'd done with Tyrannus. Not exactly endearing, and as Palpatine had pretty much condemned Vader mere seconds ago, he wasn't high on the Emperor's list of mental priorities. Second, Vader was watching Palpatine torture his own son to death. Everyone knows it doesn't matter how well-trained a mother dog is or how eagerly she obeys your commands; kick one of her puppies in front of her and you have a pretty angry momma dog on your hands, that will not sit, will not roll over, and will not stay. So it was with Vader and Luke; Vader saw the man, the Jedi, that he would never be in his own son, and something reawoke in him, pulling him back from Darkness to the Light to defend his son.


No not technically. In and of itself the rule of 2 dictated that the apprentice must have a candidate to become the next apprentice in the cycle. However, to ensure that the strongest really did survive the new apprentice is never under and circumstances allowed to intervene in the conflict between the TWO. (as seen int eh Darth Bane series where Zannah selects her pupil before engaging Bane) However Palpatine already broke the rule himself by killing his unarmed master in his sleep.

Now for the second part. You have to understand that the term "Dark Jedi" and "Sith Lord" are two radically different things. There have been hundreds of dark jedi throughout history that were never officially Sith Lords. I have two theories on why Palpatine agreed to try and turn Luke.

1) He would have trained him to be a personal agent or assassin similar to Luke's future wife (Mara Jade), or Darth Maul. Both were never intended to take the mantle. They were simply means to an end.

2) I find this one far more likely. Luke was meant to be the next true apprentice. It's mentioned in the episode 3 book that Palpatine was very very displeased with how Darth Vader turned out. He knew he would never have the power to take up the title as Lord of the Sith. But he was kept around anyways, because for the time being no one was strong enough to best him. Vader, because of his injuries, was always a place holder as Palpatine used his new resources in the empire to scour the galaxy for his new apprentice. Which he found in Luke.

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    The rule of two is absolute, and can never be violated. If one were to ever attempt it, the Sith Council would here and sanction that Sith Lord. In extreme cases, they might even revoke their Sith license, which would ruin their career as an evil Jedi.
    – John O
    Commented Feb 20, 2013 at 1:31

Palpatine does not believe in the "Rule Of Two". Anyone with this kind of power would never truly prepare someone else to be their replacement as denoted by this comment by Palpatine in:

Book Of Sith, Page 67

"Bane's power has been passed down for a thousand years. I vow to be it's last recipient."

Also the emperor seems to have many Force users known has Hand Of The Emperor in his employ, so in all probability he would have made Luke a Hand Of The Emperor until he was ready to destroy Vader and take his place.

I guess that's the beauty of being the evil ruler of an empire, you make the rules you want and ignore those you don't like. :)


I think the Rule of Two stands up. Even though there seems to be a lot of dark side practitioners, acolytes or adepts that seem to contradict the concept of the Rule of Two, they aren't really true Sith apprentices.

In ESB, Darth Vader says to Luke during their duel on Bespin,

Luke, you can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny! Join me, and together, we can rule the galaxy as father and son! Come with me. It is the only way.

I see this as Darth Vader wishing to use Luke to help him defeat the Emperor and take his place as the master with Luke then becoming his apprentice.

Later in RotJ, Emperor Palpatine has Luke fight and defeat Darth Vader. If Luke truly fell to the dark side, he would have gone ahead and killed Darth Vader, thus replacing Darth Vader as the Emperor's new apprentice (preserving the Rule of Two).

The Rule of Two even stands up in The Clone Wars TV series. Dooku recruits Ventress and it's plausible he may have been training Ventress to hopefully help him defeat Sidious and have her become a true apprentice.

Another example is the "Darth Bane: Rule of Two" novel. Bane's apprentice Zannah discovers and recruits the Force-sensitive Hetton. Zannah hides him from Bane with the notion that maybe she can one day train Hetton to help her defeat Bane to usurp his power and have Hetton become the apprentice (of course, Zannah is quite ready to defeat Bane and sells out Hetton in order to save face).

It seems apprentices are always scheming and maneuvering to one day kill and usurp their master's powers by recruiting potential apprentices, but the basic Rule of Two is never broken.


Sidious had plans for getting rid of Vader in place of Skywalker. There would be two if Luke turned and killed Vader, but Sidious could not convince Luke to turn and Vader started to redeem himself so Vader was going more over to the force and Luke was realizing that he was close to following in his fathers footsteps and fought against Sidious's misleading words. I think Luke might have turned to the dark side, but he had too many unanswered questions and he always believed Vader still had good in him. Luke knew that the dark side was not strong enough if he believed in his teachings. He never gave up on Vader so that shows he believed the dark side had it's weaknesses. When Obi Wan died and still was able to communicate with Luke, I think he realized what side he needed to stick with. LOL

  • These comments sound more like opinions than fact-based answers. Please cite sources for you conclusions. Commented Jan 12, 2014 at 7:58
  • com·ment: noun 1. A verbal or written remark expressing an OPINION or reaction. Commented Jun 26, 2015 at 20:18

Yes, it does violate.

And the Emperor, was killed because of this violation.

For those who don't understand the purpose of the Rule of Two:

  • The only target of the rule of two is to grant the Sith Order's power growth.
  • The only way to grant the growth is that every next Sith is stronger then the previous one.
  • The only way to grant the strength of the successive sith is that it would defeat the master one-on-one.
  • The only way to grant the one-on-one confrontation is to be only these two siths exists.

P.S: "Grant power growth" means that the power will keep on the same level or rise , never decrease.
P.S.S: Of course there are a bunch o minuses and pitfalls in this approach, but it works and works good.


Vader wanted Luke to help him overthrow Palpatine, and Palpatine actually goaded him to kill him in one of the most well known Star Wars quotes ever "Strike me down and your path to the Dark Side will be complete". Although his actual plan was to have Luke kill Vader. He knew that Vader would stop Luke's blow and when he did Palpatine was laughing. He told Luke to kill Vader and take his place. So actually while they were talking about making him a third Sith to each other neither one actually intended for that to happen.


In a word: Yes!

The Rule of Two is a means of hiding the Sith from the Jedi. EU canon includes many references to it being a large order prior to the Sith Wars. Once the Jedi Order is "destroyed" by Palpatine, it's far less needful to be hidden.

Again, EU canon adds many other "sith apprentices" after the fall of the Jedi and before 1BBY. The protagonist of Dark Forces, the failed apprentice Mara Jade; Count Dukhu, even.

Dukhu might not be "officially" Sith, but he functions as a sith in all practical ways - a second apprentice from Darth Maul. We also see in Clone Wars more Sith-ish dark-side Force users aligned with Darth Sidious.

So, once he secures power, Sidious ignores the Rule of Two. It's time is over.


The Rule of Two refers to two Sith Lords

The Rule of Two is referring specifically to having two full Sith Lords at one point:

The Rule of Two was instituted by Darth Bane, once a student at Kaan's Sith academy, in response to what he viewed as inevitable, self-destructive infighting within the Sith Order. The Rule of Two states that there would be only two Sith at one time, a Master and an Apprentice, guaranteeing that when the Apprentice becomes powerful enough in the ways of the Dark Side to take the title of Master, only then would they be worthy of the title. This transfer of power would only take place when the Apprentice takes their Master's life and finds a worthy student to repeat the cycle. Both Master and Apprentice were considered to be Sith Lords.

This does not mean there would only be two users of the dark side of the force. In fact, it is pretty much assumed that the two are probably grooming other apprentices so that the rule of two will continue to be enforced once a "promotion" takes place.

A pretty clear example is Ventress from The Clone Wars. Dooku, AKA Darth Tyranus, keeps Ventress as his apprentice. Ventress is not Darth Anything because she is not a Sith Lord and she can't be until one of the existing Lords is, um, retired. Dooku's plan is to kill Palpatine at some point and make Ventress a Sith Lord while keeping her his "apprentice".

So in the case of Luke, Luke would go to the Dark Side, become Vader's apprentice - but he would not become a Sith Lord until Sidious is removed.

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