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The Rule of Two: A master to wield the power of the dark side, and an apprentice to crave that power, both Dark Lords of the Sith. Only by killing his master does an apprentice prove that he is the stronger and thus ready to be the new master of the dark side.

But I seem to vaguely recall a third component to the philosophy from readings some time ago. It says that before the apprentice is permitted to strike at his master, he must first preserve the continuity of the Two by preparing an apprentice-to-be, not yet a Sith, who must not intervene during the final trial of succession. This is so that once the deed is done, he'll immediately ascend to be the new Dark Lord as the apprentice, preserving the number. The reasoning seems to be to prevent the line from dying out with a lone master dying prematurely before he finds an apprentice.

Can someone please verify this? Thanks!

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    Its more of a guideline... – user16696 May 5 '15 at 3:50
  • I remember Yoda saying something about it at the end of the Phantom menace. Always two there are, a Master and an apprentice. So it stands to reason that an apprentice trying to kill the master has to have his own apprentice ready. Otherwise Yoda lied. sobs quietly – Cherubel May 5 '15 at 14:25
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    We all know how good the Sith are at following rules. – Oldcat May 5 '15 at 17:12
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    @Oldcat abd Cherubel - we also all know how good Jedi are at telling the truth AND being correct about Sith even when telling the truth :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To May 6 '15 at 2:10
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    The most important prerequisite is the ability to kill his/her master. – Gorchestopher H Sep 11 '15 at 18:30
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On the Sith Apprentice taking an apprentice

There doesn't seem to be a pre-requisite for the Sith Apprentice. The Apprentice may or may not take an apprentice of his or her own. If the Apprentice fails to defeat the Master and is killed, the Master will choose a new apprentice:

The Master will train his apprentice in the ways of the Sith, until one day she must challenge him. If she proves unworthy, the Master will destroy her and choose a new apprentice. If she proves the stronger, the Master will fall and she will become the new Dark Lord of the Sith, and choose an apprentice of her own.”

Dynasty of Evil p. 153

Since the Master can choose a new apprentice it doesn't seem to matter whether the Sith Apprentice had an apprentice of his/her own already.

Another quote explains what happens if the Sith Apprentice does have his/her own apprentice and the Master defeats the Apprentice:

“The Rule of Two dictates there can only ever be two Sith, so how can you take me as an apprentice if your Master is still alive?”

“If you accept my offer, you will accompany me as I go to face my Master,” Zannah explained. “But you must not interfere. If he falls, then I will take you on as my apprentice.”

“What happens to me if you fail?” Set wondered.

“If I die, my Master will need a new apprentice. If he judges you worthy, then you will replace me. If not …”

Dynasty of Evil p. 155

Again, the Master may choose the new Apprentice. That Apprentice may or may not be the failed Apprentice's apprentice.

The requirement for challenging the Master, which is hinted at in the previous quote, is that it must be a battle between the Master and the Apprentice at their full power and without any interference from anyone else (such as the Apprentice's apprentice):

An apprentice had to earn the title of Dark Lord, wresting it from the Master in a confrontation that pushed them both to the edge of their abilities. If Zannah intended to challenge him only after he was crippled by illness and infirmity, then she was unfit to be his heir. Yet Bane was not willing to initiate their confrontation himself. If he fell, the Sith would be ruled by a Master who did not accept or understand the key principle upon which the new Order had been founded. If he was victorious, he would be left without an apprentice, and his failing body would give out long before he could find and properly train another.

Dynasty of Evil p. 11

You remembered correctly that there could be no interference between the Master and Apprentice by a third party, but there does not seem to be a requirement that the Apprentice already have an apprentice. Perhaps the extra requirement you were remembering is that the Apprentice has to attack the Master at his full power, and that the Apprentice must initiate the battle.

On the possible extinction of the Sith

I've looked through the Bane trilogy and Darth Plagueis (the books which have the most thorough discussion of the Rule of Two), but I can't find anything specifically addressing the possible extinction of the Sith while there is only one (because the Sith Apprentice has just assumed the position of the Master).

The closest I can find is worry on the part of Zannah that Bane would die prematurely (when he was near death from poisoning):

If he died now, everything he had put into place over the last ten years died with him. Zannah would have to start at the beginning. She would have to find and train an apprentice, even as she was still learning the full extent of her own abilities. She would be stumbling blindly forward, beset by enemies on all sides. It was almost impossible to imagine she wouldn’t make a mistake that would lead to her downfall … and the extinction of the Sith.

She couldn’t allow that to happen. For the sake of their order, she had to keep him alive.

Rule of Two p. 291

This would be a serious setback to the Sith, especially if Zannah died as well. However, it probably wouldn't really result in the extinction of the Sith because the Sith are an idea, and ideas can't be killed. Sooner or later, someone would stumble across a Sith holocron, turn to the dark side, and re-create the Sith Order.

It's probably worth mentioning that the Sith weren't safe from extinction when there were many Sith Lords, either. Arguably, with many Sith Lords the Sith were in even more danger from extinction, both from the Jedi and internal power struggles. Recall why Bane created the Rule of Two:

The Sith had existed in one form or another for thousands of years. Throughout their existence they had waged an endless war against the Jedi … and one another. Time and time again the followers of the dark side had been thwarted by their own rivalries and internal power struggles.

A common theme resonated across the long history of the Sith Order. Any great leader would inevitably be overthrown by an alliance of his or her followers. Lacking a strong leader the lesser Sith would quickly turn against one another, further weakening the Order.

Of all the Sith Masters, only Bane had understood the inescapable futility of this cycle.

Dynasty of Evil p. 9

Bane would argue that the Sith were weaker when there were many Sith Lords, and they would further weaken themselves with infighting. Indeed, it was Bane himself who nearly caused the extinction of the Sith by tricking the Brotherhood of Darkness into using the thought bomb.

  • I think this is the part of the literature that I got this idea from, of the apprentice preparing a new apprentice before challenging the master. Thanks for the explanation! But has there ever been any discussion on the risk of a Master, alone for that short moment after claiming his rank, dying prematurely? Surely there is always the risk of being discovered by a Jedi, or something as simple as an accident. I thought I've read something like that being brought up, though I'm not sure if it went into further detail. – thegreatjedi May 5 '15 at 9:41
  • The danger of being discovered by the Jedi is harped on pretty constantly in the Bane trilogy, but I don't recall there being a specific discussion of them being discovered in that particular moment. I think, as much of the functionality of the rule of two is left tacit, they're sort of expected to exercise discretion--challenge your master at the height of his power, but maybe not in a way that exposes the entire order and grand plan to extinction and failure. – Thorn May 5 '15 at 13:01
  • @thegreatjedi I can't find anything about the situation you describe. I've updated my answer with my (lack of) findings. – Null May 5 '15 at 14:17
  • Noted! Your answer brought up other thoughts, but they're unrelated to the main question here. Thanks! – thegreatjedi May 7 '15 at 10:13

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