If you’re coming into all of these reviews having only ever watched the Star Wars films before, you might be confused by a lot of the stuff that’s happened so far. Specifically, you may be wondering why there are so many dang Sith running around. After all, doesn’t Yoda make it pretty clear in The Phantom Menace that “Only two there are, a Master, and an Apprentice?” Why are there whole empires and families full of Sith running around. Today, we learn the answer to how the Sith of the past came to be the Sith of the actual Star Wars films.
Welcome to Legends of the Hydian Way, the chronicle of my attempt to read through and review all the novels that make up mainline Legends canon in chronological order. May the Force be with me.
Today we begin our three-week dive into Drew Karpyshyn’s Darth Bane novels with Darth Bane – Path of Destruction. Before we get too deep, let me provide some background. A large number of Legends novels, in addition to the standard goal of being entertaining and building the universe, also set out to either elaborate and explain a minor detail or point from the movies, or make an established story or part of canon fit more comfortably into the universe at it stands when the new book is published. Path of Destruction simultaneously sets out to explain Yoda’s line referenced above and also, surprisingly, to make the 1997 first-person shooter video game Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight more easily integrated into the rest of Legends canon.
Our story begins a mere three years after the events of Knight Errant, and a lot has happened in the meantime. All the Sith on the fringes, those disparate fiefdoms like those participating in the Charge Matrica, have been overwhelmed or subsumed by a new kind of Sith: The Brotherhood of Darkness. Unlike the Sith that came before, The Brotherhood see the infighting endemic to the Sith as a weakness and ironically have adopted a very Jedi-like structure of equality between members to ensure they all stay united against their true enemy: the Jedi. Another war against the Republic carries on, and to match the Brotherhood, the Jedi dipatch their own Army of Light to meet the threat. The two armies meet on the planet of Ruusan, where a years long war between Jedi and Sith begins.
Against this galactic tableau, we meet our protagonist: Dessel, a brawny miner boy living a dead end life on the backwater world of Apatros. Crushed under the weight of his dead, abusive father’s debt to the company that owns Apatros, Dessel lives his life scraping and saving any credits he can get to pay his way to freedom one day. In pursuit of that goal, he takes the opportunity of a Republic military ship arriving to play sabaac (a gambling card game) with several of the soldiers in the colony’s only cantina. Des has flashes, unpredictably, of what will happen in the future while playing cards, and uses this unexplained talent to clean up at the table. Some of the Republic soldiers don’t take it well, and he’s ambushed in an alley on the way home. In self-defense, Des kills one of the soldiers. Knowing the company he works for would rather sell him out than risk offending the Republic, Des accepts an offer to join the Sith army in exchange for passage off-planet.
We fast forward a few years, as Des has found military life suits him. He’s become a sergeant in a unit called the Gloom Walkers and finds the cameraderie of his fellow soldiers soothing. However, when his squad is sent on a suicide mission, Des mutinies and knocks his lieutenant unconscious before enacting his own plan, which saves most of his troops while still accomplishing the mission objective. Des is arrested, but rather than face court martial, he’s sent to Korriban, where he learns that he is strong with Force potential, and that The Brotherhood of Darkness wants him to train to become a Sith Master.
While the battle between Sith and Jedi rages on Ruusan, Des casts aside his name at his instructors’ suggestion and chooses a new name: Bane. His father, while drunk, often called him the bane of his existence, so symbolically Des decides to take what he once feared and make it his strength. Thus, Bane begins to thrive at the Sith Academy.
His rise to power is swift, with his natural talents augmented by frequent visits to the archives of the academy, where he learns from the writings Sith that came before the age of the Brotherhood. His teachers are somewhat annoyed that he thinks Sith that came before have anything to teach him that they cannot, but Bane isn’t willing to turn down any source of an advantage.
Eventually, he challenges a rival in mock lightsaber combat and gets carried away by the dark side, choking the life from his fellow student. The teachers reveal that no punishment will be levelled at Bane, because he stuck without mercy and proved his strength. Bane, for his part, feels guilty about what he did, and when he realizes that he likely killed his father by accident with the Force, he finds his mind recoiling whenever he tries to reach for its power and his rise to prominence gives way to a shamed pariahdom at the academy. Pushed away from the lessons of the instructors, Bane spends more and more time in the archives. Another student, a woman named Githany, sees his fall as an opportunity and offers to secretly tutor him if he will help her take down the top student. He agrees, and unbeknownst to her also talks the lightsaber combat instructor into teaching him secretly as well.
Bane soon finds that he has more philosophically in common with the Sith from the books in the archives than with the Brotherhood. Why should loyalty and fraternity matter, he wonders, if ideologically the whole point of the Sith is about self-focused aggregation of strength and power? Why should he hold back from his own pursuit of power for the sake of his fellows? The contradictions in his teachings get worse when he learns that the Sith no longer use the Darth title because it considered a challenge that upsets the unity of the Sith. This same pursuit of unity eventually leads Bane to believe the Brotherhood is inherently flawed.
Around this time the battle on Ruusan has become more dire for the Sith. The leader of the Brotherhood, Kaan (sadly nobody yells his name in anger during the book) issues orders that the students from Korriban are to be brought to the front, ready or not. Just before this news arrives, Bane makes his move and defeats, but does not kill, the top student. Githany is furious, claiming it proves his weakness and Bane himself is troubled that he continues to be unable to give himself fully to the Dark Side.
Bane leaves the Academy and goes into the tombs of the ancient Sith Lords entombed on Korriban, hoping their spirits will appear and speak to him. When none manifest, Bane takes it as further proof that the Brotherhood is worthy of nothing but contempt if even the ancient ghosts of dead Sith will not speak to them. When he returns, Githany leads him into an ambush, but he convinces her of his power and she once again switches sides as Bane executes his would be murderer, no longer afraid to give in to the Force.
Word arrives that the students are to be inducted into the Brotherhood and sent to Ruusan but Bane denounces the whole Brotherhood as weak, emulating the Jedi rather than pursuing the Dark Side as it is meant to be embraced. He leaves, bound not for Ruusan, but Lehon, a planet that appeared in Knights of the Old Republic and one where he hopes to find more information about Darth Revan.
The remaining students join with Lord Kaan in the battle against the Jedi. Both sides have gathered their forces and in fact things have gotten so intense that essentially all the Sith in the galaxy have gathered on Rusaan to oppose the Jedi. Bane, meanwhile finds a holocron of Darth Revan (essentially a pseudo-AI meant to teach) and learns from it many rituals and secrets. He also comes to the conclusion that the Sith have always been flawed.
You see, in the past, a powerful Sith Lord would arise, and teach others. Eventually though individually weaker than the master, the students would ally to overcome him, and the overall strength of the Dark Side decreased as now there were three weak Sith instead of one powerful one. Bane realizes that there must be one Sith to embody all of the power of the Dark Side, to learn every secret and accumulate all the power possible. However, Bane knows people are limited and that one day this Master would die, taking all of his accumulated knowledge with him and leaving the Dark Side weakened. Thus, he comes to his grand realization and creates what he is most famous for: The Rule of Two.
Bane, now going by Darth Bane, concludes that there must always be exactly two Sith. One to embody the power of the Dark Side, a Master, and the other to crave it, an Apprentice. This Apprentice can only ascend to the rank of Master by overcoming and killing his current Master. Since there is only one student, in order to do this the Apprentice must be stronger than the Master. In this way, Bane reasons that the strongest and most powerful will always be the Master, and the Dark Side will never lack power due to the death of one Sith.
Armed with this realization, he sets out to destroy Kaan’s Brotherhood and ensure that only he and one other, worthy of being his Apprentice, survive among the Sith. To that end, he begins a plan of subtle betrayal, manipulating Kaan by sending him the instructions for a ritual known as the Thought Bomb, essentially a destructive sphere of Dark Side energy released to destroy everything around it. Bane knows Kaan will only use this ritual if things are desperate, so he rejoins the Brotherhood and pretends to have designs on replacing Kaan as its leader.
Kaan, for his part, is fooled by Bane’s ruse and even as Bane sabotages his army’s progress at every opportunity believes that he is forcing Bane into a subservient position. With the Brotherhood nearly broken, Kaan orders Bane to remain at the camp, planning to return and order the whole Brotherhood to kill him after deploying the thought bomb. The rest, he leads into a cave network where he begins the ritual. The Jedi pursue, but realize what is going on and choose to send only 100 Jedi to face Kaan. They know they will die, but believe it a price worth paying to destroy what they believe to be literally all of the remaining Sith.
Kaan does not know, however, that the thought bomb will kill him and his forces as well as the Jedi, and even as it takes shape he is powerless to stop it. And thus the thought bomb “detonates” and kills all the remaining Sith and one hundred of the Jedi on Ruusan, Leaving Darth Bane as the only living Sith in the galaxy. Realizing this position leaves his new fledgling Sith Order vulnerable, Bane seeks out someone worthy of being his Apprentice and chooses a young orphaned Jedi child who, in a rage, lost control of her powers and killed two Jedi seeking to rescue her from a shuttle crash. The book ends with Bane accepting Zannah as the first Apprentice of the new Sith Order. With two and only two Sith, the galaxy is set on a new course as our novel closes.
I really enjoyed Path of Destruction. Bane at the beginning the novel is a pretty sympathetic character and watching his slide into villainy is captivating. It’s actually somewhat surprising when you get halfway through the book and realize just how ruthless Bane is. The real winning point here is how Karpyshyn manages to take a throwaway line from one of the movies and then logically go back and use established Sith philosophy to explain why someone might decide that having only two Sith was a good idea. He even throws in the bonus of explaining the Valley of the Jedi and the spirits trapped there from Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight which I don’t think anyone was really clamoring to have explained, but it’s nice to have since he’s given it to us.
Although I really like this book, I do have a minor quibble with it. The middle of the book, particularly any time Bane is researching the ancient Sith seems very heavily weighted towards praising Darth Revan. Lip service is given to Naga Sadow and Exar Kun, but it’s Revan Bane primarily reads, Revan he quotes to his instructors, and Revan who’s holocron he finds that gives him the idea for the Rule of Two. Honestly given the way it’s presented here one could make a case that Revan was the one who came up with the Rule of Two (even if he never implemented it). I get why Revan might feature a lot in this given Karpyshyn created him, but I’d prefer it if he was one of many ancient Sith referenced instead of seeming to be the be-all end-all of Bane’s inspiration.
That aside, however, I very much recommend Path of Destruction and next week we’ll be diving in to part two of the Darth Bane trilogy!