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Darth Vader? Darth Sidious? Darth Maul? ‘Darth’ appears throughout Star Wars as a title of a Sith Lord.
It’s most likely a corruption of a Rakata term: either Daritha (‘Emperor’) or darr tah (‘triumph over/through death’). However, so far, all this only exists in Legends – we’re still waiting to see a Canon interpretation!
In Canon, Darth simply refers to ‘Dark Lord’. Somehow. I expect more Star Wars releases to address the origins of the Sith and the title ‘Darth’ in the coming years.
Despite watching, reading, and playing Star Wars content for over twenty years, I confess I didn’t really know the term’s origins. So, come with me on my own personal learning expedition.
What is the Canon Definition of ‘Darth’?
Disney overrode practically all of Star Wars apart from the films and The Clone Wars TV series. That presents an immediate problem, since most Sith origins are explored in what’s now considered Legends.
According to the current Canon, ‘Darth’ is a loose translation of the term ‘Dark Lord’. I’ve even found some suggestions that it’s based on ‘Dark Lord of the Sith’ – which seems unlikely to me.
Sith use ‘Darth’ as a title, much in the same way that Jedi use ‘Master’.
So far, the earliest discovered reference to Darth (in Canon) is Darth Andeddu, mentioned in Star Wars Adventures: Return to Vader’s Castle 2. He lived around 7,000 BBY. He also has a fully fleshed-out backstory in Legends and is linked with the Sith quest for immortality, manifested by Palpatine.
And that’s all we really have to go on at the moment! I suppose it’s intriguing enough, but there are far more mesmerizing theories explored in Legends. With any luck, the origins of the title ‘Darth’ will be explored in a Canon production sometime soon.
Legends Etymology of ‘Darth’
Many believe the term ‘Darth’ originates from the Rakatan word Daritha. It means ‘Emperor’ as a title. The Rakata were an ancient humanoid race responsible for many wars (as the Infinite Rakatan Empire) tens of thousands of years before the Skywalkers came onto the scene. For example, they built the Star Forge shipyard that corrupted Revan and Malak (eventually destroyed by Revan).
The other alternative is the Rakatan phrase darr tah, which means ‘triumph over death’ or ‘triumph through death’. This might relate to the unending Sith search for eternal life, embodied by Darth Bane and Darth Sidious in particular. Alternatively, it might refer to their quest for death and conquest everywhere they go and their resultant strength through this.
One of these is likely the root word of Darth, but Sith used this moniker long before Revan and Malak were on the scene. Thus, the Rakatan invasions of the Sith homeworld Korriban (about 27,700 BBY) probably caused the term to be introduced to their lore.
Interesting, no? I certainly think so! I’d expect further Star Wars Canon releases to explore this concept more deeply.
What is the Legends History of ‘Darth’?
Early Sith Lords didn’t use the ‘Darth’ or even take a new name. They were just evil, with a different approach to the Force – they clearly felt no need for a title change. Examples include Exar Kun and Marka Ragnos.
Darth Andeddu is considered the first Sith Lord to use the term ‘Darth’ in his name, as described above. Sometime after him came Darth Revan and Darth Malak. (Although these are currently barely mentioned in Canon, the Knights of the Old Republic remake will ensure they’re soon regarded as Star Wars historical facts!)
Skipping forward a few thousand years brings us to Skere Kaan. This Jedi Master, skilled in battle meditation, defected to the Sith along with a few loyal Knights. He formed the Brotherhood of Darkness and was referred to as the ‘Dark One’. His aim was to unite the fractured Sith Empire, riddled with infighting, meaning it couldn’t take on the Republic.
Interestingly, as part of his pursuit of this unity, he forbade the historic title of ‘Darth’. In his mind, it was responsible for all the Sith’s problems.
Kaan led a relatively successful campaign against the Jedi for a decade but forfeited the faith of one Darth Bane. After Skere tried to assassinate Bane (twice), he was tricked into detonating a Force thought bomb. This killed him and every Force user in the vicinity, leaving only Darth Bane and his apprentice, Darth Zannah, to survive. They had moved far away from the site.
Darth Bane then established the Rule of Two, and every Sith since him took on the honorific. The Rule of Two (and the Sith) ended on Death Star II when Vader and Palpatine were destroyed. The Chosen One destroyed the Sith, after all.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Does ‘Darth Vader’ mean ‘Dark Father’?
Answer: George Lucas himself has explained that ‘Darth Vader‘ was inspired by the term ‘Dark Father’. This is a hotly debated topic, and I won’t get into it too much, but many people don’t believe it. That’s because the twist of Vader being Luke’s father apparently wasn’t planned until Lucas wrote Empire.
But then, maybe Lucas did plan it and just hid it very well!
The more probable original etymology behind the name Vader is ‘invader’. Who knows?
Question: How did Sidious give Darth Vader his name?
Answer: The first time you watch Revenge of the Sith, it looks like Palpatine makes it up on the spot. “Henceforth, you shall be known as Darth… hmm… Vader? Sure.”
The official Revenge of the Sith novel includes the following as Sidious pauses after saying “Darth”:
A pause, a questioning in the Force – an answer, dark as the gap between galaxies…
You might conclude that it’s simply the will of the Force. Palpatine gives him his new name to erase all attachment to Anakin Skywalker, the heroic Jedi Knight and good man.
Also, Sith titular names often refer to their role or job. Vader’s job was (arguably) to ‘invade‘ the Jedi ranks, scattering and defeating them.
Here’s another interesting theory: Sidious manipulated Anakin into existence (Darth Vader #25). While he isn’t Vader’s father per se, he is responsible for his life. Perhaps ‘Vader’ stems from that, a meaning hidden all along.
Question: Why does Obi-Wan call Vader ‘Darth’ in A New Hope?
Answer: In A New Hope, Darth Vader and Ben Kenobi have the following exchange:
I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master.
Only a master of evil, Darth.
Obi-Wan also calls him ‘Darth’ again later on.
Some people have a problem with Obi-Wan calling Vader ‘Darth’. I don’t! Jedi are addressed as “Master” (and nothing more) all the time, so why shouldn’t the same grammatical rules apply to Sith?
(Of course, in reality, the backstory had yet to be written, and Darth was initially believed to be Vader’s first name. But let’s brush past that!)
In A New Hope, Kenobi refers to Vader as “Darth”, calling him by his new title. It’s a fascinating contradiction to how Obi-Wan always addresses his former apprentice – he calls him “Anakin” at all other times (all the way from a boy to that epic Mustafar duel.
You were my brother, Anakin!
That’s despite watching the security hologram of Sidious bestowing Skywalker with his new name, Darth Vader.
Throughout the Obi-Wan Kenobi series, he continues to refer to his former apprentice as Anakin. Right up until the end, that is, when he slices open the Sith Lord’s helmet. He pauses:
After the exchange of words, Obi-Wan says the following:
Then my friend is truly dead. Goodbye, Darth.
This represents the changing moment where Kenobi no longer believes Anakin’s salvation is possible. In his mind, his old friend is dead, replaced by the monster Vader.