In the six Star Wars movies, we are shown four Sith Lords: Darth Maul, Darth Sidious/Palpatine, Count Dooku and Darth Vader. Apart from wearing dark colours and being generally evil, we know the following about Sith Lords:
- They utilise the dark side of the force.
- They have force powers such as being able to force jump and manipulate objects from a distance.
- They can manipulate minds.
- They can shoot lightning at people.
- They can wield light sabres.
We don’t see every Sith Lord do each of these things: Darth Maul largely just fights with his nifty double light sabre, Count Dooku seems more manipulated than manipulating, Darth Vader doesn’t do much jumping – really only Darth Sidious does each and every one of these. One other Sith Lord is mentioned in the films (Darth Plagueis) and all we know of him is what Palpatine tells us (he learned how to cheat death and was later killed by his apprentice.) Interestingly Anakin, despite his Jedi training has never heard of this Sith…
The Sith have a basic dark-magician problem: being evil and secretive they can’t easily disseminate their knowledge. The Sith like to be at the apex of an organization but consequently, they need to concentrate power within themselves and in this case power is knowledge and skill. Their rivals, the Jedi, have more inherently cooperative values and socially acceptable values and hence while they might be less powerful, they can organize openly and fight the Sith collectively.
Yoda tells us that there are always two Sith: a master and an apprentice. This is probably literally incorrect and basically true. It is probably literally incorrect as there can’t be some kind of Sith police regulating the exact number of Sith at any one time and ensuring that the number is never greater than 2. However, it is probably basically true within any given region of space because two Sith of comparable status would naturally be rivals. Sith goals are individualistic and based on an individual’s own passions. Consequently, cooperation between Sith is difficult and wouldn’t last. They can limit this tendency to destroy one another by avoiding each other. In addition at times when the Jedi are in the ascendancy, the number of hidden Sith may be larger as they will tend to avoid conflict between other Sith for fear of drawing attention to themselves.
The point is this: a Sith will be good at hiding. A Sith can really only be openly a Sith when they control the galaxy (enabling them to stamp out any rivals and use armies to keep the Jedi away). The master/apprentice arrangement allows a Sith to pass on their knowledge and get help from a relationship that is asymmetric in terms of power. Nevertheless, every Sith Master needs fear that one day they will be killed by their apprentice and so every apprentice needs fear that they may be preemptively killed by their master.
I’d assume that some of the Sith don’t bother with the whole conquer the galaxy plan. Firstly it is hard work that requires help and may bring you prematurely to the attention of people who will kill you. A good Sith plan would be to lie low somewhere obscure and indulge in Sith vices where nobody will bother you. In the Star Wars galaxy where whole planets appear to be run by slave-trading gangsters, this shouldn’t be too hard – the main dangers are Jedi paranoia about Sith and other Sith wanting to eliminate rivals.
In the films we know of five Sith lords, in addition, there is one other character who:
- is directly linked to the dark side in the film
- appears to use force powers including using a ‘force jump’ to move
- appears to us the ‘Jedi mind trick’ to manipulate minds
- shoots lighting
- holds a lightsaber
That character is R2-D2. No other character who isn’t identified as a Sith or Jedi does all of these things.
- The Dark Side association is shown in The Empire Strikes Back during Luke’s training with Yoda.
- Primarily in the prequel trilogy, R2D2 jumps/levitates out of spaceships but also leaps out of a swamp in The Empire Strikes Back. He does also fly using tiny leg rockets but that is a whole other thing.
- R2 is frequently shown talking in his beep-boop language to humans who then explain to him why they are doing something odd, unusual or out of character. Again this is most notable when Luke tells R2 that he is flying to the Dagobah system as if he is repeating back to R2 whatever R2 just said. Later Luke is confused as to why he flew there.
- R2 shoots lightning around so blatantly that he may as well just announce that his first name is ‘Darth’
- R2 holds Luke’s light sabre on Jaba’s barge. He doesn’t wield it as such but does throw it to Luke. Note that he throws it to Luke despite R2 not having any hands or arms.
So what is going on? We have five named Sith lords and we have five characters who show Sith traits. The simplest explanation is that the extra Sith in both lists is the same Sith. R2D2 is Darth Plagueis.
All we know about Plagueis (from an unreliable source) is that he learned to cheat death and that he was murdered by his apprentice. Using the Axiom of Not Unnecessarily Multiplying Siths (Darth Ockham’s Razor) I’ll assume, as appears to be common in fandom, that Palpatine/Sidious was the apprentice Sith who murdered Darth Plagueis. From here things become clearer.
The True History of R2D2
Episode 0 – The Droid Awakes
Palpatine, a Naboobian Sith, attempts to murder his master Darth Plageuis — who presumably was also Naboobian or living on or near Naboo. Plageuis (who notably could ‘cheat death’) is either the least self-aware Sith ever or had some contingency against the obvious Sith occupational hazard of murder-by-apprentice. That contingency was to hide his essence psychically in an apparently unassuming astromech droid. Astromech droids are all over the place and nobody pays them much attention. They aren’t smart, they aren’t that advanced, they are mainly for keeping small spacecraft running and they don’t typically sprout rockets and destroy military robots – but I digress.
R2D2/Plagueis has two goals – have a happy Sith life doing Sith things and GET REVENGE ON PALPATINE. Sith are big on revenge, so much so they even named a movie after that trait. Of course, unlike every other Sith, R2D2 is functionally immortal and living his life either in hiding from Jedi (and/or rival Sith) or ruling the galaxy are no longer attractive options when your life span is infinite. For R2 bringing an end to the age-old Sith/Jedi dichotomy, where the force is confined either to stoical monks or people with poor impulse control, is an attractive proposition. R2 wishes to bring balance to the force.
I’m not saying R2 is necessarily good. It is possible to be unethical in pursuit of a worthy cause — every violent ideologue who has claimed that the end justifies the means is an example. R2 pursues his goals with violence and manipulation. He is not a NICE robot. Having said that, it is noticeable that of all the forms he could have taken, he has picked the lowliest role among the lowliest group in galactic society, that of the humble astromech droid.
Episode 1 – The Resistible Rise of Arturo D2
So we first meet R2 onboard the spaceship of Queen Amidala. We don’t see how he snuck on-board but there he is. The ship comes under attack by the Trade Federation blockade and is damaged. Assorted droids, including R2, go outside to repair the ship in flight. Naturally, the non-Sith Lord droids get blown to bits. R2 meanwhile deflects the incoming fire from himself, fixes the ship and saunters inside. Having saved the day he ensures that he gets close to his target: Padme.
Padme is currently in disguise but *somehow* is allocated to clean R2. Our protagonist (R2 that is) being a top-notch death-defying Sith Lord can see the future and knows that:
- Anakin Skywalker is going to kill Palpatine (so R2 has to help arrange that) and…
- Padme will be the mother of Skywalker twins therefore…
- R2’s job is to make these things happen and his current mission is to get Padme out of danger.
Conveniently after R2 has been actively fiddling with the ship’s systems, the Queen’s craft has to land on Tatooine. Having doctored Anakin Skywalker’s said with a sprinkle of midichlorians, R2 manipulates Qui-Gon into taking Anakin on as an apprentice. R2 now has both his targets on the one ship. Off to Coruscant to see what Palpatine is up to…but R2 has to leave none the wiser.
Other stuff goes on with other characters but we can safely ignore all that until R2 arranges to take control of a small space-fighter. The young Anakin Skywalker is in the cockpit but given that he is a little kid who could no more fly an advanced fighter-craft than he could explain why sound doesn’t propagate in a vacuum, obviously R2 has to control the craft for him. This is easy for R2 because:
- he is an astromech droid directly plugged into the fighter’s control and
- he is an ancient Sith Lord with a grudge.
R2 flies up into orbit, locates the droid control ship, uses his force powers to bypass the shields, flies directly to the heart of the ships, blows some vital part up and then flies out again. The little kid in the ship shouts ‘yippee’, having really enjoyed the ride. For some reason, the adults afterwards seem to think the little kid did all of that flying despite the obvious absurdity of that conclusion. I guess that R2 was just messing with their heads.
Some mad soul has done an edit (no sound) of all R2’s appearances in a Phantom Menace. So for references watch the following:
Episode 2 – Anakin in the UK
R2 continues to guard Padme for some years. When she visits Coruscant he uses his force powers to alert two Jedi guards that Padme is about to be eaten by space-centipedes. Yes, he could have just zapped them with lightning but then there would be two dead space-centipedes to explain. R2 is powerful but he is also SUBTLE.
Despite their obvious incompatible personalities, radically different political positions, age difference, and fashion choices R2 contrives for Anakin and Padme to fall in love. This is undoubtedly despicable. As I noted earlier, R2 is NOT NICE and this level of manipulation is quite appalling. He is a nasty piece of work but I’m sure he rationalises it as less manipulation than whatever Palpatine is doing in the senate.
Unfortunately for R2, his plans go all awry pretty quickly. Anakin and Padme can only be pushed so far and naturally, they come to their sense when they consider the practicalities of the whole idea. Luckily fate intervenes and Anakin decides to fly off to Tatooine to see his mum and Padme tags along. Things go from bad to worse as Anakin reveals himself to be deeply mentally unstable. However, due to dehydration R2 manages to stop Padme from turning Anakin into the local authorities for mass murder.
R2 realises this is never going to work. He has to keep an eye on Padme and also keep an eye on the dangerously unstable Anakin. For the moment he can keep both of them together but inevitably they won’t always be in the same spot (or even the same planet) at the same time. R2 needs an assistant. The assistant needs to be gullible but reliable as well as trusted by both Padme and Anakin. But who? Jar-Jar? No, too clumsy. He is busy considering his options when Obi-Wan calls. “Ah!” Thinks R2, “the dilapidated protocol droid that Anakin built as a kid! Perfect!”
He sets off to recruit C3PO as his henchman. To which C3PO says “For a mechanic, you do an extraordinary amount of thinking”. Zoiks! Has C3PO spotted that R2 isn’t what he pretends to be? Unfortunately, bad news from Obi-Wan sends Anakin and Padme off on a risky adventure. Chaos ensues as R2 finds himself in a war zone populated with a small army of Jedi, a Sith and then a clone army. C3PO nearly gets permanently remodelled as a droid soldier, Padme falls out of a troop carrier, and Anakin nearly gets killed by Sith Lord Count Dooku. Have R2’s manipulations backfired or is he simply no match for the much grander schemes of his former apprentice Palpatine?
Luckily for R2, love saves the day. Padme and Anakin’s mutual near brush with death cements their relationship. R2 has also found somebody he cares for i.e. C3PO. Having returned to Naboo, R2 and C3PO get married (also Padme and Anakin get married apparently). “Maybe this plan is going to work out after all”, thinks R2…
Episode 3 – When Two Droids Love Each Other Very Much
When we meet R2 later he is riding high. C3PO is looking after Padme, who is pregnant with the foreseen Skywalker twins. Anakin’s mega-dose of midichlorians has worked a treat and his force powers are at an all-time high. R2 has positioned Anakin so as to get the attention of Palpatine. Given that Anakin is a ticking time-bomb of force-powered psychotic rage, it really is just a matter of time until he snaps and murders everyone in close proximity. R2 intends to make sure Palpatine is close to Anakin when that happens. R2 is a bomb-throwing anarchist and Anakin is his bomb.
As it happens an ideal situation has presented itself. Palpatine has had himself kidnapped by General Grievous and Count Dooku. Anakin and Obi-Wan are on the way to rescue Palpatine. Maybe, this is it – thinks R2. In his shadowy pre-prognostication, he has seen Palpatine on a throne, a Sith apprentice and a young Jedi battle and somehow (the vision is unclear) Palpatine dies. All he knows for sure is that Anakin kills Palpatine and all the pieces seem to be in place: Palpatine-Dooku-Anakin.
Flying through space R2’s body is in its element. Poor old R4 is attacked by buzz droids but R2 can simply zap them away with his force powers. Obi-Wan, Anakin and R2 crash land in the hanger of an enemy ship. They force-jump out of their ships and shortly after so does R2 (watch it, it is undeniable that he forces jumps). Naturally, R2 can’t face the Sith on the upper floors directly – too much risk of exposure, so he sends off his Jedi to do his dirty work for him. After killing a couple of war droids, R2 settles back to wait for his prophecy to fall into place.
Sadly the best-laid plans of man and droid oft fall apart in a horrible mess. The idiot Jedi rescue Palpatine and despite R2’s warnings they all get captured by General Grievous. Taken to the bridge, R2 stages a surprise attack on the surrounding droids allowing the Jedi to fight off their captors. Unfortunately, the ship is damaged in the process. Taking control R2 successfully lands the remains of the spaceship. “Yay, we totally landed that spaceship!” say the Jedi*. “Fools,” thinks R2.
*[Not actual dialogue]
From there, things go from bad to worse. Anakin does get closer to Palpatine but never goes on a killing spree with Palpatine around. Meanwhile, Palpatine’s plans are advancing at an alarming rate. Of course, R2 has no particular love for the Jedi or the Republic but he hates it when Palpatine gets what he wants. Still, he can feel the rage building within Anakin – he will explode at some point, hopefully with Palpatine nearby.
With the Republic in collapse and the Jedi betrayed by the clones, R2 accompanies Anakin to visit Padme. “Anakin is psychotic, ” he says to C3PO, making sure C3PO understands that he has to keep Padme well away from the increasingly deranged Anakin. “Not so loud” warns C3PO.
Anakin’s disordered thinking prevents R2 from controlling Anakin further. Palpatine’s suggestions are much stronger and they find themselves on Mustafar. Anakin finally goes on a killing spree, slaughtering all the wrong people. “Shit,” thinks R2, but at least Padme isn’t here. Then Padme turns up and R2 expresses his view of the situation with a string of untranslatable Sith expletives. R2 has been outplayed by Palpatine and the worst of it is that R2 knows that Palpatine didn’t even suspect that R2 has been working against him.
R2 leaves Mustafar with his schemes in tatters – Anakin is dead, and Palpatine is Emperor. The Skywalker twins still survive though, but R2 has to face facts. He can’t do this by himself – he needs help and coincidentally the perfect ally is on the same ship with him: Yoda.
With the Jedi Order in ruins, R2 can safely reveal himself to Yoda. Together they work out a scheme. The lesser Skywalker will be watched over by a Jedi and hidden on Tatooine, the stronger Skywalker will be watched over by the Sith (R2) and schooled in galactic politics. When the time is right, either R2 will bring Leia to Yoda for training or Obi-Wan will bring Luke (assuming he doesn’t display the same signs of psychosis as his father). All that’s left is to wipe C3PO’s memories to ensure he doesn’t give away that R2 is a Sith Lord. The waiting game has begun.
Episode 4 – A New Dope
Years later and R2 is once again in trouble. Leia has grown up well under his guidance. She is smart, brave and adept with a blaster. She is actively involved in the rebellion while also running diplomatic missions. Unfortunately, R2’s scheme to steal the plans for an Imperial super-weapon [eta: since depicted in Rogue One] has backfired. Leia is on the verge of being captured by Darth Vader. Could there be a greater disaster? Vader is no less than Anakin Skywalker and if he captures Leia, then eventually he will work out who she is. R2 has no choice. It is time for plan B.
With C3PO following, R2 gets the Death Star plans from Leia and abandons her. Using his mental powers R2 safely navigates through the ship despite the blaster crossfire. Into an escape-pod and off the ship! Using his long-distance telepathy he convinces the Imperial ship not to blow the pod out of space for target practice and lands on Tatooine.
On the planet’s surface, he sends C3PO off in a different direction (note: it may appear that C3PO is arguing with R2 but he simply repeating back R2’s words while R2 uses the Sith version of the Jedi mind trick on him). R2’s plan is simple: get captured by Jawas, infiltrate the second-hand droid market, and eventually make his way by hopping between owners to either Luke Skywalker or Obi-Wan Kenobi or preferably both.
Sure enough, Luke and his uncle turn up at a Jawa robot sale. The idiot uncle is oddly immune to mental influence and picks the wrong astromech droid. However, a simple application of the force to the offending droid and blows a fuse and with C3PO’s intervention, R2 is put into Luke’s care. R2 has been manipulating the minds of Skywalkers for decades now and it is a trivial matter of using some holographic projection and some gentle mind powers to get Luke to remove the restraining bolt. When no one is looking, R2 heads off into the desert, leaving just enough of a trail for Luke to follow. From there it is a simple matter to summon Obi-Wan who deals with some of the local trouble and the first stage of Plan B is in place.
Having acquired transport off-planet, a tame Jedi and Plan-B Skywalker, R2 heads off with his team to rescue Plan-A Skywalker. Locating and infiltrating the Death Star is relatively easy for an ancient Sith Lord who coincidentally has memorised the plans of the superweapon. Once onboard, R2 hacks into the Death Star’s computers and coordinates the rescue attempt. The rescue is moderately successful with only one casualty and R2 leaves with both Plan-A and Plan-B Skywalkers intact.
Having rendezvoused with the Rebels, R2 commandeers an X-Wing and lets Plan-B Skywalker tag along. Placing an explosive charge into the exhaust vent will be trivial for R2 but he runs into a major snag. The bomb release is tied to the targeting computer and the targeting computer needs to be switched off manually. In desperation, R2 uses a recording he made earlier of Obi-Wan talking to Luke. Convinced that he is receiving instructions from the deceased Jedi, Luke turns off the computer and R2 blows up the Death Star (faking injuries that are easily repaired so, nobody suspects).
Episode 5 – Two Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb
With both Skywalkers with the Rebels, R2 decides to allocate C3PO to one while he keeps an eye on the other. With Obi-Wan dead, R2 has to deliver Luke to Yoda, leaving the more competent Leia to coordinate Rebel forces. Now hiding on the Ice Planet Hoth, it proves difficult to entice Luke off-planet. When Luke gets lost on the planet surface R2 turns to desperately beam a hologram of Obi-Wan out towards Luke. Eventually, as darkness falls R2 is forced inside.
Meanwhile, Luke has fought a scary monster and is lying injured in the snow. It isn’t dark yet and Luke sees R2’s fake message just when Han turns up to help. ‘Go to the Dagobah system’. Luckily for Plan-B, Luke is recovered the next day but unfortunately, the Empire is also on its way. Entrusting Leia to C3PO, R2 installs himself in an X-Wing and waits for Luke to turn up so they can fly off. Eventually Luke shows up and finally, they get off the planet. Naturally Luke wants to rendezvous with the rest of the Rebel fleet but R2 uses his full Sith mind-trick powers and in zombie-like tones, Luke repeats R2’s commands and heads off to find Yoda.
Coming to his senses on Dagobah, Luke can’t work what possessed him to fly there. R2 has to fend off a swamp monster by himself and force jump out of the water. Eventually, Yoda shows up and after a brief symbolic struggle for Luke’s soul (from 1:50 in the video below), R2 concedes Luke’s training in Jedi ways.
The alliance between R2 and Yoda is an uneasy one and Yoda takes great pains to warn Luke about the dark side whenever R2 is present.(0:33 in below for the most blatant R2-is-a-Sith part of the whole series).
R2 himself adds his own advice by projecting the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi so as to address Luke directly.
Luke’s training is interrupted by premonitions of danger. R2 himself is concerned at the implication that Leia has been captured by the Empire. However, Luke is clearly not ready to face Darth Vader. Projecting an image of Obi-Wan, R2 warns Luke: “If you choose to face Vader you must do it alone. I cannot interfere.”. After various shenanigans with sinking and levitating X-Wings, Luke and R2 fly off from Dagobah and head to Cloud City.
R2 knows he has to prioritise. He could easily end up losing both Skywalkers. Once he locates Leia, he abandons Luke. Plan-B was never the best option and it is time for R2 to cut his losses and get Leia out of danger. After some running around and shooting, R2 finally gets Leia back on board the Millennium Falcon with a replacement pilot. They head off to make a getaway from the Empire’s forces. Surprisingly, it turns out Luke has somehow survived and after a brief manoeuvre, they manage to pick up the wounded Skywalker.
Now all they need do is make their escape! Bizarrely it seems that the idiots have been flying the Millennium Falcon for some time without a functioning hyperdrive. R2 says to himself: “Seriously, do I have to do EVERYTHING around here?”, switches on the hyperdrive (it had been left on ‘standby’) and the heroes escape.
Episode 6 – Revenge of the Droid
So, R2 has both Skywalkers but no sign of either of them bringing ‘balance’ to the force and no opportunity to take a shot at Palpatine. Worse, both Plan-A and Plan-B Skywalkers are surprisingly upset about the change in the pilot for the Millennium Falcon. So with no better option in place, R2 decides to stage a training exercise for his Skywalkers and gives them each the task of individually rescuing Han Solo. As a contingency R2 ensures that he gets there ahead of both of them.
Once R2 has safely infiltrated Jabba the Hutt’s place on Tatooine, he arranges to have himself assigned to Jabba’s pleasure barge. In his youth (prior to his current Astromech form) R2 had paid his way through college doing bar work and engaging in the simple pleasure of making people happy by serving drinks took him back to a simple time. Of course neither Leia’s subtle ‘pretend to be a bounty hunter’ ploy nor Luke’s cruder ‘be a scary Jedi’ ploy succeed and so R2 has to once again come to the rescue. He uses the force to throw a new light sabre at Luke and unleashes the inherent mayhem of the Skywalkers on Jabba’s entourage.
With the training mission over R2 has enough time to check on Yoda, lecture Luke using a fabricated hologram of Obi-Wan and then head back to the Rebel Alliance to hear about the opportunity he has been waiting for.
A second Death Star has been partially constructed. and both Darth Vader and the Emperor are on board! R2 knows an opportunity when he sees one. With access to both his Plan-A and Plan-B Skywalkers, R2 can send one on a suicide mission and keep the other one safe on a nearby moon. The only problem is the classic paradox of prophecy. If R2 interferes too much then he runs the risk of upsetting his own prophetic vision. So R2 needs to buy time, keep everybody busy, zap a few Ewoks with force lightning but most importantly get Luke, Vader and Palpatine all in the same place but with R2 at a sufficiently safe distance.
As it happens apart from running dangerously close to opening a secure bunker too early (skilfully avoid by pretending to blow a fuse by zapping himself) the plan finally comes together. Palpatine uses Vader to try and turn the Jedi Luke to the dark side. Vader goes nuts because he is basically just Anakin in a mechanical suit and at long last murders Palpatine before dying himself. All with R2 watching telepathically from the safety of Endor and with no more damage to Plan-A than a minor blaster shot to her arm.
To R2’s astonishment, Luke somehow survives the destruction of the spare Death Star, so despite the multiple delays, R2 finishes with both Skywalker twins intact, crazy Anakin gone and Palpatine not merely dead but with his legacy in tatters. There is now only one Sith in the galaxy: R2D2 who just so happens to control the only Jedi in the galaxy. “And that,” says R2 “is how you bring balance to the force.” as he gloats over his projected holograms of dead Jedis.