Death Stars. Starkiller Base. The Final Order. The Lightsabers of Jedi and Sith legacies alike. Star Wars is full of incomprehensibly powerful weapons, be they the tools of heroic and villainous individuals or the combined military might of Empires. But none have become more important or interesting to the galaxy far, far away right now than the mythical Darksaber.
First introduced in the Clone Wars animated series nearly a decade ago to the day in January 2010's “The Mandalore Plot,” the Darksaber has become more than just the visually impressive weapon of a sinister Star Wars villain. It has, almost as much as the iconic armour and T-Visored helmet, become symbolic of one of Star Wars’ most beloved and fascinating cultures, the Mandalorians themselves.
And now that such a stark piece of imagery has made its way into surprising hands and into the realm of live-action Star Wars with The Mandalorian, the Darksaber has become one of the most intriguing trinkets in the Galaxy. If its arrival into the lives of Din Djarin and his little green charge has you intrigued, here’s everything you need to know about the journey of one of the most interesting weapons in Star Wars history—and how it came to be a blade that defined Mandalore more than any mask ever could.
The Mandalorian Wars
The Darksaber, as the name implies, is indeed a kind of lightsaber: like all lightsabers, it is powered by a kyber crystal, a rare black one found by an ancient Jedi from the days of the Old Republic, thousands of years before the events of the Skywalker Saga. That Jedi was Tarre Vizsla, the first Mandalorian ever inducted into the Jedi Order and eventually “Mand’alor”—the title given to the leader of the unified Mandalorian people. Little is known about Vizsla other than his legacy as the first of his culture to join the Jedi, and that his ancient weapon has survived eons of conflict—but Vizsla’s peaceful co-operation with the Jedi would not last after his death.
The Order interred the Darksaber in its Temple on Coruscant, only for members of Vizsla’s clan to secret their way in and retrieve it, wielding the Darksaber in battle to once again unite the different tribal factions of Mandalore as one. Although the Mandalorians engaged in many conflicts in this period, the most prominent of all was against the Jedi themselves, with the Darksaber, once a weapon of the Order, now being wielded against it.
In Star Wars’ current canon, little is known about these wars other than the fact that they occurred during the decline of the Old Republic, and that the planet Malachor was home to one of its climactic battles—as was Mandalore itself, ultimately scarred by a cataclysmic event that left much of its surface in ruin and the Jedi victorious. But these nuggets of information are actually references to defining pieces of backstory from the beloved Bioware and Obsidian computer RPGs, Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel, The Sith Lords. Little of those games beyond references such as these are still canon in the Disney-owned era of Star Wars, but in the KOTOR games, the Mandalorian Neo-Crusaders engaged in an expansionist conflict with the Republic, who were aided by a renegade faction of Jedi, the Revanchist—lead by wayward Jedi Revan.
Lasting sixteen years, the Mandalorian Wars ended over the planet Malachor V, when, sacrificing untold numbers of the Revanchist forces in the process, General Meetra Surik (who would eventually become the protagonist of Knights of the Old Republic II, the Jedi Exile) activated a superweapon that created a gravity vortex, decimating the Mandalorian and Jedi forces on Malachor’s surface. We know a similar tragedy occurred on Malachor in the revised Star Wars canon—Ahsoka, Ezra, and Kanan witness the planet’s horrifically damaged, and ashen-corpse-covered surface during the climax of Rebels’ second season. But beyond that, all we know of the Mandalorian Wars’ true outcome is that not even the Darksaber and a united Mandalore could stop the Jedi.
Death Watch Rises
Thousands of years later, the Mandalorian people had undergone a radical structural shift in their society. Expansionist warmongering and an emphasis on their warrior-driven culture had given way to isolationist neutrality, and by the time of the Clone Wars, a new political movement had emerged on the planet that favoured peace over conflict. The title of Mand’alor no longer held sway, and instead of House Vizsla (Tarre’s descendants) leading the way, another of Mandalore’s familial houses, Kryze—specifically Duchess Satine Kryze—sat at the head of the Mandalorian government.
The Darksaber, although still a potent symbol, had become a weapon of notoriety on this Mandalore instead of a grand unifier. Although the blade still remained in the ownership of House Vizsla, its wielder, Pre, sat at the head of the Death Watch. A splinter group of Mandalorians exiled to the moon of Concord Dawn after a civil war which lead to House Kryze’s ascendancy, Death Watch’s role in Mandalorian society at this point was a complex one. In Clone Wars, they are painted as unequivocal terrorists, with Pre Vizsla wielding the Darksaber as a statement of his right to lead Mandalore back to its warrior culture ways. In The Mandalorian, things are a little hazier, Death Watch are responsible for saving the young Din Djarin from certain death in a Separatist attack, taking him in as a foundling and fighting back the droid armies that slaughtered his fellow villagers.
Regardless of Death Watch’s role in the Clone Wars specifically in Djarin’s eyes—although it remains to be seen, given what little we know of the Mandalorian’s backstory, it’s likely he was adopted into Mandalorian culture because Death Watch, already diminished and exiled, needed more bodies for Vizsla’s cause—we know its final fate is tied with the Darksaber. Collaborating with the resurrected Darth Maul, Pre Vizsla staged a coup against Duchess Satine’s government, wielding the Darksaber in battle as Death Watch overwhelmed and detained Satine’s own loyalists. Reclaiming the title of Mand’alor for himself, a Vizsla rule of Mandalore had arrived once more...
Although not for long. Betrayed by Maul, Vizsla himself fell in a trial by combat for Mandalore’s throne, and the Darksaber itself passed into the former Sith’s possession—falling out of Mandalorian hands for what is presumably the first time since it was liberated from the Jedi Temple.
Maul’s rule of Mandalore would not last. Besieged by Republic forces and under attack from his former master, Darth Sidious, Maul fled the world with the Darksaber, waiting out the final days of the Clone Wars and the rise of his old master’s Empire on his homeworld of Dathomir. As liberating Republic armies on Mandalore became occupying Imperial forces, and with both House Kryze and House Vizsla rudderless, the Mandalorians’ long-sought independence came to an end. Although a Mandalorian sat at the head of the planet’s leadership—Viceroy Gar Saxon, leader of the Imperial Super Commandos—he was subservient to the Galactic Empire.
In the years leading up to the Battle of Yavin, however, the Darksaber found its way back to its ancestral home. After attempting to court young force-sensitive Ezra Bridger to his side, the Darksaber was recovered from Maul’s lair on Dathomir by one of Ezra’s friends in the Rebel Alliance, Mandalorian Sabine Wren—a wayward daughter of one of House Vizsla’s vassal clans. Working under the behest of the Protectors of Concord Dawn—a former faction of Mandalorians bristling under the yoke of Imperial occupation—Wren trained in wielding the Darksaber so that she could return to her homeworld and once again use it as a symbol of Mandalorian independence. Despite being tainted by Pre Vizsla’s use of the blade in the Clone Wars, the Darksaber’s legacy as the weapon that united Mandalore against its foes in the days of the Old Republic was still potent.
Sabine would wield the Darksaber in revolt against Saxon’s rule, eventually using it to defeat the Viceroy in single combat—temporarily leaving her friends in the Rebellion to begin uniting the disparate Houses of Mandalore once more in a battle to wrench the planet from Imperial control. Sabine was ultimately successful, but chose to hand over the Darksaber to a new Mand’alor rather than take it for her own. This time, it wasn’t a Vizsla that would unite Mandalore, but a Kryze once more: Bo-Katan, the sister of Satine and a former ally-turned-foe of Pre Vizsla in the Death Watch.
Once again, however, Mandalore’s independence was not to last. Sometime during the Galactic Civil War, the Empire enacted a great purge against the Mandalorians, shattering its people into tribal factions and scattering survivors across the Outer Rim. The Darksaber fell into Imperial hands and, as The Mandalorian’s finale revealed, remained there even after the Empire’s own shattering, with the Darksaber now in the hands of the Imperial Remnant’s Moff Gideon. How it got there and the true extent of Mandalore’s purging remains to be seen, but if one thing is certain: now that it’s shown up in Imperial possession on The Mandalorian, there stands a good chance we’ll see the show explore its potential return to Mandalorian hands when the second season begins.