There are few characters in the Star Wars universe more revered for their power than Darth Vader. From his very first appearance in the opening scene of the original Star Wars film, released in 1977, Vader has embodied an archetype of dark power. Over the course of subsequent Star Wars movies, shows, books, comics, cartoons, and multiple canons, Vader has demonstrated many impressive feats of power. But is he really the most powerful Force user in the Star Wars universe? Or is Vader simply especially adept at honing his reputation, allowing him to loom larger than his peers in the imaginations of those he terrorizes?
While the name of Darth Vader grows infamous and well-renowned during his tenure as the apprentice to Darth Sidious, Vader's power is always limited by the control of his Sith Master. Vader is never the ruler of the Galactic Empire, he simply serves as enforcer for the Emperor. Furthermore, Vader does not contribute any new understanding of the Force or the abilities which it may grant to either the Jedi or the Sith, calling into question the lasting effect he made (and by extension, the power possessed by the most infamous Sith Lord). Not only were these 10 Sith Lords more powerful than Vader, the following 10 Jedi were, too.
19 DARTH BANE
Centuries before the Clone Wars, animosity between the Sith and the Jedi reached a breaking point. In a climactic conflict on Malachor, the Jedi managed to extinguish all but one member of the Sith, Darth Bane. As sole Sith survivor, Bane recognized that the avarice and lust for power intrinsic to users of the Dark Side of the Force would invariably undermine the ability of the Sith to successfully seize control of the Galaxy.
To overcome this eventuality, Bane instituted the Rule of Two: only two Sith Lords could exist at any time, one master and the other apprentice. The lasting and widespread influence this rule had on Sith doctrine demonstrates the considerable power wielded by Bane.
18 DARTH PLAGUEIS
One Sith Lord more powerful than Vader was mentioned by Senator Palpatine on-screen in Revenge of the Sith. According to Palpatine, Plagueis grew so incredibly powerful in the Dark Side that he was able to grant immortality to those he deemed worthy. In accordance with the Rule of Two, Plagueis imparts his arcane Force knowledge to his apprentice.
Tragically (for Plagueis), this gives the apprentice everything necessary to betray his master and assume his place. Nevertheless, Plagueis was reportedly able to achieve that which Vader could never accomplish: using the Force to sustain life, no matter how "unnatural" the means.
17 DARTH MAUL
The first apprentice taken by Darth Sidious was Maul, an intimidating Zabak warrior from Dathomir. During The Phantom Menace, Sidious instructs his apprentice to confront Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon. Maul leaves the battle half victorious, having defeated Qui-Gon but sustaining critical damage from Obi-Wan's lightsaber.
Maul responds to defeat by rebuilding himself, both literally -- robotic legs compensate for wounds sustained during his battle with Obi-Wan -- and figuratively. Although Sidious replaced him with a new apprentice, Maul became the leader of the Crimson Dawn criminal syndicate, as seen in Solo. Maul's personal vendetta against Kenobi ended on Tatooine, but his last words predicted that the "one who will bring balance to the Force" would fulfill his mission to avenge the Sith.
16 DARTH NOX
The Legends canon is filled with a number of Sith Lords and Jedi who are more powerful than Vader, including Darth Nox, the dark alignment protagonist from Star Wars: The Old Republic. Once known as a slave named Kallig, this powerful master of the Dark Side was given a Sith name after challenging Darth Thanaton.
Emerging victorious, Darth Nox was given command of the Sphere of Ancient Knowledge, a repository for the entirety of Sith knowledge. As Dark Counselor of the Ministry of Ancient Knowledge, Nox was one of the leaders of the ancient Sith Empire, a level of power never approached by any incarnation of Vader.
15 DARTH TYRANUS
After Maul was pretty well soundly defeated by Obi-Wan, Darth Sidious sought a new apprentice to ensure that the Sith Rule of Two was fulfilled. Dooku was once a respected Jedi, but he left the order when the corruption within the Republic became repugnant to him.
Turning to the Dark Side, Dooku reclaimed the title of "Count" and ultimately became the Sith Lord Darth Tyranus, apprentice to Sidious. He assisted his master in establishing the clone operation on Kamino and led the Confederacy of Independent Systems, the separatist movement that was instrumental in the events of Attack of the Clones.
14 DARTH MALAK
Another Sith Lord from the Legends canon who can claim to be more powerful than Vader is Darth Malak. Once known as Alek, a member of the Jedi Order, he ran afoul of the Council when he disobeyed orders and assisted the Republic instead.
He assumed the name "Malak" in order to avoid a warrant issued for his arrest and defeated the secretive Jedi Covenant, who had been charged with ensuring the Sith did not rise again. Malak ultimately rose to become Dark Lord of the Sith Empire, conquering planet after planet. Vader may have been powerful, but he never ruled a Galactic Empire.
13 GRAND INQUISITOR
During the reign of the Galactic Empire, the Grand Inquisitor reported to Darth Vader, but this Pau'an male (who has no known name beyond his official rank) does gain power over Vader in one sense: he slips through his fingers. During his service as Grand Inquisitor, he was ranked above the other Inquisitors, who were known by titles such as "Fifth Brother" and "Ninth Sister."
The Grand Inquisitor was trained in the Dark Side and privy to the knowledge of the Jedi, which was inherited by the Empire. His final mission was detailed in the Star Wars: Rebels episode "Fire Across the Galaxy," where he manages to ensure Vader will never get his hands on him.
12 ASAJJ VENTRESS
Born to a coven of Force-sensitive Nightsister witches, Asajj was captured by criminals at a young age. Later she was discovered by a Jedi Knight, who took her on as his Padawan and trained her in the ways of the Jedi Order, but she turned to the Dark Side after pirates invaded her adopted home planet.
In spite of the Rule of Two, Count Dooku took her on as his apprentice, and she proved to be an infamous commander in the events of Clone Wars. When Sidious ordered Dooku to eliminate Ventress, and Dooku attempted to comply -- Ventress escaped this fate and continued to cause problems for Dooku in the years to come. The teachings of the Nightsisters allow her to access the powers of the Dark Side without her will being subsumed by its energy, giving her a level of control over her Force abilities that is never attained by Vader.
11 DARTH CADEUS
Another entry from the Legends canon who could challenge Vader's power is Darth Cadeus. Born Jacen, the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa Solo, this powerful Force user attended the Jedi Academy established by Luke Skywalker on Yavin 4. This is probably sounding very familiar to any Kylo Ren fans out there.
While he had many heroic adventures alongside his family and friends, he struggled with the Dark Side, experiencing a vision of himself as Dark Lord and ruler of the galaxy. He resisted this fate but eventually succumbed to the power of temptation, becoming Darth Cadeus and striking out against those he cared about most deeply.
10 DARTH SIDIOUS
What might be most remarkable about Darth Sidious is how he was able to take control of the galaxy while operating (to some extent) in plain sight. Known as Senator Palpatine of Naboo before rising to become Supreme Chancellor and finally Emperor, the power that Sidious wields is largely derived by his ability to control those around him.
Seldom is this fact more obvious than when one considers Vader, who is manipulated by Palpatine at every turn -- including through the tragedy of Darth Plagueis, the story that Sidious uses to render the Dark Side absolutely irresistible to a susceptible young Anakin.
9 KANAN JARRUS
Kanan is not technically a Jedi, having been only a Padawan when Order 66 was executed. Thanks to the sacrifice of his Jedi Master, Kanan survived the eradication of Jedi across the galaxy. After operating as a criminal for many years, Kanan joined a rebel cell lead by Hera Syndulla, and the two became lovers.
During their adventures, depicted in Star Wars: Rebels, Kanan is blinded by Darth Maul. However, unlike Vader, who must resort to technology to repair his wounds, Kanan is able to use the Force to regain his sight, a powerful accomplishment Vader cannot replicate.
8 KIT FISTO
Kit Fisto was a member of the Jedi Order who was present on Geonosis during Attack of the Clones. Fisto was especially adept at dueling, earning the respect of fellow council member Mace Windu, who regarded him as one of the most skilled lightsaber users within the Jedi Order.
Perhaps Fisto's most impressive feat was his duel against General Grievous, the cybernetic commander of the Separatist forces who wields four of the laser swords at once. Not only did Fisto survive the duel, he had the upper hand, suggesting an acumen at handling the lightsaber which Vader could never approach. Alas, he did not replicate the same success when he was felled by Sidious.
7 TENEL KA DJO
A character from the Legends canon, Tenel Ka was a young Force user who attended the Jedi Academy established by Luke Skywalker on Yavin 4. It was here that she met Jacen Solo, with whom she would become entangled in a life-long romance -- as most Star Wars fans will tell you, that is often the beginning of the end for Jedi.
However, despite many trials, including the loss of her arm, Tenel Ka remained righteous. While she did later leave the Jedi Order, it was because she had to fulfill her duties as Queen Mother. Her resilience and endurance embody a power that could not be matched by Vader.
6 PLO KOON
Plo Koon was considered to be one of the wisest members of the Jedi Council. His calm demeanor, even in the face of extreme situations, was widely admired by those who served alongside him in the Jedi and elsewhere. Plo discovered the young Force-user Ahsoka Tano and brought her into the Jedi Order, which would lead to her becoming Anakin's Padawan.
While Plo is defeated by the soldiers meant to protect him as a result of the traitorous Order 66, the effect his actions have on the Jedi Order and Anakin personally demonstrate a certain power that supersedes Vader's own.
5 QUI-GON JINN
First introduced in Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Qui-Gon was the member of the Jedi Order who discovered Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine. Despite being defeated by Darth Maul, the late Qui-Gon was able to communicate with Yoda and pass on the ability to become one with the Force.
Qui-Gon was able to contribute a new method of using the Force to the understanding of the Jedi, which demonstrates a type of power that Vader, who does not contribute any novel techniques to the Jedi or Sith, cannot match. However, at the end of Return of the Jedi, Vader -- or rather, Anakin -- does take advantage of the skill pioneered by Qui-Gon when he appears alongside Obi-Wan and Yoda.
4 MARA JADE SKYWALKER
Another Jedi from the Legends canon more powerful than Vader is Mara Jade. Originally a servant of the Emperor, after his defeat on the Second Death Star, Mara Jade was plagued by a final telepathic message from Palpatine: avenge him! Despite the danger to himself, Luke vowed to help Mara Jade break the psychic control the Emperor still had over her.
However, Mara Jade was able to free herself from the lingering power of the Emperor by accomplishing a feat Vader could never manage: defeating Luke in a lightsaber duel! Well... okay... she at least defeated Luuke Skywalker, the clone of Luke, in a lightsaber duel... which kind of counts.
3 OBI-WAN KENOBI
When they face one another on the Death Star, Obi-Wan warns Vader that if his former apprentice strikes him down, he will become more powerful than he can imagine. Vader stays true to the character of their decades-long relationship, ignoring Obi-Wan's warning and doing as he intended from the start.
It is a surprise, but a welcome one, that Obi-Wan's prediction proves to be true, and Vader's action allows Kenobi to guide Luke more closely than he might have otherwise been able, ultimately leading to the collapse of the Empire. As if this weren't enough to demonstrate that Obi-Wan is more powerful than Vader, consider that Kenobi's unimpeachable moral character surely grants him the high ground.
One of the most famous members of the Jedi Order is also one of the most powerful. While Vader's costume and presence are calculated to project power and menace, Yoda is secure enough in his power to present an unsuspecting facade.
However, this diminutive Jedi Master's real claim to power comes from the fact that he spent over eight hundred years training Jedi -- that is dozens and dozens of generations of Jedi Knights, maybe even hundreds... thousands! This impact is far more widespread than any contribution Vader made, even given his role in the Emperor's hunt for any Jedi who survived Order 66.
1 LUKE SKYWALKER
Luke Skywalker is Vader's son, and he clearly demonstrates that he is more powerful than his father during the climactic scene of Return of the Jedi. After an intense duel under the chuckling gaze of Emperor Palpatine, Luke has bested his father using his lightsaber.
Vader is at Luke's mercy, and Darth Sidious urges Luke to give in to his anger and then take Vader's place at the Sith Lord's side. While Vader gave in to such pressure, Luke is more powerful, and he turns down the temptation, showing restraint and his father mercy, thus freeing Anakin from Vader.