Could Darth Sidious have killed Darth Plagueis in a real fight?

This is a fervently discussed topic in the battles forum that often has a number of explicit and implicit conclusions arrived at by all manner of users on this forum, and thus also has explicit and implicit consequences derived from said conclusions. I think anybody could understand that Darth Sidious and Darth Plagueis were relatively close in regards to one another in terms of power, skill, etc., making this a worthwhile discussion topic that comprises of a number of different elements and factors which all need to be scrutinized carefully - and that will be the purpose of this blog. I do not declare this to be canon or infallibly correct; this is just what it is - my opinion, and nobody's opinion is infallible. This topic is also worth discussing because all of the quotes where Sidious was listed as the most powerful Sith Lord of all time take place after TPM, when his powers increased, and no source indicates TPM Sidious is the most powerful Sith Lord, at least, at the time he killed Plagueis (except Sidious's own monologue, but we can dismiss that as egotistical talk), and Plagueis, by feats, was the most powerful Sith Lord up to and of that time (the only other contender with Plagueis, Caedus, came much later). Therefore, this is a completely reasonable discussion.

To start, let me address the circumstances of Palpatine and Plagueis's real confrontation - the one that happened in canon, as explicitly described in Darth Plagueis. As most or all of you are probably aware, Darth Sidious never confronted and killed Darth Plagueis in a realistic encounter, but rather chose to slay Plagueis in the latter's sleep. This has been known to audiences since the time of Revenge of the Sith, which Palpatine himself indicated, and this became reiterated throughout sources since. However, this wasn't simply a backstab with a lightsaber while Plagueis was sleeping - in fact, Sidious never brandished a lightsaber. In any case, Plagueis woke up, after Sidious utilized Lightning on him and disabled his breathing apparatus - but Plagueis initially wished to test himself, hence why he didn't actually defend himself, but of course, his midi-chlorian manipulation failed him and he couldn't save himself. He did later unleash a telekinetic storm which damaged the room itself, but Palpatine was unaffected and used Choke to kill Plagueis slowly. Pretty much everything else was just talking on Palpatine's part.

Now, what does this indicate? For most, it would mean that Sidious was either too weak or too cowardly to kill Plagueis, hence why he opted to intoxicate Plagueis first, giving him a free strike. Furthermore, Plagueis completely neglected to defend himself in the early stages of the confrontation, which may lend credence to the idea that Plagueis may have been able to defend himself if he had tried. However, all of this is just implication and speculation - granted, reasonable speculation, but still speculation. Plagueis later utilized a telekinetic storm which failed to do anything to Sidious, although, of course, he was obviously not in his peak condition and by that time, incapable of unleashing his full power. The manner in which Sidious killed Plagueis is nothing short of cowardly, for some, but then, if this is an indication that Sidious was no match for Darth Plagueis, then Plagueis killing Tenebrous while the latter was occupied and not in a direct lightsaber confrontation would, using that logic, indicate that Plagueis was no match for Tenebrous. This sort of logic is just incorrect. The manner in which Plagueis and Tenebrous were killed are not indications of their respective apprentices' inferior power, but simply a method of assuring their deaths, and they did so just as the dark side whispered to them to do so. So Sidious killing Plagueis in his sleep is not conclusive of being unable to kill him in a combat scenario, just as Plagueis killing Tenebrous when the latter was preoccupied is not conclusive of being unable to kill him in a combat scenario, especially since feats suggest otherwise.

But while Plagueis' feats exceed Tenebrous's, do Palpatine's feats, by this point, exceed Plagueis'? Before I discuss that, though, there are also a number of sources which may or may not seem to favor one party in terms of who was more powerful. For Sidious, sources have indicated he expired Plagueis after possessing the skill and ability to do so:

In truth, Palpatine was well versed in the ways of the Force, having been apprentice to Darth Plagueis the Wise, a Sith Lord who was a master of arcane and unnatural knowledge. In true Sith tradition, Palpatine murdered his Master upon receiving the skill and ability to do so.

Source: The Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia

Sidious served for many decades as the apprentice of Darth Plagueis, learning diligently at the feet of his Master. Once he possessed all of Plagueis' secrets, he retired him.

Source: Insider #88: Heritage of the Sith

Credit to Silver2467

"My own Master, Darth Plagueis, made the grave error of teaching me too much, at which point he became unnecessary."

Source: Jedi vs Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force

However, at a closer examination, none of these actually say anything about Palpatine being more skilled or more powerful. All it says is that Palpatine could have killed Plagueis - and he did. These sources may be canon, but none of them portend that Palpatine is more powerful than Plagueis or could have won in a real fight.

Plagueis is supported by an interview with James Luceno (that I can't even find anymore) in which Luceno indicates Plagueis may have won if there was a real duel between them. As much as Luceno should be respected for his works, which are some of the best in SW EU altogether, external interviews are not directly canonical (from what I can remember), but it is worth noting and putting into mind anyway. So, really, they're pretty much even in this regard, which forces us to delineate the victor by virtue of feats.

Now to uncover who has the better feats, they are more or less even in the physical areas. For strength, Plagueis's best feats would be striking through armored torsos and smashing helmeted skulls of Maladians, which he accomplished while injured and possibly holding back:

Others Plagueis felled with his hands by snapping necks and putting his fists through armored torsos.

...

The wait lasted only until Plagueis attempted to unleash lightning. His second subsidiary heart failed, paralyzing him with pain and nearly plunging him into unconsciousness. The assassins wasted not a moment, throwing themselves at him in groups, though in a vain attempt to penetrate the Force shield he raised. Again he rallied, this time with a ragged sound dredged from deep inside that erupted from him like a sonic weapon, shattering the eardrums of those within ten meters and compelling the rest to bring their hands to their ears.

In blinding motion his hands and feet smashed skulls and windpipes.

Source: Darth Plagueis

For Palpatine, his strength feats at this time would be either jumping through closed doors to land on a table in the following room, or tearing the limbs off and smashing the skulls of guards before he received any training in the Force. The latter feat is probably superior:

Then: through a warren of expensively appointed rooms to another set of closed doors, from behind which issued the sounds of a banquet in progress—one that had probably commenced hours earlier and wasn’t meant to end until hours later, with the deaths of Senator Palpatine, Hego Damask, and the other Muuns an accomplished fact.

Now Sidious gave full vent to his ire. Crashing through the doors, he landed in the center of a table covered with plates of grains and grassy plants and surrounded by a herd of grazing Gran, whose boisterous laughs froze in their throats.

Source: Darth Plagueis

Once more Sidious allowed his memories to unfold, and he relived the crime—the event, as he had at last come to think of it. His father's limp and bloodied body. The smashed skulls of the bodyguards.

...

“Fool,” Plagueis derided him. “Success doesn’t come from summoning help from the Force, but from taking control of it and generating the power from within yourself.” He sighed theatrically. “Still, I’m somewhat encouraged by the progress you’ve made. Mere centimeters from me now, almost within arm’s reach. Soon I’ll be able to feel your breath on my neck and perceive the heat of your rage—your desire to kill me, as if by doing so, you could lay claim to the authority I embody.” He paused but didn’t move, much less glance over his shoulder. “You want to strangle me, like you did your poor, misunderstood mother; tear me limb from limb as you did the bodyguards. Fair enough. But to do so you will have to make a greater effort, Apprentice.”

Source: Darth Plagueis

Comparing Palpatine's latter strength feat and Plagueis's - they're roughly even. To be honest, the feats themselves evince a roughly even level of strength, or Plagueis is slightly superior, but looking at the circumstances surrounding the feats, they're extremely impressive. Plagueis had already suffered severe injures:

Plagueis pressed his right hand to the right side of his neck to discover that a disk had made off with a considerable hunk of his jawbone and neck, and in its cruel passing had severed his trachea and several blood vessels. He cupped the Force against the injury to keep himself from lapsing into unconsciousness, but he fell to the floor regardless, with blood pumping onto the already slick stone circle.

...

Sith techniques had helped him perform chemical cardioversions on his other two hearts, but one of them was working so hard to compensate that it, too, was in danger of becoming arrhythmic.

Source: Darth Plagueis

Sidious's feats, of course, occurred before he had received any training in the Force, which meant that this feat not only occurred before Palpatine had learned to fully apply his Force abilities to augment his strength with proper skill, but this also occurred before Palpatine's own Force reserves had reached their peak (up to TPM). Given the restricting conditions imposed on both of parties at the time these feats were performed, they are incredible showings, and, frankly, there's not much disparity here at all. Strength is even.

Durability can be somewhat related to strength - neither is necessarily a direct indication of the other, but one's strength can be somewhat indicative of one's endurance, and vice versa. And, to be honest, I don't see much of a disparity in their physical resilience either. Plagueis was unaffected by a Quara and Kaleesh's attempts to attack him with their teeth and claws, and this was also before his prime:

Now Zuto and PePe dived at the Muun from both sides and actually managed to get a hold on him. But it was as if the Muun had turned to stone. The Kaleesh and the Quara attacked with teeth and claws, but to no perceptible effect.

Source: Darth Plagueis

For Palpatine, he appeared to be capable of being unaffected by a thirteen-story fall:

The Malastare ambassador’s residence occupied three mid-tier stories of a slender building located at the edge of the government district. The front of the residence looked out on the stand-alone Galactic Courts of the Justice Building, but the rear faced a narrow canyon that was more than fifty levels deep and off limits to traffic. Following directions furnished by Pestage, Sidious rode turbolifts and pedestrian walkways to a meager balcony ten levels above the upper story of the residence. His fury notwithstanding, he would have preferred to linger until nightfall, which came early to that part of Coruscant, but he was certain that the Gran were expecting word that the Maladians had satisfied the terms of the contract, and he couldn’t risk having them flee for the stars before he got to them. So he lingered on the balcony until it and the walkway in both directions were unoccupied, then jumped from the overlook and called on the Force to deliver him safely to a narrow ledge that ran beneath the lowest floor of the residence.

Source: Darth Plagueis

I'd say Palpatine's feat is somewhat better, but then, Plagueis also wasn't in his prime, so they might still be only even. Regardless, while their sheer durability might render them capable of exchanging physical blows without inflicting any real harm (and the likelihood of them throwing punches or kicks in their fight is dubious enough anyways). Additionally, both of them have withstood weeks without food, water, or rest, and both have fought on for hours without tiring, which can speak to their stamina - fatigue will never be a pertinent issue in a confrontation between the two of them.

Regarding speed, Plagueis has a number of impressive showings, but Sidious has not only rivaled them, but somewhat superseded them. Plagueis has kept up with Tenebrous, somebody fast enough to nearly knock Plagueis over by virtue of sheer speed in the onset of his dash - not easily, as he was definitely strained, but then, he also wasn't in his prime, but to be fair, all of Plagueis' best speed feats occurred around this time:

Nearly knocked over by the swiftness of Tenebrous’s departure, Plagueis had to call deeply on the Force merely to keep up.

Source: Darth Plagueis

To rival this, Sidious has kept pace with Plagueis himself:

In mad pursuit of their prey and all but taking flight, the two Sith, Master and apprentice for eleven years now, bounded across the grassy terrain, their short capes snapping behind them, vibroblades clenched in their hands and bare forearms flecked with gore; blood caked in the human's long hair and dried on the Muun's hairless brow. Twisting and swirling around them was a herd of agile, long-necked quadrupeds with brown-and-black fur; identical and moving as if possessed of a single mind, leaping at the same instant, reversing direction, cycloning gregariously over the short-napped savanna.

“This is not a chase,” Plagueis said as he ran, “this is a summoning. You need to get behind the eyes of your target and become the object of its desire. The same holds true when you summon the Force: you must make yourself desirable, fascinating, addictive, and whatever power you need will be at your command.”

Blended into the herd, the animal Sidious had fixed his sight on would have been indistinguishable to normal beings. But Sidious had the animal in his mind and was now looking through its eyes, one with it. Alongside him suddenly, the creature seemed to intuit its end and tipped its head to one side to expose its muscular neck. The moment the vibroblade stuck, the creature’s eyes rolled back and grew opaque; hot blood spurted but quickly ceased to flow—the Force departing, and Sidious drawing its power deep into himself.

Source: Darth Plagueis

Plagueis has ran fast enough to appear as a blur to 11-4D, who was capable of avoiding blaster fire:

The Woebegone had just reverted to realspace when 11-4D’s audio sensors registered unusual sounds from aft: an activation click, a prolonged hiss of energy, a dopplering slash, a stuttering exhalation of breath. The sounds were followed by a sudden outpouring of heat from the corridor that accessed the cargo bays and what might have been interpreted as a gust of wind. Only by adjusting the input rate of its photoreceptors was the droid able to identify the blur that raced into the cabin space as a male Muun dressed in a hooded robe, trousers, and softboots that reached his shins.

...

Only 11-4D’s ability to calculate trajectories and react instantaneously to danger kept it from being on the receiving end of any of the numerous ricochets.

Source: Darth Plagueis

To rival this, Sidious has killed a pair of Dugs so quickly that it would have appeared that they were butchered by a phantom:

He wondered how the killings appeared to anyone monitoring a display screen. It must have seemed as if the two Dugs had been butchered by a phantom.

Source: Darth Plagueis

Both have evinced the ability to deflect blaster fire from entire rings of droids totaling to two hundred, and not only that, but they would have had to deflect omnidirectional blaster fire, but with each other standing adjacent to them, they would have had to run around and orbit one another in time to deflect the blaster bolts in every direction, which would indicate that their running speed was also sufficient enough to outrun blaster bolts as well as deflect blaster fire from miniature armies:

On Hypori they were the prey, standing back-to-back in their black zeyd-cloth hooded robes at the center of concentric rings of droids, retrofitted by Baktoid Armor to function as combat automata. Two hundred programmed assailants—bipedal, treaded, some levitated by antigrav generators—armed with a variety of weapons, ranging from hand blasters to short-barreled burst-rifles. Plagueis hadn't allowed his young apprentice to wield a lightsaber until a few years earlier, but Sidious was brandishing one now, self-constructed of phrik alloy and aurodium, and powered by a synthetic crystal. Made for delicate, long-fingered hands—as much a work of art as a weapon—the lightsaber thrummed as he waved the blade from side to side in front of him.

"Every weapon, manufactured by whatever species, has its own properties and peculiarities," Plagueis was saying, his own blade angled toward the ferrocrete floor of the battledome's fabricated cityscape, as if to light a fuse. "Range, penetrating power, refresh rate... In some instances your life might depend on your ability to focus on the weapon rather than the wielder. You must train yourself to identify a weapon instantly—whether it's a product of BlasTech or Merr-Sonn, Tenloss or Prax—so that you will know where to position yourself, and the several ways to best deflect a well-aimed bolt."

Plagueis put his words into action as the first ring of droids began to converge on them, staggering the attack and triggering bursts at random. Orbiting Sidious, the Muun's blade warded off every volley, returning the bolts to their sources, or deflecting them into the facades of the faux buildings surrounding them or into other droids. At other times Plagueis made no attempt to redirect the attacks, but simply torqued his rangy body, allowing the bolts to miss him by centimeters. Around the two Sith, the automata collapsed one after the next, gushing lubricants from holed reservoirs or exploding in a hail of alloy parts, until all were heaped on the ferrocrete floor.

"The next ring is yours," Plagueis said.

Rugged, uninhabited Hypori belonged to the Techno Union, whose Skakoan foreman, Wat Tambor, owed his seat in the Republic Senate to Damask Holdings. In exchange, the bionic humanoid had made Hypori available as a training ground for members of the Echani Sun Guard and provided the necessary battle droids. Calling in another favor, Hego Damask had requested a private session in the fabricated cityscape, so that Plagueis and his apprentice could be free to employ lightsabers—though only for the purpose of deflecting bolts rather than dismemberment or penetration.

When it came Sidious's turn to demonstrate his skill, Plagueis spoke continuously from behind him, adding distraction to the distinct possibility of inadvertent disintegration.

"A being trained in the killing arts doesn't wait for you to acquire him as a target, or establish him or herself as an opponent, as if in some martial arts contest. Your reactions must be instantaneous and nothing less than lethal, for you are a Sith Lord, and will be marked for death."

The droids continued to converge, ring after ring of them, until the floor was piled high with smoking husks. Plagueis issued a voice command that brought the onslaught to an abrupt end and deactivated his lightsaber. The pinging of cooling weapons, the hiss of escaping gas, the unsteady whir of failing servomotors punctuated the sudden silence. Alloy limbs spasmed and photoreceptors winked out, surrendering their eerie glow. The recycled air was rotten with the smell of fried circuitry.

Source: Darth Plagueis

Both have evinced the ability to fight entire armies unscathed whilst also wielding only a force pike:

"The next few hours will test the limits of your agility, speed, and accuracy," Plagueis said, as several hundred of the biggest, bravest, and most skilled warriors—their bodies daubed in pigments derived from plants, clay, and soil—began to separate themselves from the crowds. "But this is more than some simple exercise in our rise to ultimate power, and therefore servants of the dark side of the Force. Centuries from now, advanced by the Sith, they might confront us with projectile weapons or energy beams. But then we will have evolved, as well, perhaps past the need for this rite, and we will come instead to honor rather than engage them in battle. Through power we gain victory, and through victory our chains are broken. But power is only a means to an end."

To the clamorous beating of drums and the wailing of the onlookers, the warriors brandished their weapons, raised a deafening war cry, and attacked. A nod from Plagueis, and the two Sith sped across the plain to meet them, flying among them like wraiths, evading arrows, gleaming spear tips, and blows from battle-axes, going one against one, two, or three, but felling opponent after opponent with taps from the force pikes, until among the hundreds of jerking, twitching bodies sprawled on the rough ground, only one was left standing.

Source: Darth Plagueis

So far, they are even in this regard. What really sets them apart is their best speed feats. For Plagueis, that is fighting with Venamis and evincing the sufficient combat and running speed to form blurring trails throughout the forest such that it would appear that lightning was streaking through the forest understory, an impressive feat because a forest is certainly not a very favorable environment for running:

The contest took them backward and forward through the trees, across narrow streams, and up onto piles of rocks that were the ruins of an ancient sentry post. Plagueis took a moment to wonder if anyone at the fort was observing the results of the contest, which, from afar, must have looked like lightning flashing through the forest’s understory.

Source: Darth Plagueis

This is a very impressive feat, but by TPM, Sidious has fought faster than Darth Maul can even see. Maul may not be in Plagueis's speed class, but he should be definitely capable of not only seeing Plagueis, but responding to him. Sidious is definitely faster than Plagueis:

The lightsaber whirls in the air, twirling, held in my Master's hand. I can't track it, it moves so fast. But I know it's heading for me. Lord Sidious moves faster than my eye can follow.

Source: Episode 1 Journal: Darth Maul

So Sidious is clearly ahead of Plagueis, but not by an extensive degree. How much this would help in a fight is a bit ambiguous, but if I were to hazard a guess, I severely doubt this would be of crucial factor, but it's probably worth noting and may offer some leverage in the fight. It may tip the physical fight to Palpatine's favor.

With respects to what we have actually seen from them - Plagueis has outperformed Venamis during their contest in 67BBY, as well as having being pronounced a master of lightsaber combat by Darth Tenebrous. Based off Venamis utilizing the same style Plagueis did, as well as Venamis utilizing multiple forms ambidextrously, we can safely say Plagueis could do the same. Not only that, but Plagueis's mastery of weapons extends to more esoteric ones for a Sith, including Force pikes, which he used instead of a lightsaber to defeat an army of Kursid warriors, twice - once with Tenebrous, and once for Sidious. We also know Plagueis can recognize Jar'kai and Teras Kasi, from when he watched Maul. He also trained Sidious into becoming one of the best Sith swordsmasters, and by logical inference, the two Sith would have sparred with one another. Plagueis is relatively ambiguous as to where he stands in skill, but he should be around Mace Windu's level or so.

For Sidious, he outfought Maul while holding back, which is an impressive feat. Much of what Plagueis has also translates to Sidious - his supposed spars with Plagueis, his mastery of the Force pike with which he could defeat armies, his knowledge of Jar'kai and Teras Kasi (since Sidious was the one who trained Maul), and his knowledge/mastery of multiple lightsaber forms, and we know Maul is a master of several, since it is required as a prerequisite to master Form VII, and later sources also confirm Sidious was a master of all the seven forms, so it's definitely plausible to suggest, by this point, that he would have known or even mastered all those lightsaber forms. I don't think there's any real disparity between them. Sidious might have slightly more raw skill, but Plagueis has evinced more adaptability in his fights, although this may be irrelevant considering Sidious's own rivaling or superseding versatility in this regard. I will probably mark them as equals here, too, or Sidious takes a minimal and nearly negligible lead.

So recounting physicality, they are even in everything except speed, in which Sidious takes a slight but definite lead. How much this will help is up for discussion, but probably not too much. It should still be noticeable, though.

Plagueis does enjoy advantages in respects to power. By this time, Sidious should have rivaling Force based knowledge, but telekinetically, Plagueis is superior. While injured and holding back, he all but atomized multiple Maladian assassins with Force Waves, and rattled the floor with enough force to knock them from their feet, with but a thought:

He stopped once to conjure a Force wave that all but atomized the bodies of six Maladians. He spun through a turn, dragging the wave halfway around the room to kill half a dozen more.

...

With nothing more than the Force of his mind, Plagueis rattled the floor, knocking some of the assassins off their feet, but others rushed in to take their places, slashing at him with their vibroblades from every angle.

Source: Darth Plagueis

Sidious has a number of impressive showings such as manipulating and smashing together large boulders, seemingly killing a dozen Weequays with enough precision and subtlety to leave behind no visible wounds, kill multiple fish, and collapse ceilings. To support the notion of utilizing his powers in combat, since none of these occurred while he was actually fighting, he has deflected blaster fire from nearly a dozen shooters whilst lifting two of them up with the Force. That said, his best feat would be what he mused twenty years before TPM - effortlessly collapsing a restaurant:

How effortless it would be, he thought, as the dark began to rise in him, searing and hungry, yearning to assume control of his body and unleash itself, to break the necks of both of them, to tear their beating hearts from their chests, to hurl and plaster them against the walls, to bring the entire sour-smelling place down on their heads...

Source: Darth Plagueis

To be sure, as a showing, this comes close to Plagueis' feat, especially given how it occurred before his TPM by a full two decades, and it can supposedly be accomplished with effortlessness, but Plagueis is just incredibly impressive in TK. He should just take this department, especially since, at this stage, while Sidious has exercised precision and range (he claimed to be able to Choke a bird through a hologram, planets apart, but then, this may not be entirely true), his raw power is simply not on par. I have never see Sidious exercise anything at this point that resembles nearly atomizing people, or creating rattling quakes with a thought, both while heavily injured and holding back.

Regarding Lightning, I only recall that Sidious can utilize it effortlessly, but in practice, all he has done is torture Maul and disable Plagueis' breathing apparatus, which is decent but hardly extraordinary. Plagueis has, at least, seemingly turned spines to dust, kill a dark side prophetess, leave behind residual sparks for an extensive period following the initial discharge of his powers, and spread across landscapes. He should take the edge here.

As a final verdict, I find them very close and roughly even. I would definitely not portend that one would beat the other easily, and not for anything more than a slim majority. I think it's somewhat plausible for them to be about even, although, granted the power advantage Plagueis has, I think that would not only compensate for Sidious's speed edge, but afford him the slim majority - 5.5-6/10. So, to answer the original question which was the premise of this very blog, I suppose, in the shortest and bluntest manner of speaking, no, I do not believe Sidious could have killed Plagueis in a realistic encounter, at least not for a majority. If they met ten times, Sidious could have won a close minority on fair and even stipulations, but not a majority, in my opinion. So I think, to an extent, that his killing of Plagueis in his sleep was somewhat necessary, at this point. However, this is just my opinion, and given the closeness of the two combatants, I can accept people believing Sidious would win a majority or a stalemate.

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