Darth Vader’s suit is a complex blend of biomechanics, technology, and ancient Sith magic. It serves as both a life-support system and a suit of armor to protect the amalgamation of organic flesh, mechanical limbs, and synthetic organs beneath it. More than a means of keeping the Dark Lord of the Sith alive, it offers a means to intimidate and instill fear in his adversaries, while allowing him to withstand their attacks should they be foolish enough to make them. When Obi-Wan faced his apprentice for the last time on Mustafar, he couldn’t have known that their duel would end with Anakin Skywalker being killed and Darth Vader rising from the ashes.
The mobile support system made for him by The Emperor’s emergency medical droids would be both his savior and his prison. As impressive as Vader’s suit is (and the legacy that shrouds it), behind the scenes is far more gross than grand. He doesn’t really get to take it off (he could die), and he gets nutrients and expels waste the same way. Not to mention the flesh rots from time to time. Read on for more gross facts about the ins and outs of one of the most iconic pieces of hardware in the galaxy.
15 MACHINE PARTS, FLESH STUMPS, AND SKIN GRAFTS, OH MY!
Like an intergalactic goulash of guts and electronics, Vader’s suit is Frankenstein-ed of a series of alloys, metals, and biotechnological devices that encase a feeble series of stumped appendages and some truly ravaged organs. After the fight between Anakin Skywalker and his former Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi left Vader devoid of two legs and an arm, the suit had to function as both a life-support system and prosthetic encasement. Many of his bones were replaced with durasteel, mechanical prosthetics created to attach to flesh stumps, and skin grafts put on the ends of his appendages to literally “flesh them out” in his gauntlets and boots.
His lungs were so charred, his retinas so scarred, and his face so deformed he would forever need a mask to breathe and speak properly. Implanted in his chest is an annunciator linked to a processor that allows his damaged vocal cords to produce speech.
14 HE INGESTS NUTRIENTS AND EXPELS THEM THE SAME WAY
While tiny needles were continuously piercing his flesh to collect diagnostic data and play out the sadistic fantasies of Emperor Palpatine, they were also being used to nourish him intravenously. While technically he could “chew”, he had to be in a hyperbaric chamber to be able to take his mask off and expose his mouth, so it was easier to just have vitamins pumped into him.
Relying on a diet that contains very little in the way of solid foods meant that all waste products could be just as easily pumped out of him, through an intricate series of pouches, tubes, and catheters. The complex ingesting and waste management system was never discussed by anyone save Vader’s personal medical staff, and he preferred to have the general public wonder if he sustained himself with the power of the Force.
13 HE WILL DIE WITHOUT IT IN MINUTES
Since his suit acts as both a life support system and prostheses housing, he would die without its functionality. The suit is wired with sensors that connect to diagnostic systems all over his body to monitor his respiratory, pulmonary, and neural interfaces. This information is disseminated to his central chest box, which can be used to manually control a variety of other functions within the suit, such as auditory systems, temperature, and ventilation.
The chest box computer, along with the rest of his life support systems were designed to run for weeks at a time, but before his monthly check-ups, he can recharge his suit with the access ports behind his chest box. Though updated versions of his suit exist, the process of exchanging one suit for another would need him to be disconnected from every system, including his prosthetic limbs, and most likely result in his death.
12 HIS BOOTS KEEP HIM FROM CONSTANTLY FALLING OVER
Due to the fact that Vader lost his lower limbs in the duel on Mustafar with Obi-Wan Kenobi, he had to have mechanical prosthetics surgically attached that interface with the remaining nerve endings in his flesh stumps. These mechanical legs have servo motors in them that respond to conscious thought, modeled after the human form, and are fully articulated. The pistons in them use hydraulic fluids to function, which needs to be replenished when they are realigned every few months.
Though durasteel alloy shanks were added to his prosthetic legs to keep them from buckling under the weight of his armor, it’s his magnetized boots that keep his feet firmly on the ground and from falling over. They’re the reason he doesn’t blow out the window along with Luke Skywalker during their duel in Cloud City.
11 IT PREVENTS HIS EYES FROM EXPLODING IN SPACE
In recent galactic adventure movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, people seem to be able to hang out in the vacuum of space for extended periods of time without having all the fluids in their body try to push their way out through their orifices. Other space movies, like Event Horizon, get it right when it comes to what would happen to a human that feels the cold embrace of space via open airlock.
Luckily, the pressurized seal on Vader’s helmet has the integrity of a Class C spacesuit, and his boot soles have ferromagnetic cores to generate a magnetic field similar to zero-g spacesuits, which lets him cling to starship hulls. Meanwhile, he has emergency independent oxygen systems he can initiate at any time. All of this allowed him to survive the vacuum of space before he boarded the Tantive IV at the start of A New Hope.
10 IT’S PROTECTED BY MYSTICAL SITH SPELLS
When the Sith ranks were full of imposing warriors clad in powerful Sith armor, Jedi found their match in pure evil. Like the ancient Sith warriors of long ago, Vader’s suit is patterned after their intimidating visage. Made of a combination of alloys, including durasteel and obsidian, its surfaces are imbued with the alchemy of the Dark Side, a method used by Sith priests to enchant Sith weaponry and make it virtually indestructible.
One of his gauntlets is a Mandalorian crushgaunt that has been fitted around a Sith amulet that belonged to Lord Kaan. While some of the Sith alchemy resides in physical properties like Sith runes being carved into the armor for protection, it also manifests itself in the chemical compounds that are injected into his flesh, giving him strength and resolve.
9 HE DOESN’T CHANGE IT
Due to the sensitivity of the internal structural elements of the suit, as well as the delicate sensory arrays and mechanical components, he can never change his suit or risk death. Therefore, due to the life threatening nature of such an endeavor, he has to constantly update the suit instead of changing it. This means monthly check-ups for the more delicate technological aspects like system diagnostics and bi-annual check-ups for mechanical part and fluid replacement.
Beyond the interior, he can swap out portions of his suit as he so chooses, for comfort or for aesthetics. For going into battle, he has the option of wearing more weathered shoulder armor, for instance, whereas a thoroughly buffed and polished version would be needed for an audience with The Emperor.
8 IT HAS TO BE CONSTANTLY CLEANED
In order to optimize the efficiency of any high-functioning piece of machinery, it has to be well-maintained and cleaned with regularity. In order to not smell like the inside of a Hutt’s fat fold, that has to be done constantly. Since Vader cannot remove his suit without great risk to his already diminished health, he has to subject himself to a series of monthly check-ups where not only are diagnostics run on all of his internal systems, but he goes through what amounts to a Sith carwash and tune up.
While the husk that is his human bits chill in a relaxing Bacta tank, his suit is completely fumigated. Ventilation systems are in place as part of the suit so he doesn’t smell like a Bantha’s backside, but those can only do so much. Even the average stormtrooper gets to remove their armor at the end of the day.
7 IT FEEDS HIM FOOD PASTE THROUGH A TUBE IN HIS HELMET
It’s been decades since Lord Vader had cause or compulsion to enjoy a good Bantha steak. His systems run purely on a steady fuel of Dark Side rage and RepMed vitapaste. To access the meal substitute (which supposedly tastes disgusting), all he needs to do is slurp on the feeding straws that are inside the grills of his facemask.
For Vader, it’s much more satisfying to know that people consider him an indomitable machine that doesn’t need real food to survive. So beyond the petty yearning for oral satiation is the fact that real food no longer interests him. He can of course chew on something if he wished to, but that would need to be done in one of his hyperbaric chambers where he could remove his facemask, and it wouldn’t be nearly as enigmatic.
6 IT REINFORCES HIS METAL SKELETON
Due to the extent of his excruciating injuries at the hands of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Vader’s nervous system and skeleton needed to not just be repaired, but in some cases completely replaced with new parts. This included things like his sternum, which became a perforated metal plate to accommodate cables that ran to his chest computer box.
The right shoulder joint is also a prosthetic replacement, and any remaining organic bones were reinforced with special mineral solutions dripped in via his nutrient feeds. It actually contains a cartridge where pain-lessening solutions can be placed, but that has little effect. In essence, Vader has fused with his suit in certain capacities, and it is as much a part of him as he is a part of it.
5 IT REINFORCES HIS INCOMPLETE SPINE
After his injuries on Mustafar, his spine was not sufficiently strong enough to withstand the projected weight of his brand new armor, as well as prosthetic and mechanical parts. This meant that the first vertebrae of his neck wasn’t organic, and the electrode-studded collar used to support his helmet also protected it. With the artificial cybernetic vertebra (from the first to the fourth), his spine was structurally sound enough to handle the aspects of the suit that would cause him the most strain out of everything.
Without the aid of the helmet, hermetic collar, and artificial vertebrae they help support, he would have had to operate using some alternative option like a hoverchair, which would have drastically altered our perception of the Dark Lord of the Sith.
4 IT KEEPS HIS LUNGS FROM ROTTING
Since Mustafar is a planet flowing with lava rivers, incredibly hot ko-shol gases rise from the surface. After Obi-Wan Kenobi had severed the limbs of Anakin Skywalker and left him nothing but a torso rolling around on an embankment, his lungs inhaled dangerous amounts of them. His lungs were reduced to dead alveoli and incredibly constricted passages. This meant emergency medical droids had to repair what they could and install an iron lung in a flat backpack concealed by his cape, connected to air regulation systems in his helmet.
An air pump in the top of Vader’s mask, as well as a syncopated ventilator, gives his breathing the distinctive rasp. The emergency medical droids also implanted an annunciator that enables his vocal cords to work, and simulate a deep baritone voice, which is nothing but a whisper with his mask off.
3 IT’S LITERALLY STABBING HIM ALL THE TIME
Is it any wonder why the Dark Side flows through Vader so powerfully? Yes, he rages over being responsible for the death of his wife and (he believes) children, but there are forces at work within his suit that assist in his perpetually bad mood. His helmet, while an intimidating skull-like addition, protects his face as well as sticks needles into his skin to feed his central chest computer with neurological data on his brainwave activity.
All along his body are a series of tiny needles that poke and prod at him to collect diagnostic data that was stored in a permanent archive. Vader was told by the Emperor that the needles contained kouhunin chemicals to lessen his perception of pain. They were purely placebo in effect, and only served to further infuriate the Dark Lord.
2 IT HOUSES HIS ORGAN IMPLANTS
Along with various vertebra in his spine being replaced with cybernetic implants, part of his rib cage was also removed to house replacement organs. The plastoid girdle that goes around his abdominal area protects the synthetic organs from any upcoming blunt force trauma that may be coming his way.
The least amount of damage happened to his nervous system, but he has implanted sensor webs that send feedback data from his organ activity, as well as his spinal cord, and motor neurons that are constantly being monitored. His synthetic organs operate much more efficiently than their organic counterparts, even if they are only processing vitapaste. The best part is, if one isn’t working optimally, he can just get them replaced without waiting for any sort of matching donor.
1 THE SYNTHSKIN HAS TO BE SCRUBBED OF NECROTIC FLESH
When the emergency medical droids began the eight hour surgery that would kill Anakin Skywalker and see him reborn as Darth Vader, complications arose. An Ubrikkian DD-13HK droid oversaw his cybernetic implant installation, while an FX-6 performed blood transfusions and did what he could for Vader’s eyes, vocal cords, scalp, face, legs, etc. What took the most time was connecting his severed nerve endings to his new cybernetic limbs, and the use of synthskin over certain parts of them.
While synthskin is great for “fleshing” out limbs, filling out gauntlets, and making your Terminator exoskeleton look vaguely humanoid, it also has a tendency to rot if it doesn’t bond well to other organic flesh around it. This was a problem in the early years, when Vader’s synthskin had to be “scrubbed” of the dead flesh that would accumulate where real flesh meant synthetic.