We all know how the story goes: Anakin Skywalker was defeated by Obi-Wan Kenobi on Mustafar. After having an arm and both of his legs taken by his former master, he was left on the banks of a lava river to pass away. However, Darth Sidious found and saved Darth Vader, placing his body inside the life-supporting armor we saw in the original trilogy. The process turned Vader into more machine than man and effectively destroyed any lasting remnants of Anakin. The movies convey a lot about Anakin’s journey to the Dark Side, but when he becomes Darth Vader and eventually is placed in the armor, little is conveyed about the inner workings and functionality of the suit. It's a shame, because acquiring the knowledge about how the suit operates provides more insight into the day-to-day life of Vader.
Until knowing the suit’s full functionality it is hard to see that some aspects of the armor make him more powerful while others increase his vulnerability. The suit has become a burden for him to literally carry every day, so the following list presents 20 things you may not have known about Darth Vader’s armor. Find out which features make him a more formidable foe and which ones humanize the character. Most of the following information falls outside of the new canon, established in 2014. Although the details surrounding the creation of the suit are considered part of the “Legends” brand, it remains open for writers to bring into the current canon if they wish.
20 ANCIENT SITH ARMOR
Darth Vader’s armor is first and foremost a life support system for Anakin Skywalker. However, in designing the armor, Darth Sidious wanted his new apprentice to embody a feared figure. The dark and heavy armor of Vader was purposefully created to mimic ancient Sith battle armor, which was also designed to strike fear in their enemies. To further accentuate the ominous nature of the ensemble, his mask was made to look like a skull.
The suit is the only thing keeping Vader alive, which should be a weakness, but the foreboding design instead acts as a symbol of strength, distracting enemies from the extremely fragile circumstance the Sith Lord is truly in.
19 THE INTEGRITY OF A SPACESUIT
The life-supporting armor also serves as a spacesuit for Darth Vader. The most complicated pieces to connect in order to gain the integrity of a spacesuit are the helmet and mask. When the two are connected they must provide an airtight, pressurized seal to allow Vader to breathe without being compromised by the vacuum of space. They were designed as such, protecting Vader from outer space for a short period of exposure.
This proved to be a necessity when Vader faced an assassination attempt by his own men that resulted in him being expelled from his ship through the airlock. Vader survived the harsh environment and exacted his revenge on the mutinous troops.
18 THE SHOULDER ARMOR IS HEAVY
Vader’s formidable shoulder armor provides the master of combat with a huge benefit in battle. The armor is blaster-proof and resistant to many energy blades and when struck by such weapons, shows little to no damaging effects. However, the armor is quite heavy (12.2 kg, or 26.9 lbs), which restricts Vader’s movement.
He could no longer raise a lightsaber above his head and therefore had to adjust his combat style to accentuate strengths and hide weaknesses. He abandoned a fighting style based on agility and perfected a technique which utilized his strength and endurance to defeat his foes. Although the new style is slower and less flashy than the old, Vader has tallied many victories with it.
17 ADVANCED TEMPERATURE CONTROLS
The suit has many electronic components and can therefore become very hot when these components are in use. The armor is equipped with a sensitive temperature control unit, which senses internal increases in heat and keep Vader cool throughout this time.
The armor is also able to sense the temperature of the surrounding atmosphere and provide heat to him in cold environments, or cool the suit in hot environments. This is how Darth Vader is able to walk the surface of Hoth without any further protection than simply his armor. On top of the sensors, Vader can also adjust the temperature from a control box on his belt to reach optimal comfort.
16 NEUROLOGICAL DATA
As a separate component from the helmet, when the mask is sealed in place it sticks a number of small needles into Vader’s skin to transmit neurological data to the central computer, located on his chest. The needles record brainwave activity as well as body temperature and send the data to the main system to be processed.
If the data acquired by the needles indicated Vader’s face was overheating, the mask would draw out the excess heat through radiator conduction pads, further expanding on the temperature controls available elsewhere in the suit. Sticking a large number of tiny needles into the face seems like a high price to pay for information and comfort, but it is essential in keeping Vader alive.
15 THE OMINOUS BREATHING
One of the most infamous sounds in the world is the slow, ominous breathing of Darth Vader. While most fans have probably figured out by now that the breathing comes from his life-support system, there may be some who do not know the details of the apparatus.
First, air in the outside environment is filtered through a backpack that is rarely seen, as it hides beneath his cape. The filtered air is then sent from the backpack through a tube connected to his helmet, where it passes through a ventilator and is pumped into his lungs. The sounds you are hearing is the ventilator pumping the air. Not so scary anymore, is it?
14 HOW VADER CAN SPEAK
If the most infamous quality of Darth Vader is his ominous breathing, the second most infamous quality is his voice. Vader is famously voiced by James Earl Jones, who adds a deep richness to the part, and some might wonder how we go from Hayden Christensen’s voice to Jones’.
After the near end Vader experienced on Mustafar, he had very little use left in his vocal cords. Therefore, the armor was fit with an electronic voice processor linked to an implant, which enables him not produce audible speech with a deep, amplified tone, despite his scorched vocal cords. Darth Sidious must have wanted a voice more commanding than the angsty teenager he recently turned.
13 THE MASK CONTAINS A HUD
Inside the mask, projected on the lenses, Vader has a head-up display (HUD) which conveys critical data to him. Through a sensor on his helmet the lenses can communicate the composition of a new atmosphere, such as temperature and air toxicity. The display will also provide any detail regarding nearby signs of life.
The HUD is a perfect complement to Vader’s strong connection to the Force. It provides him with the scientific details to support the strong feelings he gets from the Force. He is able to adjust what information is displayed through a mouth-controlled mechanism that responds to lip and tongue movement. It sounds difficult to control and makes us wonder why this functionality isn’t linked to one of the suit’s buttons.
12 AUDIO ENHANCERS AND SOUND DAMPENERS
Vader’s eardrums were damaged beyond repair by the heat on Mustafar, so the armor has to transfer any soundwaves directly into implants in his inner ear. Adding to this feature, the suit is equipped with audio enhancers to allow Vader the ability to hear better than any human. In addition to the audio enhancement, the armor also has sonic dampeners to protect him against sonic weapon attacks.
However, this feature is not without its flaws. Vader has complained about the audio system before, expressing that the calibration of the sensors is often off, which results in its enhancement of ambient sounds. The sensors have even attacked him with feedback and echos, responding to the slightest of noises.
11 PROVIDES FOOD AND ELIMINATES WASTE
If Darth Vader will die without his suit, how does he eat and go to the bathroom? The Sith Lord’s armor takes care of it all. He gets sustenance by either having the nourishment intravenously administered or he can have a paste delivered to his mouth through a straw, all contained within the armor.
To eliminate waste, Vader relies on catheters, collection pouches and recyclers to collect and dispose of the waste. Relying on such a system is seen as a humanizing quality and greatly diminishes Vader’s fearsome image, while in public he claims that he does not need to eat or drink, which adds to his mysterious persona.
10 ENHANCED STRENGTH
Impulse generators located in the armor were designed to provide electrical stimulation to invigorate Vader’s muscles and provide his damaged body with greater mobility and strength. The life-support system was also designed to constantly inject Vader with a Sith alchemy stimulant to even further enhance his strength.
This explains how his severely mangled muscles are able to provide enough strength to lift a man over his head. Although rarely seen, the stimulation allows Vader enough mobility to use Force Speed when needed. With the combination of the stimulants provided by the armor and the cybernetics in his body, Vader is extremely strong.
9 DEFENSIVE GLOVES
Vader wears gauntlets on his prosthetic hands made from Mandalorian iron, which can protect him from glancing lightsaber blows. The gauntlets are also known to deflect a direct hit from a blaster bolt. The gloves connect to Darth Vader’s prosthetics with magnetic clasps, so they do not shift during extensive movement. They are also padded to provide definition and make it difficult for enemies to identify them as prosthetic limbs.
It is difficult to define the amount of damage the gloves can take from a lightsaber before they become vulnerable to the attack. While a direct attack can cut through the gloves, Vader has deflected many attacks with the gloves showing little signs of damage.
8 HIS PROSTHETIC LIMBS
All of Vader’s limbs are prosthetic. He lost his right hand when fighting Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones and he lost his left arm and both legs in the fight with Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.
The prosthetics used to reconstruct Vader after the fight with Obi-Wan were of poor quality and quite heavy. Despite the obsolete technology used to construct them, they provided Vader with greatly enhanced strength. He could adjust the pistons in his forearm to provide his hand enough strength to crush anything within his reach.
7 INFRARED AND ULTRAVIOLET VISION
Vader’s eyes were greatly damaged by the harsh environment on Mustafar and as a result require protection from light. The lenses in his helmet provide the protection his retinas need and also have a secondary setting which is automatically enabled when approaching areas of intense light.
The visual filters on the lenses also allow Vader to detect infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths, giving him the ability to see in complete darkness. The protection from intense light and the ability to see in darkness give Vader the upper hand in combat that takes place under any sort of extreme visual conditions.
6 PAIN DAMPENERS
Vader’s nerves took the least amount of damage from the fight on Mustafar, but still required extensive work to the spine and nervous system to connect with all the electronic and prosthetic additions. Sensor webs were implanted through his body in order to closely monitor the sensory and motor functions.
Despite all the reconstruction, Vader’s body still experiences considerable pain from the battle with Obi-Wan. To address this, the armor releases a synthetic neurotoxin called Kouhunin to lessen Vader’s perception of pain. Despite having the neurotoxin flowing through his body, Vader still experiences constant pain from his injuries.
5 IT MUST BE RECHARGED
First appearing in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader often uses a meditation chamber, where his life-supporting armor can be removed. He uses this chamber because his appendages and life-supporting systems must be constantly recharged and the meditation chamber is the only place he can survive while this is taking place. The recharging of his armor takes place by connecting his central computer to a fusion furnace through access ports located on the rear of the chest box.
The central computer on Vader’s chest is designed to last a few weeks before recharging, but he does also have some backup power cells that can provide basic life-support if he is ever caught in a situation where he can’t recharge immediately.
4 THE CAPE
There are not many times you will see Darth Vader without his cape. While it provides a level of intimidation and dominance, the cape actually has a functional purpose for the Sith Apprentice.
The air that is pumped into Vader’s lungs through a ventilator is first passed through an air filter. This filter is located on Vader’s back, worn like a backpack. The cape is designed to cover the filter, protecting it from any contaminants that could potentially clog it up. The cape can also protect Vader from fire and acid, as it is made out of a lightweight armor material. There is more than meets the eye to this threatening accessory.
3 THE CHEST COMPUTER
The computer at the center of Vader’s chest is the central hub for the suit’s life-support functions. All of the sensory data is funnelled into the computer for analysis. The computer has a number of slots, buttons and switches. The three slots are for neural, respiratory and pulmonary system data. The blue rectangular button activates the suit’s auto-control functions, while below it, the red button activates the suit’s manual override.
Finally, the switches at the bottom act as programming controls, one of them specifically triggering a system reset. It seems like a vulnerable place to have such important system controls, but perhaps Vader gains more in intimidation by having the confidence to display the controls front and center.
2 IT REQUIRES CONSTANT MAINTENANCE
While the suit adds many functional benefits to Vader, it was constructed with obsolete technology that requires constant maintenance to keep it operational. Vader, a mechanical engineer himself, who constructed C-3PO and fixed countless machines as a child, was appalled with the shoddy work the medical droids did in constructing his life-support armor. Not only were systems constantly malfunctioning, but the suit was also very uncomfortable. Vader often itched under the synthskin layer and had trouble sleeping through the loud sounds of the ventilator mixed with over-sensitive audio sensors.
Although never confirmed, Vader wondered if Darth Sidious designed the poor-quality suit to restrict his power and keep him from rebelling. The source of Vader’s power is also his biggest weakness.
1 THE LINK TO GENERAL GRIEVOUS
The mechanical droids that were tasked to repair Darth Vader after the battle at Mustafar were the same droids that assembled General Grievous many years earlier. Vader’s surgery took several days and did not go smoothly. Due to a limited budget, the droids used the same technology as they did with Grievous, which by that time was obsolete and ineffective.
As a result, the cybernetics in Vader utilized technology that was decades old and the droids had to take many shortcuts to make all the components function together. The medical droids shined Vader’s helmet with woodoo hide in an attempt to divert Darth Sidious’ attention from the shortcuts they were forced to implement. Apparently even Sith Lords can be distracted by shiny objects.