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Secrets of Darth Vader's Armor

Star Wars: A New Hope introduced audiences to a classic tale of good versus evil that took place a "long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." The movie thrilled audiences. And they'd surely never seen anything like the intimidating sight of Darth Vader before. Clad in black armor, a regal cape, and wearing a massive bug-eyed helmet—all brought together with a raspy ventilator that strikes fear into the Rebels' hearts—nearly everything about the Dark Lord was meant to elicit fear. What most movie fans don't know is that there's more to Darth Vader's armor than meets the eye. Here are the secrets behind the most fearsome armor in all the galaxies. 

Anakin needs the suit to live

Viewers of the prequel trilogy will have noticed that young Darth Vader, aka Anakin Skywalker, had a true gift with tech and gadgets, building his own pod racer and even C-3PO. There's a grim irony to Anakin's later reliance on technologically advanced armor to sustain him, as seen in the original three films (which, along with the prequels, TV series Star Wars Rebels, and the Darth Vader: A 3-D Reconstruction Log, will be our sole points of reference). 

Even as Anakin slowly turned to the Dark Side, letting his emotions control him, his reliance on machines only increased. When he lost a hand to Count Dooku in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, he replaced it with a cybernetic limb. His ultimate reliance on machine technology would come after Obi-Wan and Anakin came to blows at the end of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, leaving Anakin scarred, crippled, and close to death on the fiery surface of the planet Mustafar.

Anakin was saved by Palpatine's medical droids, though not before enduring intense pain, leaving him three fewer limbs to boot. With no original limbs at that point, and his entire body covered in burns and scars, it would have taken a miracle to keep him alive. Unfortunately for Anakin, it was less a miracle and more a walking iron lung that allowed him to still live. 

That imposing black-clad armor that creates such a striking visual in the movies is actually a mechanic mobile life support system that would allow him to continue on to be the scourge of the galaxy. 

While Anakin would die, Darth Vader lives

As a result of the damage from Obi-Wan's lightsaber and the damage inflicted upon the fiery surface of Mustafar, Anakin became (in the words of Obi-Wan in A New Hope) "More machine now than man. Twisted and evil." 

The iconic chest plate on Vader's chest regulates the life-saving properties of the suit, with each colored button corresponding to a different regulation to mimic a healthy body. The various buttons control everything from CO2 exhaust vents to temperature controls, ensuring Vader's horribly burned skin is not irritated further. Even his movement within the suit is controlled by electrical impulses, snapping his nerves to attention even due to all the assorted nerve damage that befell Anakin.

The armor's life-saving capabilities are regulated by Vader's helmet, inlaid with cybernetic needles to interface with his entire mechanical pulmonary and respiratory system. Through the helmet, Vader's able to control most of the functions of his armored body, directing his own heart beat and breathing patterns. Not just that, nearly the entire suit records its own functions, since such a finely tuned machine would need to be kept in tip-top shape, lest it leaves the Dark Lord of the Sith as helpless as a stalled-out 74-Z Speeder Bike in Sand People territory.

The suit changed his fighting style

Viewers watching the prequel trilogy might have been surprised to see Anakin's high-flying fighting style, especially considering the rigid yet merciless style he would later adopt as Darth Vader. In the prequel trilogy, Anakin fought like an acrobat, letting his natural Force affinity position himself as a fighting dynamo, jumping and dashing around his opponents. But later, when he was beaten by Obi-Wan, he lost the last three of his original limbs, bringing the high-flying Anakin down to earth.

Reconstructed into Darth Vader, the weight of the armor and assorted machinery would make it incredibly difficult for the Dark Lord to raise his lightsaber above his head. Even with the Force assisting him, Anakin's movement became more akin to a tank than that of the quick fighter jet he had once been.

With the loss of his speed, he gained a technological advantage

The cutting-edge technology used in Vader's armor offers opportunity to employ powerful fighting techniques even a classically trained Jedi would have trouble matching.

Vader's boots have a ferromagnetic cord in each heel, allowing him to, for instance, stick to a spaceship hull in the vacuum of space. The boots themselves are made with the same high-tech insulation and protection that the rest of his armor is made from. And, yes, the suit itself is completely airtight, giving Vader a nigh-unmatched ability in the far reaches of space. 

Slow, unstoppable, and "more machine than man"? It's hard not to wonder if the unstoppable cyborg of James Cameron's Terminator franchise wasn't inspired by him.

The armor itself is incredibly dense

Vader's defense doesn't stop at his feet. The suit, insulated with over 10 distinct layers thick enough to survive the vacuum of space, makes him nearly impervious to most forms of damage. Each layer of the armor is made of a different material, from an improved version of the Reifflex cellular padding that's used in Stormtrooper helmets to ortho-fabric and mylar laminate—even a polychlorophene-2 fiber weave.

Each layer of the suit serves a different purpose, from fireproofing (a logical idea, considering…) to shock-absorbing padding in the chest, which guards against potential impacts that might result in internal bleeding or organ damage.

Even the cape Vader wears is made of a strong, lightweight armor weave, offering extra protection from surprise attacks at his back; the cape itself also keeps various air vents within the armor from clogging.

Darth Vader is more similar to Batman than you might think

An intimidating man—and living legend—in a mask and dark cape, standing for order and instilling fear at the very sight of him. Quick, who are we talking about, Batman or Darth Vader? 

Despite the fact that they would no doubt be arch-enemies, the Dark Knight of Gotham and the Dark Lord of the Sith not only possess aesthetic similarities (a result of both characters being somewhat inspired by Dracula), both characters have powerful gauntlets.

In Darth Vader's case, the gauntlets are made from a micronized Mandalorian iron weave, giving him both superhuman strength in his cybernetic fists and a backup defense to block, for example, lasers and blades when his lightsaber proves insufficient.

His mask connects him further to the force

The powers that Vader gains from his cybernetic suit aren't just limited to strength and durability. His helmet is constantly feeding him data on nearby environmental hazards, an advanced warning system that minimizes the chances of the suit being damaged by an accidental explosion, stray laser shot, etc. it also feeds him general operations data, which helps better connect him to his Force senses. 

Even the bulbous eyes of the helmet serve a nefarious purpose: they are a technological replacement for his damaged eyes, allowing him to see further along the visible spectrum than most humans—even in total darkness. They also expand and contract Vader's eyesight as needed to protect his damaged eyes, acting like a futuristic version of transition lenses.

The power comes with a price

While the helmet's powerful lenses and computer calculations allow Vader to be even more of a nocturnal predator than the legends about him say, all that power comes with a price. The helmet itself has to be bolted to his head, both through the micro-needles that connect Vader to the computer (mentioned above) and through larger, stronger bolts that connect the helmet to his skull.

Beyond just the constant discomfort that the bolts and needles would cause, the difficulty in removing the helmet requires Vader to consume nearly all his food through intravenous circulation, unless he's got a Nutribullet blender and a straw handy. 

Just breathing through the mask is a challenge, so much so that Vader can almost never fully sleep in his helmet. Nearly every moment of his life is suffused by an active discomfort and pain. And it gets worse…

Inside the armor, his skin remains damaged

Even inside the armor, Darth Vader's burned skin remains horrifically mutilated. The nerve damage necessitates that Vader constantly consume nerve-dulling agents, and he needs to be sanitized regularly before he becomes consumed by necrotic tissue. The mechanical enhancements don't always sync perfectly with his unconscious movements, requiring pinpoint focus and surreptitious use of the Force to keep his movements controlled.

In short, the suit serves as a constant barrier against his inevitable death, a death which would come quickly the moment the suit was disabled in any sizable way. His reliance on the suit's power to keep him alive is why his death at the hands of Palpatine in Return of the Jedi came so quickly after his armor was disabled by the emperor's Force lightning. When the lightning shorted out the various safeguards keeping him alive, there was nothing left keeping Vader from succumbing to the death he'd prolonged for so long.

Vader's only refuge from the metal coffin that is his armor comes in the form of meditation chambers scattered across various worlds and on his Executor-class Star Dreadnought Destroyer. In the meditation chambers, Vader can remove his armor and mask and rest somewhat peacefully.

Notably shown in Star Wars: Rogue One was his castle on Mustafar, the same planet where he dueled Obi-Wan. Within the castle, Vader has a Bacta Tank, where, free from his suit, he can submerge himself in healing fluid.

In his meditation chambers, Vader relies on the assistance of droids and mechanical devices to remove his bulky armor. After all, the mystique of Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith, has to remain. What's there to be afraid of if someone knows his secrets?