Darth Vader is perhaps the most recognizable villain in cinematic history. With his signature black cloak and vented helmet, the mere imagery of Vader can instill fear in viewers’ hearts. However, the suit was not simply created as a visual, as it served multiple purposes for Vader including providing oxygen, food, and enhanced vision of the world. This list seeks to point out 15 Things You Don’t Know About Vader’s Armor, looking at both physical, psychological, and practical items. By looking at concept art, scripts, and visual guides, as well as simply what is included in the films themselves, this list compiles information on the creation of, existence within, and practicality of Darth Vader’s armor.
Fair warning: since the purchase of Lucasfilm by Disney, there is a certain degree of uncertainty as to just how much of our previous understanding of the Star Wars universe is still deemed official canon. This breakdown of Darth Vader’s armor will include elements from both the current canon knowledge and some from what was formerly known as the Extended Universe (now called Legends).
15. Armor vs. Life Support
The design of Vader shifted throughout the script writing process. While it ultimately led to the backstory of Mustafar and the duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi, it really served multiple purposes. The infamous suit ultimately served as both life support and armor. It was basically a walking respirator, but one that could also provide additional protections and abilities. One of the most significant changes that Anakin underwent in becoming Darth Vader was in his fighting style. Unable to move about as freely as he once had, Vader was forced to use the brute strength offered him by the suit to overcome his opponents. This is evidenced in most of his post-prequel battles, including his showdown with Obi-Wan in A New Hope (such a serene and calm duel compared to their previous encounter on Mustafar) and when he fights Ahsoka in Star Wars Rebels.
The dual purpose nature of the armor allowed Vader to easily impose the will of the Empire across the galaxy. Of course, its insanely cool but incredibly intimidating aesthetic certainly didn’t hurt, either.
14. Remainder of the Jedi Robes
With his armor, Vader also wore some loosely flowing fabric secured by his belt, reminiscent of the robes worn by Jedi Knights. Although the Jedi had no official “uniform,” their outfits often resembled one another, with wrapped robes and a hooded cloak being worn by many of the galactic peacekeepers. Most Jedi wore neutral colors — Legends suggests this was due to the original Jedi’s origin on Tatooine — but Anakin (and eventually his son, Luke) transitioned slowly towards darker shades, eventually leading to the black armor and clothing of Darth Vader.
As for the infamous Sith’s cloak, it could be removed in much the same way that the Jedi would remove their outer hooded cloak, though this was rare for Vader. In the films, he is only seen without it when sitting within his meditation chambers. Overall, with the mechanical nature of the suit, the Jedi leftovers only added to the fearsome presence that Vader exhibited, making him seem larger and more imposing when in a room.
13. Layers and Materials Used
Travel and existence in space is a dangerous undertaking. Modern day astronauts require specialized suits that will protect them from the various dangers of space travel, including intense cold and pressure. NASA has the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), which is custom built for each astronaut and consists of 14 layers, all providing various levels of heating, cooling, or pressure protection. For Darth Vader, according to Star Wars: Darth Vader: A 3-D Reconstruction Log by Daniel Wallace, his suit is comprised of 10 distinct layers, which are divided into three categories of materials. The primary layers are a self-sealing surface used by Imperial officers, materials for impact protection (including a padding used in Stormtrooper helmets: Reifflex cellular padding), and a third tasked with temperature and pressure regulation.
Each category had specific materials used for the individual layers that served to protect Vader. However, as is seen with his eventual death, the armor could only do so much to protect against large power surges like those produced by Force lightning.
For an interesting look at the real science of Star Wars, check out The Science of Star Wars by Mark Brake and Jon Chase, or take a look at this short video of Chase describing the comparisons between the EMU and Vader’s suit.
12. Cybernetic Limbs
Anakin received his first cybernetic appendage after battling Count Dooku in Attack of the Clones, where most of his right arm was lopped off by a lightsaber (like limbs often are in Star Wars films). As replacement, he received a cybernetic hand, which he was able to improve over the course of his lifetime, making it more conducive and responsive to his needs and desires.
During the battle on Mustafar with his former Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, he was left to die after having the remaining, non-robotic limbs severed by his old friend, who apparently had not underestimated his power. These were replaced by DD-13 Medical Assistant Droids (designed for attaching cybernetic limbs) after his rescue by Emperor Palpatine. Although those limbs allowed him a surprising amount of mobility, given the severity of his injuries, his fighting style shifted as a result of the less compatible limbs and the more cumbersome suit surrounding them. His original cybernetic hand is what Luke Skywalker removes during their duel in Return of the Jedi, and its ultimately what reminds Luke, who glances at his own hand, that he came to redeem his father, not destroy him.
11. Life Support from Mustafar
As Star Wars fans surely know, Vader’s armor was constructed because of the significant injuries the burgeoning Sith Lord suffered in his battle with Obi-Wan. Fans had long believed that Darth Vader’s injuries were the result of him having fallen into a volcano, but a slightly (and we do mean slightly) more plausible rationale for his physical state in the original trilogy was brought to life in Revenge of the Sith.
The physical burns he suffered required special care, with the suit providing a pressurized space to relieve his pain. Additionally, fire and smoke inhalation can be particularly damaging to the lungs, which is why the suit provided respiratory aid. The long, wheezing sounds that can fill any heart with fear (as evidenced by the audience gasps in Rogue One when he appeared in his final scene) were a result of the mechanical respiratory device that was necessary to keep him alive. Emperor Palpatine rescued Anakin from Mustafar, only to subject him to a life of pain and isolation within his suit. While it was mainly there for the preservation of his damaged body, it also served to amplify some of his abilities, including his vision and strength.
10. Meditation on Mustafar
In a few scenes throughout the Star Wars films, Vader can be seen outside of his iconic suit. In Rogue One, we see him in a bacta tank, which is full of the in-universe healing liquid. Although this system aids in his continual recovery, it is the pressurized chamber which is first viewed in The Empire Strikes Back that allows him some temporary respite from the sometimes oppressive suit he is confined to. The pressurization (combined with meditation on the Force) allows him to exist for periods without the suit. According to Star Wars: Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide, it is an imperfect system that cannot sustain him for long, so he has to return to the armor just to stay alive.
Vader’s meditation periods allow him temporary relief from the isolation of the suit, which surely becomes a bit of a hassle to wear after a while. In many ways, his continued presence in his castle on Mustafar also aided his ability to fixate on an upcoming battle, strengthening him in the ways of the dark side.
9. Destruction of the Armor
Force lightning, an ability utilized only by dark side users, is a powerful manipulation of the energy of the Force which can be used to electrocute intended targets. These attacks can be deflected by a lightsaber and other energy absorbing objects, such as the Gungan energy shields, revealed oddly enough through a poll on StarWars.com. At times, a Force lightning attack can even be absorbed/deflected by a strong Force user such as Yoda in Attack of the Clones. One item that could not absorb the heavy voltage, however, is Vader’s armor.
While the suit itself was improved over time to protect against minor electricity damage, it could not sustain Vader when he finally elected to betray the Emperor Palpatine rather than watch the evil Sith Lord Force lightning his son to death. When he lifted his Master in the air and tossed him down into the depths of the second Death Star, the armor itself could not withstand the electricity and was thus unable to continue functioning. The suit failed, and Vader’s already damaged body took the remainder of the electric shock. This led to his inevitable death in his son’s arms after having returned to the Light side.
8. Dark Side Armor
Much of this point has been relegated to Legends; not because it is no longer accurate, but simply because it has not yet been reaffirmed by the now canon stories and information sources.
In many of the Legends stories, Sith are described as wearing Sith armor, an ostentatious look that served to instill fear in their enemies. It was also specially imbued with the Force to allow for a stronger manipulation of it. The armor of Vader is similar in that it was intentionally an imposing form, especially with the addition of the cape. Much of the Sith armor was created through the use of Sith Alchemy, which would strengthen the Force ability of the wearer, as per (the now Legends) Jedi vs. Sith: The Essential Guide to the Force.
7. Cape-less Crusader
In a few cases, Vader can be seen without his cape. Although there is not necessarily a significance to this, it does seem to take away from the imposing nature of Vader’s attire. In one deleted scene, he is seen standing, arms crossed behind his back, surrounded by stormtroopers. Without the cape, the inspiration for his under armor is more apparent, mirroring that of a samurai. This glimpse also harkens back to the Jedi robes of Anakin, which were incorporated into his new armor and attire.
He is also capeless when sitting within his pressurized chamber and communicating with Admiral Ozzel and Captain Piett (where Ozzel is Force-ably removed from his position). This could simply be a practicality issue, as sitting in a command chair might be difficult with the inclusion of a floor length cape. Regardless, with the inclusion of the cape, he has an ominous and larger-than-life presence, creating an overall menacing and recognizable shadow.
6. Environmental Protections
Due to the original intention of the armor serving as a glorified spacesuit, the final concept included many of the environmental factors that were originally conceptualized. Of note are the magnetic boots, which allow him to remain firmly attached to metal surfaces, and are also responsible for the imposing nature of his walk. In Star Wars Rebels, he utilizes these boots as he descends literally on top of his TIE Advanced x1, with the boots holding him in place. It’s quite a menacing approach.
The pressurization of the suit and internal breathing mechanism also allow for survival in the vacuum of space for short periods of time, as seen in Paul S. Kemp’s cannon book Lords of the Sith and in the ending scene of Rogue One, although it is unknown just how long his suit would maintain him in space. Ultimately, the armor provided advantages to Vader that made him the powerful Imperial leader that he was.
The helmet was attached to Vader through a series of bolts, making it nearly a permanent fixture. Although it could be removed, as seen when Vader sits within his meditation chambers or floats in the bacta tank, this was rarely the case. Off-screen, the actual helmet nearly took off the ear of Sebastian Shaw when they filmed the helmet removal, or “redemption” scene.
Beyond the physical usage of the helmet to provide sustenance and breathing abilities, it also held sentimental value to Kylo Ren, the grandson of Darth Vader. Having scavenged for any remaining relics of his grandfather, he discovered only the remainders of the burned helmet from the funeral pyre Luke held for his father. He then keeps the helmet in his own quarters aboard his ship, where he can commune with Vader when he feels conflicted by the Force.
In what is now considered part of the unofficial Legends canon, objects that had once belonged to powerful Force users, particularly dark side users, could hold a residual power. Before The Force Awakens was released, a popular fan theory suggested that this might be the reason for the retrieval of the helmet.
4. Rebels with a Cause
Darth Vader has had a continual presence in Star Wars Rebels, as the story covers the time proceeding Revenge of the Sith and preceding Rogue One and A New Hope. In that timeline, his helmet has red tinted eyes, like the original suit from A New Hope.
In the Rebels episode “Twilight of the Apprentice”, Vader questions Ezra about the Malachor Sith Temple, only to be confronted by his former padawan Ahsoka, who seems suspicious of who Darth Vader really is. During their ensuing battle, Ahsoka is ultimately defeated by the villain (although her fate is left ambiguous, with neither her escape nor her death visualized), but not before slashing his mask to reveal the face of Anakin beneath, allowing her to realize his true identity. The damage to his mask leads to labored breathing and a struggle as Vader exits the temple. He survives this battle, as the suit itself is not damaged, only the mask.
3. Shine On
With the release of the trailers for Rogue One, it became clear that we would be seeing Darth Vader in some capacity. Of course, no one expected quite the intense appearance that would arrive at the end of the film. However, it is interesting to look at the decisions that were made in regards to the armor, with the designers choosing a shinier and more polished look, similar to that in the later films (Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi).
The suit was designed to match the general look of A New Hope, but VFX supervisor and executive producer John Knoll said of the other changes: “I figure he’s got more than one version of those outfits. The reason the armor looks a little grungier and dented up in A New Hope is you’re not going to wear your nice armor into battle. You’re gonna wear your beater armor into battle. Then, if you’re going to go talk to the Emperor or something, you put on the nice shiny one, show some respect.”
2. Changes Throughout
The original suit of armor used in A New Hope was created for $1,173. For The Empire Strikes Back, new suits were constructed that included more lights and some Aurebesh writing. The most significant change was in the wearability of the suit, with the new one allowing more comfort and visibility to the actor and stunt double. The final major change that occurred was the creation of the “reveal” (or “redemption”) helmet, the top portion of which could be removed before Vader died and was ultimately redeemed by his son.
With Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, a suit was constructed for Hayden Christensen, and the inside of the Darth Vader mask was designed by the effects team in order to portray the moment Anakin is officially transformed into Darth Vader. As noted above, Rogue One chose to mix the suits of the original, going with the appearance of the armor in A New Hope, but with the shinier finish of the later films.
1. Costume Development
The original design of Darth Vader’s armor began with Ralph McQuarrie in March of 1975, following the creation of early drafts of A New Hope. He began designing the character after the second draft of the script was completed, including a scene where Vader drifted from his ship to what would eventually become the ship of Princess Leia. This proved to be the creative jumping off point for the villain’s iconic mask, as McQuarrie himself has described: “Early in the script there was a description of Vader crossing between two ships in space so I created this mask so he could breathe in space, with a suggestion of teeth in the mask’s grillwork.”
Drawing some inspiration from a Samurai helmet and WWI trench helmets, the respirator was combined to create what would become the recognized mask. It was in the fourth draft that the character’s background information (the duel leading to the fall into a volcano) was formulated, requiring Vader to wear the suit at all times.
After filming for A New Hope was wrapped, mechanical clicks were initially added in post-production to encourage the understanding of Vader’s manufactured nature. In the end, however, sound designer Ben Burtt elected instead to record himself breathing into scuba gear in order to bring the character’s breathing and respiratory sounds to life. And just like that, Darth Vader was complete.
What else should Star Wars fans know about Darth Vader’s armor? Sound off in the comments.
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