Darth Vader‘s intimidating black armor is one of the most iconic costumes in cinema. From his first appearance at the beginning of A New Hope, it’s been one of the defining images of Star Wars and is endlessly reproduced across every form of media and merchandising. Throughout the Original Trilogy, though, the person inside was an enigma, with Vader’s true face finally revealed at the end of Return of the Jedi.
We eventually got the full story of the man behind the mask in the Prequel Trilogy and The Clone Wars, with Revenge of the Sith showing us the injuries that forced Anakin Skywalker to require the armor how it was fitted to him. Since then, a wealth of supplementary material has given us an insight into how it works and what life was like for Anakin post-Mustafar.
Books and comics have revealed that the former Jedi was claustrophobic and deeply unhappy in the prosthesis and was on a fruitless search for technology that’d let him live without it. The furthest he got was the creation of pressurized meditation chambers on board Imperial ships, allowing him to remove his mask. All other attempts failed, though, as his lungs were too damaged for him to breathe unaided for extended periods.
However, an upcoming Star Wars comic may provide a loophole. Darth Vader #12 sees the Sith Lord recovering from a battle with Emperor Palpatine that left his suit badly damaged. Imperial observers say he shouldn’t be able to survive, but that his hate can keep him alive. Sith Lords have been known to use this ability, with Knights of the Old Republic II‘s Darth Sion’s shattered body held together through pure hatred alone, though he’s in constant pain. We know that Anakin has some form of this ability, too, as without it he wouldn’t have survived long enough after Mustafar to be placed inside the suit.
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So, my bet is that Vader could have technically pulled through without the respirator, though he’d be in a living hell. It’d also be a nightmare for anyone around him as his latent Force abilities would manifest in exceptionally destructive ways as he struggled to sustain himself through the Dark Side alone.
Of course, this is leaving aside that Vader’s suit also acts as a limb prosthesis as well as life support. Even if his lungs were magically healed, he’d still be reliant on it for mobility. All of which adds up to a deeply tragic story for Anakin/Vader, who has a dehumanizing and miserable daily life. But then again, Vader being dependent on Imperial technology to live is exactly how Palpatine likes it.
We’ll see more of Anakin’s early years in the suit in Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+ in 2022, the highlight of the studio’s slate of Star Wars streaming shows.