In Star Wars Episode 6: Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader asks his son, Luke Skywalker, to remove his mask. Luke replies, “But you’ll die.” Darth Vader wants him to do it anyway. Vader wants to see his son “through his own eyes.”
Darth Vader does die soon afterwards, but was it from removing his mask? Can Darth Vader actually breathe without his mask?
The answer to these related questions is: no and yes.
No, Darth Vader did not actually die from removing his mask–he died from being deprived of the life-support system in his armor suit.
Yes, he can actually breathe without his mask–the power of the Dark Side of the Force can keep him alive. But only for a short time.
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Why Can’t Darth Vader Breathe Without His Mask?
Dark Vader cannot breathe without his mask because his mask is connected to a life support system. His famous black armor suit covers this life-sustaining system.
In Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker suffered severe burns and injuries after his lightsaber fight with Obi-Wan Kenobi. Afterwards, the Emperor arranged for a specially-made armor suit for Anakin, or Darth Vader.
The armor completely encloses Vader’s body and protects his damaged lungs. A helmet locks with an intimidating mask, which is in turn connected to the internal life-support system. A collar around Vader’s neck serves as a link between the mask and system.
There is an air pump inside the mask, which is crucial for breathing and partially gives Vader that distinctive breathing sound. Yet, it is the life-support system placed within layers of armor that really keep him breathing and alive.
The respirator is the central element. It goes down his throat and links to the chest piece–a central element of the suit and crucial for survival.
The circuits throughout the suit also monitor cardiac and respiratory systems. The suit is likewise responsible for regulating temperature and sending electrical impulses to signal muscle movement.
To take a break from this enclosed life-giving suit, Vader had pressurized meditation chambers built. Only in these chambers could he safely remove his suit and mask.
How Long Can Darth Vader Survive Without His Suit?
Given Darth Vader’s need for his suit, we would think he would not survive without it. However, Vader can survive for a while without it, at least according to the comic book series.
According to this video about the Dark Vader comic series, Vader can use the Dark Side of the Force to survive. The more anger Vader can conjure, the more he will tap into the Dark Side to live without his suit.
His anger and the challenges he confronts drive his Dark Side energy to sustain his life. This could go on for minutes, hours, or even longer. How long depends on his rage and connection with the Dark Side.
Vader is also depicted in the comics surviving without his mask. Here too he uses the Dark Side to breathe. Depending on what he is confronting, he could sustain himself for hours.
Other sites point to the Star Wars comic Darth Vader #12, in particular, as revealing his ability to live without his suit. The time is probably less than an hour, but it does reflect this use of the Dark Side to stay alive.
Can Darth Vader See Without His Mask?
Since Darth Vader’s retinas were badly damaged, his helmet was equipped with optical filters. These filters block out excessive light and provide protection for his eyes. They ultimately allow Vader to see even infrared and ultraviolet spectrums of light.
The pressurized seal of the helmet also allows Vader to see in space conditions. So, between optical filters and protective features, Vader would likely be unable to see without his helmet.
Yet, as with removing his suit or mask, Vader has demonstrated an ability to see without his helmet.
In the comic books, he appears to be able to manage it for short periods of time. In the movies, he also appears to be able to see without his mask. For example, The Empire Strikes Back briefly shows him without it and he appears to be able to see.
Can Darth Vader Breathe and Survive Without his Mask?
In the pivotal scene from Return of the Jedi, Emperor Palpatine tries to lure Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side. Luke rejects his offer, and the Emperor repeatedly strikes Luke with Force lightning.
As Luke writhes on the floor, Darth Vader can’t stand it any longer. He takes hold of the Emperor, hoists him over his head, and throws him down an energy shaft.
While holding the Emperor, though, Dark Vader is injected with Force lightning. Palpatine continues to send out Force lightning from his fingertips, and Darth Vader’s suit is completely destroyed by it.
Deprived of his life-support system, Vader succumbs to death soon afterwards. He needed the respirator and other life-sustaining features of the suit to stay alive.
However, if Vader had been angry enough, he may have been able to breathe and survive, at least for a time. He may have been able to draw on the Dark Side of the Force to sustain himself.
Yet, Vader had given up his Dark Side tendencies to reunite with his son.
The Suit Allows Darth Vader to Breathe
In the end, it was more the suit than the mask that kept Darth Vader alive and breathing. Once his life-support system inside the suit was destroyed, Vader perished.
Vader showed an ability to breathe without the suit by using the Dark Side of the Force. But he only did so for limited periods of time, and it depended on staying on the wrong side of the Force.
Todd Wahlstrom is a creative and analytical freelance writer and life-long Star Wars fan. He has covered such topics as Darth Vader, the Jedi, Boba Fett, and AT-AT Walkers. Todd has published a non-fiction book, holds a Ph.D. in history, and enjoys hiking, running, and reading about science.