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Why Does Darth Vader Look So Old?

Why Does Darth Vader Look So Old?

When Darth Vader is finally unmasked at the end of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, he appears to be a very old man–perhaps near the age of 80. But, thanks to the Prequel Trilogy, we know that he was only 45 years old at the time of his unmasking.

This has led many fans to wonder why Vader appears so much older than he actually is.

There are several possible explanations for why Darth Vader looks so old:

  • Inconsistencies in the plot due to poor planning
  • Vader was badly burned and injured on Mustafar
  • He spent 23 years inside his iconic black suit, receiving no exposure to sunlight
  • The effects of the dark side of the Force took a toll on him
  • Genetics caused his appearance to age more quickly than usual

Keep reading as we explore each of these explanations in detail.

Why Does Darth Vader Look So Old?

Firstly, Darth Vader’s apparent age discrepancy could have simply been due to poor planning

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When Return of the Jedi was released in 1983, the full story of the Skywalker Saga hadn’t been written or planned out yet. Simply put, George Lucas and the other filmmakers didn’t know that Darth Vader was only in his mid-40s when they were filming ROTJ. 

Perhaps, in 1983, they considered Darth Vader to be much older than he ended up being when the prequels came out.

Check out the following scene:

Darth Vader Unmasking & Death Scene [4k UltraHD] - Star Wars: Return of The Jedi

Thanks to the prequels, we now know Vader was much younger than he looked in the iconic scene above. Furthermore, he sounded like an old man in that scene–much older than 45. Are there any plausible explanations for this?

He Was Badly Injured on Mustafar

During the duel between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi in Revenge of the Sith, Kenobi cuts off Vader’s legs and arm. Vader’s clothes then catch on fire, quickly becoming consumed and severely burning his hair and much of his skin.

Episode III The Final Battle - Darth Vader Vs Obi-Wan Kenobi - Part 2

In the scene above, you can see him appearing to become older as he sustains these injuries. His hair burns away, the dark circles under his eyes deepen, and his face becomes badly disfigured. 

He would have died from these injuries had Emperor Palpatine not created the life support suit that kept his heart beating and preserved what was left of his body. 

He Spent More Than Two Decades in This Suit

Darth Vader in his suit

23 years pass from Revenge of the Sith to Return of the Jedi. During this time, Darth Vader’s life is fully dependent on his suit–he can only remove it for short periods of time while in his specially-designed meditation chambers.

The suit, mask, and helmet completely encase his body. This means, during the 23 years he had to wear it, he was never exposed to sunlight.

What’s more, it’s unclear exactly what effects the suit may have had on his body. While it was necessary to keep him alive, the stresses and strains of doing so could have caused him to age more rapidly than normal.

Effects of the Dark Side

effect of the darth side

Throughout his time as Darth Vader, he was filled with rage, hatred, and self-loathing, along with grief and heartache. The dark side of the Force is fueled and strengthened by these emotions, but to indulge in them all the time would undoubtedly cause a great deal of physical stress.

This may be why many Sith Lords appear disfigured and old; the effects of the dark side would naturally take a heavy toll over time

For example, Palpatine quickly becomes old-looking and disfigured when his own Force lightning is reflected back on him in Revenge of the Sith. This rapid disfigurement is directly linked to his use of the dark side of the Force.

Genetics May Have Played a Role 

genetics role

This is merely speculation on my part, but it’s clear that genetics often play as big a role as a person’s actual age in determining how old or young they look. 

Anakin was born without a father, so we don’t know much about his family history. But perhaps, in addition to his suit, his injuries, and the effects of the dark side, Darth Vader’s genetic makeup caused him to age prematurely.

This possible genetic factor for aging seemed to run in the family, as both Luke and Leia also appear to age faster than usual in the Original Trilogy and the Sequel Trilogy. 

They are 23 in Return of the Jedi and 53 in The Force Awakens, but in my opinion, they both look like they could be much older in both movies. 

This could have been partly due to the effects of battle, family issues, and other stress in addition to genetics.

When Did Darth Vader’s Skin Become White?

Darth Vader - white skin

His skin most likely became white over time due to lack of sun exposure.

Since Vader basically had to live in his helmet, which contained life support systems along with the rest of his suit, his face never received any direct sunlight. This lack of sun exposure, as well as lack of exposure to all light, would cause the skin to become very pale over time.

Considering the severe burns he sustained on Mustafar, it’s also possible that his skin simply turned white as it healed. The healing process would have caused a lot of scar tissue to build up, and the burns would have left the skin permanently damaged.

What’s more, he spent a lot of time in Bacta tanks to recover from his injuries and preserve what was left of his body. This undoubtedly had an effect on his skin as well.

It’s also possible that his skin became even whiter in the final moments of his life, when he was struck by Force lightning. 

Darth Vader Kills Emperor Palpatine Scene [4k UltraHD] - Star Wars: Return of The Jedi

In the scene above when Vader picks up Palpatine and throws him down an energy shaft to save Luke, Palpatine’s Force lightning destroys his suit and life support systems; it could have also damaged his skin beneath the suit. 

Force lightning is what originally lightened and disfigured Palpatine’s skin; it could have done the same to Vader.

Of course, Luke did not become disfigured when Palpatine struck him with Force lightning, so it’s possible that neither he nor Vader was struck by enough of it to have any effect on their skin.

What Did Darth Vader’s Skin Look Like in The Empire Strikes Back?

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Meditation Chamber HD

We don’t actually see Vader’s face in The Empire Strikes Back; only the back of his head.

Still, the events of Empire happened only a year or less before the events of Jedi; so it’s reasonable to believe the appearance of Vader’s face didn’t change much between Empire and Jedi.

In this case, it would have looked much the same as it did when he was unmasked at the end of Jedi: very pale and scarred, with wrinkles and dark circles under his eyes.


Darth Vader looked much older than his actual age at the time of his death

This may have been due to the serious injuries he sustained on Mustafar, the full-body suit of armor he had to wear, or the ongoing effects of the dark side of the Force. Genetics may have also factored in, though it’s hard to say for sure.

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