Is Darth Vader wearing a spacesuit?
The spacesuit is an iconic staple of spaceflight. In science and throughout pop culture, its image is synonymous with the great beyond and humankind’s conquest of space. But spacesuits serve an essential purpose. They keep humans alive in hostile space or planetary environments. So – on this Father’s Day 2021 – we wanted to take a look at the suit of the most infamous father from a galaxy far, far away. Yes, we’re talking about Darth Vader of the Star Wars media franchise. How do real-world spacesuits compare with his ensemble?
This is a subject of much discussion on fan sites. And it’s interesting to think about, in light of what real spacesuits do in the real world. So here you go …
Watch out – spoilers ahead!
Is Darth Vader wearing a spacesuit?
Darth Vader’s suit apparently lets him venture into the vacuum of space, at least for brief periods. That’s happened multiple times in the Star Wars series. You can see an example in the Star Wars: Rogue One video at the bottom of this text block.
And there are other examples, as in the novel Lords of the Sith. There, Vader exits his TIE fighter and jumps through space to reach an enemy spaceship. He does another spaceship-to-spaceship hop in Darth Vader and the Ninth Assassin (a five-issue comic book miniseries), and again in Star Wars: A New Hope, the first film in the Star Wars franchise. In that film, Vader hops from the Star Destroyer to a rebel blockade runner.
People debate whether Vader’s extravehicular jumps through empty space are made possible by his suit. After all, Vader has supreme mastery of The Force.
So we see two powers in play here. One is the ability to fly. The other is the ability to breathe without oxygen. According to fan sites, in regards to the latter, Force-wielders can hold trace amounts of oxygen in their lungs while suppressing their body’s instinct to shut down.
This ability is showcased again in the final scene of the 2016 Star Wars film Rogue One, which is shown in the video below. In it, Darth Vader stands outside the Rebel flagship, Profundity, just after the Tantive IV escapes with Princess Leia and the Death Star plans. The crippled hangar appears depressurized; Vader’s cape flutters slightly in the flushing air. We see that he doesn’t rush back into the ship, which he would reasonably do if the vacuum of space were an immediate threat.
Instead, his suit apparently protects him, as a real spacesuit would do.
How does Darth Vader breathe?
What many remember is that Darth Vader’s suit works as a life support system. It’s what keeps him alive after losing all of his limbs and burning alive on Mustafar, following the epic duel with his teacher, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Much of Vader’s body – including his eyes, eardrums, tongue, lungs, esophagus, stomach, and more – were charred and destroyed. The Wookieepedia reports that his suit is equipped with the drugs, intravenous fluids, and nutrients essential to his survival. He depends on it, even when not in space. He dies after Luke touchingly removes his helmet in the 1983 film Return of the Jedi.
That same scene also reveals that the helmet is pressurized. We hear a release of pressure when the helmet comes off. So, it’s potentially airtight.
On the topic of oxygen, Wookieepedia writes that Darth Vader is outfitted with a small portable med-bay. How much oxygen the med-bay provides might be a fundamental difference from NASA-grade spacesuits: more on this further down. Nevertheless, some have dubbed Vader’s suit as his “iron lung.” It can act as an air supply in emergencies, but it’s not portrayed as the suit’s primary purpose throughout the entire Star Wars series.
On that note, those of you who remember the films know that Stormtrooper armor bears a close resemblance to Darth Vader’s suit. Their sheathings are said to shield from projectiles, harmful chemicals, extreme temperatures, and some bioweapons. According to this Reddit thread, they’re also outfitted with an emergency 20-minute air scrubber in the backplate.
Darth Vader can switch off the breather (whooooooo-paaaahhh) for periods at a time. He uses this ability in the 1980 film The Empire Strikes Back, just before the big “father” reveal, while waiting to ambush Luke.
What is a spacesuit, anyway?
… more than clothes astronauts wear in space. The suit is really a small spacecraft. It protects the astronaut from the dangers of being outside in space.
And NASA says:
The suits protect astronauts from getting too hot or cold.
[Spacesuits] keep astronauts from getting hurt by space dust.
[Spacesuits] even have special gold-lined visors to protect eyes from bright sunlight.
Vader’s suit seems to do all of these things. Or things like these. Is he wearing a spacesuit? Well, he’s apparently wearing a specialized suit that does many of the things spacesuits do.
Vader’s fictional suit also has in common with real spacesuits that it would be expensive to make. Business Insider offers this story from April 2020 on why real spacesuits are so expensive.
As for Vader’s suit, it’s got a cost associated with it, too. In 2015, The Shade Station, a sunglasses purveyor, appraised Darth Vader’s suit as if it existed in the real world, considering its abilities and materials. They said the suit, if it existed, would be worth up to $18.3 million.
No matter what you’ve bought your dad this Father’s Day, it’s bound to sound like a bargain by comparison.
Bottom line: In science and throughout pop culture, spacesuits symbolize the great beyond and humankind’s conquests of space. So how do real-world spacesuits compare with the suit worn by Darth Vader?
Get Dad (or yourself) something exceptional today using our discount code “FathersDay25.” It’ll get you 25% off on all things space-inspired at the EarthSky Store. Available today only, June 20, 2021.