Why did Darth Vader die in Return of the Jedi?

  • At the end of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Luke had beaten Darth Vader in a duel, but didn't seem to injure the latter critically — all Luke did was sever Vader's right hand, which was a prosthetic to begin with.

    So, why did Vader die after he had thrown the emperor off the deck and saved Luke?

    I just finished my annual Star Wars marathon and picked up your thread. All of the answers are so well thought. I noted to myself that Vader's suit malfuctions before his hand is re-amputated. He falters, weakens and, yes, after he is disarmed (literally), can barely stand even though he did not suffer a mortal wound during his duel with Luke.

    It's entirely possible that he (Darth Vader) simply fell unconscious due to the combined pain of Sith lightning and his suit shutting down. Although I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have survived the Death Star exploding.

    as a complete sidenote, when my bro & me played with SW-figures, we had this notion that Luke brought Darth to the ship and connected him to life-support, thereby saving his life. The fire-burning part was just burning the old shell. That made Vader a good guy, alive & kicking :D

    The Force lightning and whatever the hell that blue stuff coming out of the pit he threw Palpatine into killed Vader. And he was an old half robotic triple amputee with half his organs missing anyway.

    And why is Luke so unaffected by the electrocution from the Emperor?

    @Kirby Aside from the fact that he's in his prime, Luke conceivably relied on Force Absorption to swallow the brunt of the damage.

  • LudoMC

    LudoMC Correct answer

    9 years ago

    To add to what jwenting said, you can clearly see Vader hit by the Emperor's strikes.
    This most probably destroyed a part of his suit which he needs as a survival system as Luke said to him when he wanted to remove his helmet.

    Here are some screenshots for the proof of the hits. enter image description here
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    A note from @LordApricot giving more information on the 'why':

    A number of years ago I read a Star Wars book that was a biography of Darth Vader and he mentioned it there. Here is what the Wookieepedia has to say: "Force lightning required a living conduit for the energy to be channeled; thus Darth Vader, despite being an immensely powerful Sith Lord, was never able to properly employ this ability, as any attempt to generate it carried the risk of shorting out his life support systems."

    You've made me curious now; were those skeletal shots in the original moves, or were those something added in when Lucas "revamped" them back whenever that was?

    @eidylon From what I remember, they were in the original ones but it seems they have been enhanced (and some of them added as I don't remember they were so many occurrences of this X-Ray style effect).

    I have the original VHS (I just dated my self I know) and the "skeletal shots" and the "X-ray effect" are in them just not as brilliantly colored/lit.

    The skeletal shots are mostly flashes; they're subtler in the movies than in these screen shots because they're interspersed with general flashes of light and the black mask

    Also the fact that his prosthetic arms made him incapable of making force lightning suggests that he is even more vulnerable to electricity than a normal person.

    @LordApricot: How do you infer that?

    @ThePopMachine A number of years ago a read a star wars book that was a biography of darth vader and he mentioned it there. Here is what the wookipedia has to say: "Force lightning required a living conduit for the energy to be channeled; thus Darth Vader, despite being an immensely powerful Sith Lord, was never able to properly employ this ability, as any attempt to generate it carried the risk of shorting out his life support systems."

    @LordApricot: That's not my point. Being incapable of making force lightning doesn't imply he's "more vulnerable to electricity than a normal person" at all.

    @eidylon - the skeletal images were present in the original release of the movie, but were updated and revised for the remastered versions.

    An additional piece of evidence is that immediately following this, Vader's breathing sounds change. They become gaspy. We can't say whether that's due to injury or equipment failure, but it's pretty clearly a sign something has gone wrong.

    Youtube link is dead, just fyi.

    @EᴀsᴛᴇʀʟʏIʀᴋ Thanks for the notification

    and thanks @KutuluMike for the edit!

    You would include the quote from @LordApricot in the answer, it specifically states that his suit is vulnerable to force lightning.

    @LordApricot Added! Thanks!

    @JonathonWisnoski Thanks for letting me know!

  • Vader was mortally wounded by the blasts of energy released during the fight. He was hit multiple times by the Emperor.

    As he depended on his suit for survival, and it's conceivable the systems in that suit could become overloaded by that energy release, he could possibly be killed by blasts that the healthier, younger, Skywalker could (barely) survive.

    he has been shocked to death...

    I saw the movie yesterday - and I distinctly recall Vader standing back while the Emperor was blasting away at Luke. When he could no longer stand it, he lifted the emperor bodily from behind and threw him overboard - the entire process barely took 5 secs. Thats why I'm not too sure of this explanation.

    The suit shutdown makes sense since in the end he was able to look at Luke as Anakin not as Vader.

    "When he could no longer stand it, he lifted the emperor bodily from behind and threw him overboard" yes, and during that time you see energy crackling around them if memory serves.

    If I recall, wasn't Vader using the force to help keep himself alive, after all he did vow when his mum died that he will beat death itself, and there have been whisperings of others doing the same. Also, in the clone wars, I'm sure I've seen the force being used to bring to life one of the twins on that force portal type world, where Anakin saw his future and showed he could use the force to tame them when the grabbed obi wan, and asoka :)

    Vader was horribly mutilated, as is clearly visible in the final moments when Luke lifts his mask. In fact Luke tells him he'll not survive having the mask removed and Vader tells Luke he wants to look on his son with his own eyes one more time. So the suit does something to keep him alive. Whether it uses technology, Force, or a combination I can't tell (and the movies of course never mention).

    I don't know that it is fair to say that Luke was *barely* surviving the Emperor's assault. It is fair to say the attacks were not pleasant, but despite his advanced age the Emperor could probably still easily overpower and kill Luke had he wanted to. More than likely the Emperor was still trying to turn Luke by torturing him, in order to bring out his anger and hatred.

    I agree with jwentig, as far as we are told, at face value, Vadar asked Luke to remove the mask, Luke hestitated because he thought it would be fatal, but vadar->anakin wanted it done anyway. He probably felt the only way to avoid reverting to Vader was to die....

    No, he says clearly when Luke protests, "nothing can stop that now", referring to his death. I think the force lightning destroying Vader's built-in life support (and probably damaging his fragile remaining humanoid tissues; remember, both Luke and Vader's bodies were smoking after Palpatine's lightning) is the most logical explanation. Pretty much the entire scene between Luke and Vader/Anakin in the shuttle bay is best understood at face value.

  • Vader's suit was a life support suit - he couldn't survive outside of it.

    The long combat with Luke pushed him towards his physical limits - he is at least 20 years older than Luke, and with very poor health. He'd been drawing heavily on the Force to keep himself moving.

    He was injured - the suit was damaged when the cybernetics in his right arm were damaged.

    THEN he suffered the extreme emotional turmoil of seeing his son being tortured to death.

    When he intervened to stop it (by killing the person who had been his mentor for 20+ years, who had saved his life, and who had helped him save the galaxy - from his POV, at least) he was subjected to several seconds of sustained Force Lightning.

    This played merry hell with his already-damaged suit.

    The man was beaten into the ground, had to choose between his greatest friend's life and his son's, was electrocuted, and had decades-old mental wounds torn open.

    It's not surprising that he died, it's surprising that he lived as long as he did.

    If it was just the suit, didn't he have spare life support systems at hand for the case someone hit him in the control panel of his suit?

    @vsz: a complete life support system for injuries the likes of which Vader suffered was either incredibly invasive (think an iron lung) or very massive (like his chamber seen in ESB). They were not in any of his personal quarters or in a hospital, so none of that was available. Even if it were, they were aboard the 2nd Death Star, which was well on its way to becoming a Dead Star. Sure, there were options available, but his injuries were IMMEDIATELY life threatening. There wasn't much time, and there was nowhere to go.

    Vader would have been in his 40s - that is not old enough to make him frail! These days an average 40-something is probably fitter than the average latte-slurping 20-something Millenial!

    @Gaius: Of course not! Your average 40-year-old in the Star Wars universe is hale and hearty. Of course, your average 40-year-old hasn't been exposed to 18 years of Dark Side force use, lost multiple limbs, spent hours breathing in toxic fumes, been rebuilt into a cybernetic monstrosity from the ground up, electrocuted, and suffered extreme emotional trauma. Other than all that, Vader was quite healthy! I hear he does crossfit, even.

    I suppose it's best to think of Vader as a game of Jenga.

    Luke was born in 19BBY and Vader died in 3 ABY, so Luke was 22 or 23 (and therefore 22 or 23 years younger than Vader) when Vader died. Anakin Skywalker was born in 42BBY, so he was about 23 (42BBY - 19BBY) when Luke was born. It's interesting that when Vader died, Luke was the same age that Anakin was when Anakin "died".

  • "Did you ever hear the tale of Darth Plagueis?" The Supreme chancellor (Palpatine) asks Anakin Skywalker this question during the civic performance from his VIP box seat? Thus, preempting a response by Anakin. This is turn sets the stage for the story of a Sith Lord that was so powerful he could even escape death.

    Certainly, the suit allowed Vader to live and it's beyond dispute the suit was damaged from the Emperor's force lighting assault on Luke that also rippled through Vader. But I return to Palpatine's original question from SW III and the dark side power his story revealed - the ability to escape even death, and "if we work together (to save Padme)..." These are vital dialogue clues.

    I believe Vader's death is not as simple as some would argue. The Force never is. Thus, the suit failure was not catastrophic. It was the Emperor's and Vader's dark side force powers that allowed Vader to thrive from the knowledge of Darth Plagueis - "If we work together"...

    Once the Emperor was removed from the equation, Vader's death was inevitable... Vader understood this all too well. It also explains why, after 20 plus years, Vader never slew Palpatine, and became the Emperor himself, which is what Sith do - if anyone has studied their history?

    This is why Vader told Luke it was too late. If it were only a matter of the suits mechanical failure though, there would have been time for Luke to get him medical aid by leaving the mask on. He was still laboring with breath. But there is more to it than that.

    It had been the dark side of the force that sustained Vader through Palpatine all along. With Vader's sudden disconnection to such power, as well as his turning back to the light side (meaning Vader would not invoke dark side force energy to sustain himself), Vader simply chose to let go... He had found his true peace.

    Thus, Vader/Anakin allowed the will of the force to prevail, and in the process fulfilled the prophecy of bringing balance to the force not in a way foreseen by either Jedi or Sith.

    I think you are wrong. At episode 5 he said to his son Luke "Luke, you can destroy the Emperor. He has foreseen this. It is your destiny! Join me, and together, we can rule the galaxy as father and son! Come with me. It is the only way.". Which means that he has a plan to kill Palpatine.

    But would that not be turning to the dark side? Which would keep him alive?

    @JoethePerson it was an attempt to turn Luke to the Dark Side, Vader himself was of course long since so turned. It was also the traditional way an apprentice Sith Lord gained power, by killing his Master and taking over his place, taking his own apprentice. Vader was technically always Palpatine's apprentice, until the moment he killed him.

    Also I would like to point out that Lucas himself said that Vader after being "suited", never got strong enough to kill Palpatine (and thus why Palpatine wanted Luke to himself in first place). Also there are some theories that Vader suit was purposefully designed to be crappy to prevent assassination (ie: the reason why the suit has so many electronics right in the front, was to allow the emperor force-light and kill Vader if needed)

  • In conjunction with the life support suit it was probably Anakin's hatred and anger fueling his Sith abilities that allowed him to sustain himself from the end of Eps3 through to Eps6. As he remembered what it was to be a true Jedi by interacting with his son (as early as tESB) that anger began to subside, compromising his Dark Side ability. When he finally died it was likely because he had made peace with himself and simply stopped wanting to live.

    Maybe not so much that he "stopped wanting to live" as simply "was ready to die". Not entirely the same thing. B)

    @eidylon Considering everything "evil" he did as Darth Vader he may not have wanted to live with those memories once he redeemed himself.

    Perhaps. Or he could've also become just as driven light-side to help tear down the Empire. Guess we'll never know; he took it to his pyre!

  • Darth Vader is one of the mightiest Force-users in the entire series. But for all of his power, there is one thing we never ever see Darth Vader do, even in the Expanded Universe: he never once uses Force Lightning. In some cases, like the video games, his lack of this power is conspicuous in its absence. Other users of the Dark Side apply it liberally, but never him.

    Why not? According to the Revenge of the Sith Visual Dictionary, the problem lay in Vader's cybernetics and armor. Essentially, his armor's electronics were not well-insulated, and thus extremely vulnerable to this power. Even if Vader were to direct the lightning at another person, there was too much of a risk that a stray arc could destroy his life-support systems. In the EU it is clear that he must have learned the basics of this power at some point, because he went on to teach it to his secret apprentice, but he never used it himself.

    And this, ultimately, is what sealed his fate in Return of the Jedi. Whether or not he received a dose of Force Lightning that "should" have been lethal barely even matters, because the suit's life-support systems gave out. Even before his mask is removed, you can hear the difference in his breathing: he can gasp in a very little bit of air, but they're not the full, deep breaths you heard before. That's not enough to stay alive for very long, and even this assumes that only the respiratory functions of his armor were the only life-support systems that gave out, which isn't very likely. In short, even if nothing else had happened to him, this would have killed him.

    That he stayed alive (and conscious) for as long as he did is possibly best hand-waved as him using the Force to remain among the living just long enough to conduct his final business: reconciling with his son. When that was finished, he let go.

  • According to the official novelisation, Darth suffers a number of fairly serious injuries in his fight with Luke and the Emperor, notably a heavy blow to the head and force-lightning bolts to his heart.

    Note that while the removal of his life support helmet was the proximate cause of death, the novel makes it clear that he was already dying at the point that this occurred:

    • Blow to the head

    When Luke pushed Vader back to break the clinch, the Dark Lord hit his head on an overhanging beam in the cramped space. He stumbled backward even farther, out of the low-hanging area. Luke pursued him relentlessly.

    • Force-Lightning strikes to the heart

    Ignoring pain, ignoring his shame and his weaknesses, ignoring the bone-crushing noise in his head, he focused solely and sightlessly on his will - his will to defeat the evil embodied in the Emperor.

    Palpatine struggled in the grip of Vader’s unfeeling embrace, his hands still shooting bolts of malign energy out in all directions. In his wild flailing, the lightning ripped across the room, tearing into Vader. The Dark Lord fell again, electric currents crackling down his helmet, over his cape, into his heart.

    • The shutdown of his life support apparatus.

    Vader motioned Luke closer to him. ‘Luke, help me take this mask off.’

    Luke shook his head. ‘You’ll die.’

    The Dark Lord’s voice was weary. ‘Nothing can stop that now. Just once let me face you without it. Let me look on you with my own eyes.’


    Vader, too, was afraid - to let his son see him, to remove this armored mask that had been between them so long. The black, armored mask that had been his only means of existing for over twenty years. It had been his voice, and his breath, and his invisibility - his shield against all human contact. But now he would remove it; for he would see his son before he died.

    This is also backed up by the film's junior novelisation:

    From where he lay, Luke could tell by the rasping rattle from Vader’s helmet that his breathing apparatus was broken. Luke crawled the short distance to his father’s side and pulled him away from the edge of the abyss.

  • Anakin Skywalker died the same way Mace Windu did, by powerful blasts of Palpatine's lightning. Palpatine was slowly building up to a lethal intensity while slowly torturing Luke. While his suit probably was damaged by the lightning, no one could have survived a direct hit by that lightning, as Mace Windu did not. Anakin's insides lit up on contact with the bolts, and not even for a second did that happen to Luke. Suit or not, he was mortally wounded, as the remaining tissue in his body was fatally damaged.

    Nothing else contributed. It was all Palpatine's lightning.

    Falling from a tall building didn't help Mace much either :P

  • As most others have already correctly mentioned.. vader suit was shorted out by Palpatines force lightning. Since Vaders breathing is machine controlled and because he needs to be in a pressurized chamber at all times in order for his greatly damaged lungs to be able to absorb enough oxygen to keep his biological cells functioning.. once that system is compromised, he is in real trouble.

    That is why when Vader told Luke to "Help me take this mask off" Luke said "But you'll die".

    As another mentioned, vader was not in good health due to his injuries, he was older, though that doesn't make any real difference to most Jedi, he hand was already injured from being cut off by Luke and also, in the book version of Return of the Jedi, Vader severly slammed his head against the gangplank that he cut down when he threw his saber at Luke earlier. When Luke came after him so ferociously later on.. that is when Vader slammed his head hard. Even though the helmet protected him from some of the impact, he still suffered what was basically seemed to be a severe concussion which could be why he simply had no more energy when Luke was batting him hard with the lightsaber.

    All of these things, combined with getting hit by the lightning bolts are what eventually did him in.

  • Sidious knew the weaknesses of "the suit" which is one of the main reasons why Vader never confronted him even though Vader made countless modifications to his suit and armor, remember Anakin although a Jedi was a master mechanic. My ultimate answer to Vader death is the same as Padame's. He simply lost the will to live. Darth Vader is more complex then we'll ever know, I believe that his wrong doings scarred and haunted the Sith Lord ever since the Jedi Purge. Moreover, Anakin was well known for his ability to withstand great amounts of pain. Therefore, Vader being electrocuted by Sidious is no more than him being burned alive in Mustafar. His suit may have been damaged after the force lightning attack but not severely. In end, this is how the prophecy had to end and my main belief that he "lost the will to live".

    May the force be with you -Lance

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