After reading this question and this question, I read Darth Vader's armor article on Wookieepedia. This passage made me frown :

The monitoring panel beeped frequently and for no reason, the lights seeming to serve only as steady reminders of his vulnerability. His electrical systems were woefully delicate, and he was forced to protect his vital chest panel when dueling. This system was so vulnerable that Antinnis Tremayne was once able to deactivate Vader's entire suit by pressing one button on his chest control plate.

The suit, and more specifically the helmet, use some high technology for the interface. But the chest control panel is made of huge lights and big freaking switches, just like if it was salvaged from an archaeological museum. It was even replaced on at least two occasions, but its odd design was globally kept.

Vader's chest panels

Why incorporate such patent weakness to the armor? And why would Vader tolerate it?

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    Why have an off switch on your life support in the first place? – TGnat Nov 22 '11 at 14:33
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    The buttons have to be big so that he can hit them easily while wearing gloves. – TGnat Nov 22 '11 at 14:34
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    Or, maybe he was using Aromatherapy. "My scars are itching, here, a shot of Lavender! Hum... (Sniff)... Ha!" – DavRob60 Nov 22 '11 at 15:00
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    @TGat: For the same reason that nearly all life support equipment have off switches or are otherwise capable of being turned on/off at will (including pacemakers). Sometimes there are procedures (repair/maintenance/replacement/removal/diagnostics/etc.) that requires a piece of machinery to be turned off/suspended or restarted. That's why life support systems on submarines/planes/space vehicles/etc. also have off switches. That's also why power stations have off switches. – Lèse majesté Nov 26 '11 at 7:30
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    @TGat: The button size issue is something faced by astronauts as well. As I understand it, the torso-mounted cameras used during the Moon landings were very difficult for astronauts to operate, both, because of their gloves and because they couldn't see where the buttons were. – Lèse majesté Nov 26 '11 at 7:32

There's only one reason that you build an obvious vulnerability into a system - to keep it from getting out of control. I would guess that to get close enough to mess with those controls (without Vader being able to stop you), you'd have to be pretty powerful. After the events of Revenge of the Sith, there were not many beings left in the universe that powerful aside from the Emperor.

In short, I'd say it was a reminder to Vader that the Emperor could turn him off with the press of a toggle switch if he get out of control.

EDIT: So how did a Padawan (Antinnis Tremayne) achieve it? Vader allowed it, seeing who could think beyond a simple direct attack...the exercise was a test of lateral thinking.

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    If it was a test, is it possible that the panel is a dummy? Perhaps it's there to draw attention and provide a clearly marked 'weak point' to draw attacks...though 'center of mass, above heart' is a bad choice for target placement... – Jeff Nov 21 '11 at 19:11
  • Ooh...that's a good idea, too. I think one of the iterations of Batman had that, with an armored plate right beneath the insignia. – Chris B. Behrens Nov 21 '11 at 19:22
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    You wouldn't necessarily have to be that close to mess with the controls: force-flip-switch, Vader defeated. – Naftuli Kay Nov 25 '11 at 23:52
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    @NaftuliKay: and Vader does force-flip-switch-back. How boringly unhelpful that action was attacking Vader. – Joshua Dec 19 '16 at 3:44

Simple, because it makes his suit look cooler in the movies.

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    True, but the question is clearly asking for an in-universe explanation. – neilfein Nov 25 '11 at 18:32

Darth Vader was progressively learning how to live without his live support system. I guess that he was switching it off using these buttons. Also, maybe the artificial limbs had different "precision" settings.

  • 3
    Clone troopers already had the ability to control functions in their armour through eye blinks, so this makes it unlikely. – surfasb Jan 21 '12 at 19:47

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