At the end of Return of the Jedi, Darth Vader asked Luke to help him take off his helmet. "But you'll die," Luke said.

How would Luke know this?

Furthermore, was that even true? In The Empire Strikes Back, Vader is shown for a short period without his mask:

Dath Vader's helmet being reattached.

Vader also loses his helmet during the rebel attack of Cymoon 1 in the Marvel comic Star Wars 2 (2015).

So it appears Vader is able to survive without his helmet, at least temporarily.

  • According to the RotJ novelization, Vader required it to live: "The black, armored mask that had been his only means of existing for over twenty years."
    – phantom42
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 16:55
  • 25
    I have no cannon answers, but it seems entirely reasonable to think that someone could recognize a life support/respiratory system. If someone in our world was attached to a machine that was constantly making loud breathing noises for them I would probably assume they required it.
    – Patrick
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 16:59
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    @Patrick - Or that they were a Darth Vader cosplayer.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 18:14
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    I always assumed the line "But you'll die" was something along of the lines of "We need to get out of here and sitting around taking of your helmet is going to get us killed." I feel a little stupid to have never though he actually "needed" it to survive.
    – spicyness
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 22:13
  • 2
    @spicyness: Wouldn't he say "we" in that case? Commented May 18, 2015 at 16:44

6 Answers 6


According to the Return of the Jedi Junior Novelisation, it was already apparent to Luke that Vader's helmet and chestplate were part of a "breathing apparatus". Presumably the throaty breathing noises would have given it away, even without Luke's Jedi senses.

That being the case, Luke could have reasonably assumed that removing Vader's helmet and mask would kill him:

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.
Luke didn’t have to look at the life systems computer on Vader’s chestplate to know what his father was suggesting. Luke said, “But you’ll die.”

  • 3
    If the breathing apparatus was broken, Vader would die whether the helmet was removed or not. So why would Luke say "but you'll die [if I remove your helmet]"? I always interpreted it as Vader was mortally wounded from the lightning but could still breathe with the helmet, and removing the helmet would cause him to die sooner.
    – Null
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 18:02
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    @Null - I thought it was obvious that the breather was integrated into the breathing apparatus. The chestplate was damaged, true but removing the helmet would result in his death even had the chestplate been working properly.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 18:06
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    @Null - The novel would suggest that the computer (on his chest) was readable too.
    – Valorum
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 18:15
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    @Null : Vader thought the same thing. When Luke said "But you'll die.", Vader's next words were something to the effect of "Nothing can stop that now, my son."
    – Omegacron
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 20:49
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    From the movies themselves, Obi-Wan does tell Luke, "He's more machine than man, now..." It's not definitive but suggestive at least. Commented Jul 27, 2015 at 20:24


Darth Vader's meditation chamber, or Qabbrat, was a life support pod that allowed the Sith Lord to survive for extended periods without the helmet and mask of his suit.

As for how Luke would know — isn't it pretty obvious when he's wearing a life support system on his chest and clearly has breathing support via his helmet? You can't not notice the mechanical breathing.

  • 1
    Of note: the only citation for the meditation chamber being a life support pod is now Legends Canon. The ESB novelization makes no mention of it having any life support functions.
    – phantom42
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 18:04
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    @phantom42 - From the junior novel "While the Executor and five Star Destroyers had traveled through hyperspace to arrive in orbit of the ice planet Hoth, Darth Vader had been inside his meditation chamber. A spherical enclosure with a black exterior, the chamber was pressurized to keep Vader comfortable, even with his helmet off."
    – Valorum
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 18:12
  • @richard comfortable != necessary to survive. the ac in my house keeps me comfortable.
    – phantom42
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 18:15
  • @phantom42 - not disagreeing, but in places without air conditioning, people die from heat all the time. Not necessary per se, but makes survival easier.
    – The Fallen
    Commented May 2, 2015 at 1:42
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    @phantom42 Even if it's not explicitly stated that there's some sort of life support system in that chamber, we know that Vader will die without life support, and we see him sans-helmet in the chamber. It follows that there's a reason he's not suffocating.
    – Ray
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 21:24

I always thought he learned it from Kenobi's force spirit. At the beginning of the film, Kenobi told him that Vader is more "machine than man" by now or something along that line, and I suppose it is fair to assume that Luke's conversation with Kenobi's spirit on Anakin's backstory may have been a bit more detailed than we actually get to see on screen.... So perhaps he just told him how Vader ended up in that suit...

  • Why would you assume there's more to the conversation that isn't shown? Kenobi's speech ends with a strong call to action, you say he's then going to go "Oh, BTW, totes forgot, Vader can't live without his suit; get his helmet off him and he's had it." This seems more like headcanon than anything from the story.
    – DavidW
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 15:28

I would be able to know that a person is on life support if he/she walks past me in a cool big black suit with buttons and a mask. Vader take off his mask in Episode V, yes, but at that time he wasn't just hit with waves and waves of dark side lightning by his master... So Luke knew that it was life support and he knew that if he was seriously hurt (which he was), he would die without the mask...


For one, why would anybody wear that whole suit unless absolutly necessary for survival, obviously he needed it, and maybe Luke didn't want to see his father without his mask, because that ain't pretty.

  • That suit is pretty intimidating, far moreso than Vader's damaged body. That's one good reason for him to wear the suit even if it wasn't necessary for his survival.
    – Null
    Commented Jun 6, 2015 at 4:19


Luke didn't know whether or not Vader needed his helmet to survive; and that wasn't the point of his statement.

I don't think Luke is necessarily claiming that removing Anakin's helmet will kill Anakin.

Sure, he could have surmised as much as some of the other answers have stated (and I don't disagree with those assumptions); but I think there was a lot of emotion behind this statement as well.

Luke had just witnessed (and probably felt) his father coming back to the light side of the force and is in danger of losing him again. Luke saying

"But you'll die"

is not so much saying Luke thinks the helmet is keeping Anakin alive as it is Luke trying to do anything that might keep Anakin alive (and also probably beginning to accept the fact that he will not be able to save his father.)

Luke does not want to give up even when faced with the certain death of his father. So he offers up this weak defense to show that he is still willing to try.

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