The Science That Was Inspired By Darth Vader
The Science Behind Darth Vader
As Star Wars The Force Awakens premieres Friday, we can be certain that this is one of the biggest events of the year. While fans who have been following the Star Wars movies their entire lives anxiously wait to grab the best seats, there’s another group of people who are paying homage to the Star Wars saga primarily for its scientific discoveries. You see, when the first movie, A New Hope, was released in 1977, a door was opened in many aspiring scientists’ minds—that anything is possible. As the saga continued to unfold, many people saw a complex variety of scientific ideas that could be brought into reality, many of which stemmed from Darth Vader himself.
While we can’t necessarily attribute these scientific discoveries to Star Wars alone (many of these ideas date back much earlier), we can say that Star Wars could be the reason for inspiring many scientists to carry on and improve what’s already been discovered and done. Most of all, Star Wars had scientists thinking about future technology, more so than ever before. Cue scientists scribbling formulas on paper with the Imperial March playing in the background…
The first thing you hear after the Imperial March is usually Darth Vader’s heavy breathing, which brings us to our first theme—medical development. Vader has the most widely recognized respiratory ailment in the movie world, and there’s some real science to back that up. At Denmark’s University Hospital Rigshospitalet, students studied Vader’s breathing habits to better understand how to diagnose respiratory problems based off of sound. This peer-reviewed study concluded that Vader’s pulmonary problems came from breathing in hot gas and volcanic particles on Mustafar, where he lost his duel to Obi Wan Kenobi. The gases caused his lungs to be chronically inflamed with thick and stiff tissue. His mask was a wearable pressurized hyperbaric chamber that forces air into his lungs, making him able to survive. The research team found that Vader’s breathing frequency varied based on his level of activity. When he sat or had a casual conversation with the Emperor, his breathing was 13 breaths per minute. It increased to 16 during day-to-day responsibilities, like torturing employees or enemies, and to 25 when he was stressed. His breathing reached 29 breaths per minute when he was in a duel or walked fast. The mask evidently worked as a solution for Vader for twenty-two years. Vader required constant oxygen supplementation along with positive airway pressures to support breathing and prevent airway failure. Due to their findings, the team concluded that the mask was an advanced bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) system, and that Vader’s respiratory ailment included both obstructive and restrictive elements that stemmed from chronic alveolar inflammation, fibrosis, and possibly thoracic deformities. All of this science behind Darth Vader and his mask was derived simply by his breathing patterns and the technology of the mask.
While the movie implies that the mask and suit were also for covering up skin burns, Ronan Berg, who pioneered this research, notes that a lung transplant would’ve been a much more comfortable option. This couldn’t have been too difficult to obtain for the second in command.
Darth Vader’s ailments go beyond the physical. Psychiatrists have often used the characters in Star Wars to help students better understand mental illnesses, particularly when it comes to Anakin Skywalker. Since the movies have made such an impact on young and old alike, they are archetypal, relatable characters. A French psychiatry research team stated that Anakin suffered from borderline personality disorder (BPD). The characteristics of this include impulsive behavior, unstable moods, and trouble handling difficult social interactions. If this were to be true, then Darth Vader is not so different from the rest of us. Anakin had to deal with the absence of his father and being separated from his mother at an early age. He also showed evidence of difficulties in emotional and impulse regulation, as well as dysfunctional experiences of self and others. Some of the primary symptoms that Anakin portrayed in relation to BPD are his impulsiveness and inability to control his anger. He alternated between idealization and devaluation (of his Jedi mentors). He was continually fearful of losing his wife and made impulsive efforts to avoid her abandonment. His two experiences of dissociative behavior were when he killed a whole tribe of Tuskan people after his mother’s death and when he slaughtered the Jedi younglings. The study concludes that Anakin was on a quest to find himself, and turning to the dark side and changing his name gave him a new identity.
It is astounding to think about the multitude of science behind Darth Vader, but there is far more that came from all of the characters and the technology combined. The movies have made an enormous impact and continue to do so.