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During The Force Awakens we see Kylo Ren "talking" (almost "praying") to the half-melted helmet of Darth Vader.

How did he come by this item? Was it not destroyed with the rest of the Death Star at the end of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi?

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    We saw this in the trailers - as such, do we really need to hide what everybody already knew?
    – Wad Cheber
    Dec 27, 2015 at 23:51

3 Answers 3

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No, it was not destroyed. It didn't burn in the fire (predictably, given what its design purpose was).

We don't know for sure from current canon.

But in the "Aftermath" prequel novel, we see that people collect Darth Vader related items (presumably, largely fake?), so this could have been a likely avenue.

“Is it really his lightsaber?” the young woman asks. Her voice is a raspy whisper, as if something is wrong in the well of her throat.
“It’s the Sith Lord’s laser sword, sure enough.”
“May I?” she asks.
The Kubaz shakes his snout and says: “No. Not until I see the money. Money talks or Ooblamon walks.”
Ooblamon’s little friend, the rat-faced girl, giggles when she translates. The pale woman looks to the other two in their dark robes. They whisper to each other. Almost as if arguing.
She turns back. “How do we know it is Vader’s blade?”
“You don’t. But it’s a lightsaber, isn’t it? And it’s red. Isn’t that the color you seek?”

...
The young woman offers her pale hand. “The…lightsaber, please.”
“When the count is complete,” Ooblamon says. He cocks his head and stares at them through his goggles. “What are you? You’re no Jedi.”
“We are adherents,” she hisses. “Acolytes of the Beyond.”
“Fanatics of the dark side?” he asks. “Or just children who want to play with toys?”
“Judge us not, thief.”
(Aftermath: Star Wars: Journey to The Force Awakens; "Interlude: Taris")

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  • if it survived being blown up it would most likely have drifted down onto Endor or one of the other planets/moons nearby; if people collect this stuff presumably they've been scavenging through that system for decades.
    – KutuluMike
    Dec 27, 2015 at 23:54
  • I'm not sure if that quote really fits. The lightsaber in this movie is the one made by Anakin, recovered by Obi-Wan, given to Luke by 'Ben', and then lost on the fight with Vader. On other words, it's Anakin's blue lightsaber. The quote refers to Vader's Red Saber. (Although I understand that if the red was recovered, so could the Blue one)
    – Oak
    Dec 30, 2015 at 18:44
  • @oak exactly my thinking. Sorry wasn't clearer Dec 30, 2015 at 19:07
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    @KutuluMike It was on the shuttle with Luke when the Death Star exploded. Either that, or Luke had the ewoks make a replica for Vader's cremation on the moon.
    – 8bittree
    May 16, 2017 at 21:23
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    It seems to me that an even more likely venue would be that Luke simply kept the helmet as a memento of his father (even if it wasn’t really Anakin as such, it was pretty much all he had), and Ben just took it when he left the temple. Jan 1, 2018 at 22:20
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At the end of Return of the Jedi we can see that Luke saved his father's body including the helmet, and burned them in a funeral pyre.

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The Star Wars: The Force Awakens - Visual Dictionary notes that the helmet was scavenged from the pyre on Endor on which Vader's body was burned.

Presumably Ren acquired it from whoever scavenged the pyre, or from someone who acquired it from whoever scavenged the pyre*

* or from someone who acquired it from someone who acquired it from whoever scavenged the pyre

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The (canon) short story The Perfect Weapon features young Bazine Netal being commissioned by the First Order to steal a mysterious case from a Stormtrooper captain that had fought in the Battle of Endor.

While the clear implication is that this is Vader's helmet (looted from the Ewok village and then transferred to Kylo Ren via Netal), we never actually find out what's in the box.

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