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JJ Abrams spills many details on Maz Kanata, Lupita Nyong’o’s new character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

November 12th, 2015 by Matt Gault Comments

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“I have lived long enough to see the same eyes in different people. I see your eyes. I know your eyes.”

Considering how much we know about certain characters in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it is a little surprising the dearth of details released on the presumed owner of the above quote; Maz Kanata, the alien played by 12 Years A Slave Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o.

She hasn’t been hiding though – she can be seen in the movie’s theatrical poster at the centre, smiling and wearing a large pair of goggles, which was confirmed by J.J Abrams when he sat down to speak with Entertainment Weekly as part of their special focus feature on The Force Awakens.

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“That’s Maz,” says director J.J. Abrams. Although we don’t know who she’s addressing directly in this narration, the footage focuses heavily on Daisy Ridley’s Rey. It actually reveals a lot more about Maz than we realize.

Her eyes have special meaning and power. “I had some specific ideas about how she would work and what she would do,” Abrams says. “I had this pitch about these goggles that she wore. Her eyes are an important aspect of her character, and you’ll see how it plays out.”

Nyong’o herself teased the mysterious character: “As an actor for films, your eyes are a lot of the way you communicate anyway,” says Nyong’o. “So it was definitely a gift to have that be the means to her magic as a motion-capture character.”

Abrams was willing to lay bare some of Kanata’s fascinating backstory: “Her history is that she was a pirate for a long time,” he says. “She’s lived over a thousand years. She’s had this watering hole for about a century, and it’s like another bar that you’d find in a corner of the Star Wars universe.”

What kind of species is she? Where is her homeland? “All that backstory will be forthcoming,” Abrams says. “In the movie, you don’t learn these things, but I know that these are things that are coming out in other venues.” So keep your own eyes out for more of Maz’s past to be fleshed out in books or games.

Anyone want to guess where we’ll see her? We’re going to say in Rebels Season 2… it would make sense, after all.

Maz seems to serve as this movie’s wise, ancient alien with connections to the mystical side of the galaxy. “I wanted to do the creature as a puppet originally, but once we figured out the things that she was required to do, it felt like [performance capture] was the way to go,” Abrams said.

“Maz needed to look and feel and be just like one of those creatures. And given her mobility, and given the role that she played, it became clear that that was one creature where we should use the tool of CG,” he says. “But the performance was all Lupita. She was there on set, and we did capture sessions afterwards as well, and I can’t say enough about working with her.”

Nyong’o was a newcomer to performance-capture work, but she was aided by Andy Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes) at his digital studio, The Imaginarium. He co-stars in The Force Awakens as Supreme Leader Snoke, another character we have yet to see.

“The biggest advice he gave me, that was so important to hold on to, is a motion-capture character you develop the same way as any other. You have to understand who the character is and what makes them who they are,” she says.

“You went to the big man himself, when you talked to J.J.” Nyong’o says with a laugh. “So you have gotten as much as you’re going to get, I’m afraid.”

Cheers to those Squareeyed guys for the details

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Matt Gault is a sports writer and film fanatic. He is a fully-qualified journalist and has worked for BBCNI, Sunday Life and has been published on The Guardian's website. He interns at REDNI, sub-editing for the Belfast Telegraph. He studied at Queen's University pretending to like history and literature and then University of Ulster Coleraine, where he slacked off enormously for a year and somehow got away with it. He also enjoys Captain Morgans, The Sopranos, Led Zeppelin and Hunter S. Thompson which makes him a remarkably uninteresting person.

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