When it was announced that Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o was joining the cast of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there was much reason to rejoice. Nyong’o had a tremendously stirring turn in 12 Years a Slave, and this was a signal that J.J. Abrams and Co. were serious about landing the best actors around to fill out the Star Wars ensemble. However, the role that Nyong’o inhabits in Star Wars is a bit unexpected in that it’s an entirely CG character. Indeed, while Nyong’o was on set for all of her scenes, we won’t actually see the actress onscreen—although performance-capture technology will ensure that the movements and “acting” of the character is 100% Lupita.
As part of Entertainment Weekly’s Star Wars issue, more details have been revealed about Nyong’o’s character Maz Kanata, who we’ve actually already heard—she’s the voice in the latest TV spot waxing poetic about eyeballs. We’ve also seen her character, as Maz Kanata is the bespectacled little alien seen on the film’s poster.
But who is Maz, exactly? Abrams tells EW she’s a former pirate, and she’s old:
“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.”
She lives in a castle alongside a number of other “misfits and miscreants”, but Kanata brings a certain mysticism to The Force Awakens in that her eyes have special powers:
“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.”
We won’t learn Maz’s entire backstory within the context of the film, but Abrams says that will be “forthcoming” in “other venues”, meaning fans looking to learn more about Maz would do well to keep an eye out for Star Wars books and games in the near future.
While Abrams went with a very strong focus on practical effects for The Force Awakens, Maz is an entirely CG character—although she wasn’t initially intended to be:
“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.
However, Maz is surrounded by practical creatures in her court, which means the visual effects team had a monumental task ahead of them:
“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.”
And who better to coach Nyong’o along in the art of performance-capture than the medium’s pioneer (and The Force Awakens co-star) Andy Serkis? Nyong’o discussed her working relationship with the actor, who fills the mysterious CG role of Supreme Leader Snoke in the film:
“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.”
Will Kanata become the next Yoda, permeating the Star Wars franchise throughout future films? Is she good? Bad? All will be revealed on December 18th.
For more of our Star Wars coverage, peruse the links below:
- ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Doesn’t Need Your Silly Awards Race
- ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’: Leia Doesn’t Go by “Princess” Anymore
- Over 20 New ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Images Tease Exciting Story Points
- Harrison Ford Still Eager for ‘Indiana Jones 5′, Still Grumpy About ‘Star Wars’
- ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ EW Covers Feature Harrison Ford, and More