One of the upcoming film’s most discussed mysteries is the character that Lupita Nyong’o plays. Is she, or is she not in the trailers? What does she look like? Is that her voice, or is it not? What’s the character’s story? Etc, etc, etc.
What we do know with certainty that Nyong’o’s character is computer generated, as you can see in the above image of the Oscar-winning actress covered in C.G.I. tracking dots for motion-tracking. Further, we also know that her character is a pirate named Maz Kanata, who apparently owns a castle where “galactic travelers, smugglers, and other assorted riffraff” gather. Beyond that, the character is still a mystery, in terms of what her specific storyline is, her motivations, where her loyalties lie, her overall contributions to the main narrative, etc. We’ll find out soon enough, because “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens in in just about a month!
But to tease you a little bit more, director J. J. Abrams and Nyong’o shared some new bits and pieces on the alien pirate Maz Kanata, in a new Entertainment Weekly article published this morning. First, Maz Kanata has been in front of us the whole time (at least since the film’s poster was released), because the character is included in the poster – the pint-sized goggle-wearing creature in the middle, towards the rear, that you probably missed her (although some fanboys and girls already figured that out).
“That’s Maz,” said Abrams. It’s also her voice we hear in the recent trailer. “I had some specific ideas about how she would work and what she would do,” Abrams added. “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 added: “As an actor for films, your eyes are a lot of the way you communicate anyway. So it was definitely a gift to have that be the means to her magic as a motion-capture character.”
Abrams went a little further and revealed some of Kanata’s backstory: “Her history is that she was a pirate for a long time. 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.”
Although her backstory will actually not be revealed in the movie, as Abrams notes, stating that “it will be forthcoming… In the movie, you don’t learn these things, but I know that these are things that are coming out in other venues.” Which could mean a few things – maybe Maz Kanata comic books, games, maybe even an animated or live-action series made for TV or the web… I suppose if the character ends up being very popular with fans, the options could be plenty.
“I wanted to do the creature as a puppet originally,” Abrams said, “But once we figured out the things that she was required to do, it felt like [performance capture] was the way to go… 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… 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 apparently coached on performance-capture by the king of craft himself, Andy Serkis (Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings,” Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”), who also plays a character in “Force Awakens.”
“The biggest advice he gave me that’s so important to hold on to, is a motion-capture character you develop the same way as any other,” Lupita said. “You have to understand who the character is and what makes them who they are.”
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens December 18 in North America. Ticket pre-sales have been very strong, according to reports, for what will likely be a record-setting opening weekend box office take.