Han Solo leads Rey, Finn, and BB-8 through the front doors of the castle and into the main hall. Weird music plays in the background as they wander through a maze of bizarre alien patrons eating and drinking and talking. Off to one side, a very short, female creature wearing large goggles is lifting a tray when she stops suddenly. She turns around and shouts,
Silence falls. All of the cantina patrons turn in the direction that the hostess is facing.
The old smuggler shrugs and gives an awkward smile. He had been hoping to get in and out without attracting attention. Well, Maz is that “one friend” of his.
When Lucasfilm announced that up and coming actress Lupita N’yongo would be playing a motion-captured character for The Force Awakens, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. In spite of the seeming barrage of set photos, trailers, and TV spots, Lucasfilm managed to keep Maz’s appearance and role in the story (mostly) under wraps until the premiere, and in a similar fashion I managed to not have any expectations for her. There were hints ahead of time that she would be the mentor figure in Episode VII, filling a role similar to Yoda. But on opening night, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Maz Kanata was going to be different from other mentor figures I’d seen before in the Star Wars universe.
It is the scene at the table after her introduction that really sets the tone for her character. Maz Kanata is a Force-sensitive mystic, and she knows what she’s talking about when she says she’s seen the Dark Side rise and fall in galactic events. She clearly supports the light side, but as far as we know, she was never a part of the Jedi Order or formally pursued the ascetic teachings of the Jedi. Instead, she’s spent the last thousand years running a cantina out of a private castle on a remote planet, entertaining the criminal scum of the galaxy. Maz Kanata hears all about the conflicts in the galaxy without taking part in them with news from her visitors as well as insight from the Force.The Force isn’t her entire life, it’s just a part of who she is.
(I do wonder what would happen if she did end up confronting a big-bad such as Snoke.)
Maz doesn’t show the kind of decorum you would expect from a responsible adult. Her awkward greeting with Han and then climbing over the table to stare at Finn were entertaining because they were unexpected. But to Maz Kanata, socially abnormal behavior is a form of affection and an outward sign of her own non-conformity. If we ever get a Star Wars character who breaks the fourth wall, it will be Maz Kanata. Unless the fan art below already captured it:
True to the form of a mentor figure, of course, Maz knows more than she is saying. Maybe she knows when it’s best not to tell. She encourages both Finn and Rey—but Rey especially—to get out of their comfort zones and fulfill their potential. She doesn’t put the lightsaber away for long after Rey hands it back: she gives it to Finn because she knows it needs to be used. She understands how hard it was for Finn to desert the First Order, but she thinks he could do more good if he confronted them. And Maz thinks that Rey needs to move on from the pain of her past and find herself through the Force. Han came to her for help with BB-8 because he counted on her neutrality, but instead Maz gave him a nudge back to his family. (I get the feeling that Han doesn’t see her mystic side of her as much). She doesn’t give answers so much as guidance. Her cryptic statements and socially awkward behavior make her less of a mentor and more of a trickster.
While I think there were parts of The Force Awakens that could have been more original, Maz Kanata was one of the new characters that made it feel fresher. I really like that there are parts of her story that get hinted at–her past relationship with Han Solo, for example. If Maz Kanata is in the upcoming Han Solo spinoff film I might be more inclined to see it. And if she knows Han, what if there are other favorite Star Wars characters that she knows? I can’t imagine that she doesn’t know Luke and Leia. And as old as she is, I think she probably knew Yoda. Is there a chance she could also turn up in Star Wars Rebels?
Maz Kanata is the embodiment of everything I like about Star Wars. While there is still the moving and powerful saga of the Skywalker family, there is a whole galaxy full of stories and characters and worlds, some that we hear about in canon, some in the old EU stories, some that we make up as fans. It is a place you can actually go to and feel a part of. Maz Kanata is a part of that tradition, having her own compelling story while tying in with the parts that we know and love.
If I had to choose between the Mos Eisley Cantina, the Outlander nightclub in Attack of the Clones, and Maz’s castle for a place to hang out, I would go to Maz’s because she’d find me a corner to hang out in with some not-scary people and bring me a sweet non-alcoholic beverage because she would know exactly what I like.
The events at Maz’s castle on Takodona changed the course of events in Episode VII. I am very interested to see where and when Maz returns in Episode VIII and what happens when she turns up. And of course, we all want to hear about how she got a hold of that lightsaber.