In a recent interview, J.J. Abrams revealed that the character Maz Kanata (played by Lupita Nyong'o) was heavily inspired by one of his high school teachers.
"Yes, the character of Maz was originally based on the great Rose Gilbert. We really wanted the story to feel authentic, despite being a wild fantasy. I mentioned Rose in an early story meeting as a sort of timeless, wise figure that I'd actually known in my life. While we experimented with many looks and styles before settling on the character's final design, Rose was always at the center of the inspiration of Maz."
Rose was known as Mama G to her students, and was known for her enthusiasm for literature. She sadly passed away in 2013 at the age of 95, and was unaware that she inspired the director.
"Rick and I had hoped to contact Rose and show her what we were doing, but she sadly passed away while we were in the prep of the film. Rick and I attended her service and sat together, once again amazed by her life force and infinite spirit."
What a heartwarming story! It's a shame Mama G passed away before they got to speak to her, but perhaps she lived on as a force ghost? You never know! One thing is for sure, and that is that a great teacher can inspire people throughout their lives.
Check out this trailer, where you can hear Maz Kanata talking.