Star Wars Episode VIII may still be well over a year-and-a-half away, but we?ve already seen considerably more of it than The Force Awakens at the same point in production (and I?m not even talking about those set leak photos). Filming was announced with a short video showing Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill returning to Skellig Michael to shoot under Rian Johnson and the new director?s shared a couple of behind-the-scenes photos on his tumblr page, the latest of which shows Lupita Nyong?o in full mo-cap get-up recording some of Maz Kanata?s scenes.
Maz may seem like an odd choice to focus on, but I?d say it?s actually a rather shrewd move by Lucasfilm ? although Nyong?o was in the film?s casting announcement, she?s more on the peripheries of fan-excitement when compared to father-killer Kylo Ren or cool-as Poe Dameron, so it makes sense to promote her inclusion, and seeing an actress in a volume is a lot less spoiler-ific than Mark Hamill in, well, anything. But could there be more to this? Does focusing on Ms. Kanata so early on point towards an expanded role? And if so, this leads to a very interesting question about Maz and her role in the wider story: will she have Force powers in Episode VIII?
You see, with The Force Awakens, Maz was the victim of several major edits ? she was famously meant to travel to the Resistance base on D?Qar and give Leia her father/brother?s old lightsaber, but beyond that many of her lines were rerecorded between the Final Trailer in October and the movie in December ? meaning that the character we got was rather different to what was originally conceived; in the brief audio-glimpses from the marketing, she was a sage, wise Yoda parallel, but in the movie was closer to the weird pre-reveal Jedi, climbing over tables as much as giving advice.
The biggest change to her character, however, was that she was originally going to be able to use the Force; during the attack on her castle, she was going to save Han by telepathically bringing the ceiling down on a bunch of Stormtroopers. Part of this sequence has actually made it into the deleted scenes of the home release, showing Han comically bantering with the First Order troops holding him, Maz, Chewie and Finn underground, but the officially released version tellingly cuts short before revealing his pal?s true power.
This may in part be due to the effects work not being finished, but some of the motivation has to be to preserve the mystery around Maz?s connection with the Force. The deleted scenes included on the Blu-ray appear to be ones that can be read as canon, rather than alternate story beats to detail the making of process, so her dealing with the stormtroopers was probably removed because it either contradicted subsequent elements of the character or because it revealed something a little too early.
So, what are the odds of Maz adding Force manipulation to her list of Yoda similarities? Well, she said to Rey in Episode VII that ?I?m no Jedi, but I know the Force,? which certainly leaves that possibility open (even if that speech was essentially a more mystical version of Qui-Gon?s midi-chlorian spiel from The Phantom Menace), and a bigger role would allow it to be properly explored.
Regardless of if Maz can harness it or not, however, we already know that the nature of the Force is being tinkered with in these new movies. The Force Awakens featured two characters ? Max Von Sydow?s Lor San Tekka and Maz ? who had connections to the Jedi and their power-giving energy field without seemingly being practicers themselves. This, along with the focus on a more morally grey sliding scale between the Light and Dark (Kylo fears the glimmer of Light in him, Rey flirts with darkness), suggests the Sequel Trilogy will adjust the make-up of the Force, potentially redefining what the prequel trilogy?s talk of ?balance? meant.
Or maybe Episode VIII is just Poe Dameron: Rathtar Detective. Wow, we really know nothing about where they?re going, do we?
Star Wars Episode VIII is in cinemas from 15th December 2017.