Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens introduced several new characters in the galaxy far, far away, including Maz Kanata. Brought to life via motion-capture by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o, she proved to be a small, yet important, part of the saga's latest chapter. The 1,000 year-old cantina owner just happened to be in possession of Luke Skywalker's old lightsaber and also provided protagonist Rey with words of encouragement as the former Jakku scavenger took her first steps into a larger world. Though she wasn't a Jedi Master, her knowledge of the Force and overall wisdom proved to be valuable.
Given that Maz disappeared from The Force Awakens after the First Order's assault on Takodana, it would have appeared that her role in the sequel trilogy was over. However, Nyong'o is one of the many cast members returning for Rian Johnson's Star Wars: Episode VIII, as was revealed in Lucasfilm's official press release a couple months back. With Johnson progressing through principal photography, he seems to be gearing up for Maz's scenes - if his social media postings are any indication.
The director took to his Tumblr page to share a Star Wars behind-the-scenes picture (see it below), with Maz's face prominently featured on monitors. It's difficult to see what exactly is happening in this moment, but a safe assumption would be Nyong'o in mo-cap gear, acting out a scene on a sound stage before joining her co-stars on the actual set. This practice is fairly common for mo-cap actors, since it allows them to fine tune their performance by seeing how the digital creation reacts to their movements.
With Maz back in the fold, it will be interesting to see how her inclusion in Star Wars 8 is explained. At one point, Maz was supposed to accompany the main group to the Resistance base following the Takodana sequence, even handing Luke's lightsaber to General Leia Organa. Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams said these parts were cut when he realized Maz didn't have anything substantial to do in the third act and would just be standing around. Kanata isn't even mentioned once the action shifts to D'Qar and Starkiller base, so her path to rejoining the heroes has quickly become one of Star Wars 8's biggest mysteries - even if she's just meant to appear in a handful of scenes.
It's nice to know that viewers will get to spend more time with Maz in the next movie, since she is a character worth fleshing out. There's obviously much more to her than meets the eye; a deleted scene from Episode VII illustrated Maz using the Force to stop a squad of stormtroopers, and how she obtained the Skywalker family lightsaber is a query several would like answered. Exploring these topics further could be intriguing and possibly provide depth to what was already a fun addition to the franchise. Johnson most likely would not have had Maz return if she didn't fit into the narrative he wrote - one that his actors can't stop raving about.
At the same token, fans shouldn't expect to see too much of Maz in Episode VIII. The highly-anticipated sequel has plenty to unpack, including Rey training with Luke, the continued evolution of villain Kylo Ren, and the roles for series newcomers Laura Dern, Benicio del Toro, and Kelly Marie Tran. With all that on its plate, there doesn't seem to be a lot of room for Maz, meaning it's plausible that she once again serves as a supporting player who aids her allies out of a tight spot to move the plot along. Unless Johnson is incorporating some kind of flashback to explain the sequel trilogy's backstory, that's the most realistic scenario. Whatever the case may be, it'll be exciting to see the talented Nyong'o playing Maz again.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters on December 16th, 2016, followed by Star Wars: Episode 8 on December 15th, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode 9 is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.
Source: Rian Johnson