Chris McPherson
Chris Tauber
December 10, 2015 03:20 PM

Much in common have Yoda and Maz Kanata, a new character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Both are very short, very old, very wise, very powerful and very CGI (we’re talking prequel Yoda, not puppet Yoda).

Playing Maz, a little orange pirate with a big castle, seems like a surprising career move for Lupita Nyong’o, the actress who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for 2013’s 12 Years a Slave. Yet as she told PEOPLE in the new Star Wars special issue, “I had been wanting to work in motion capture. When [Maz] was offered to me, I was so excited. I’ve always loved the work, like Andy Serkis and then Zoë Saldana in Avatar. And of course I got to work with [director] J.J. Abrams.”

See exclusive photos, get a first look at new characters and learn more secrets from the cast and crew of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in PEOPLE’s Star Wars collector’s edition, on newsstands now. And for more exclusive Star Wars news, come back to PEOPLE.com every day until it hits theaters Dec. 18

PEOPLE's Star Wars special issue

And the Kenyan-raised Nyong’o, 32, has a special emotional bond with the original Star Wars. “In Kenya they would play Star Wars during public holidays,” she says. “So it was something I could look forward to. I watched it five or six years in a row.” (Check out the special issue for exclusive behind-the-scenes photos of Nyong’o!)

Much of Maz is still secret. The goggled character is only seen in the background of the official movie poster. In one trailer, a little orange hand gives a lightsaber to someone who appears to be Princess-turned-General Leia. “I love keeping the secret,” Nyong’o says, “knowing something no one else knows!”

But recently, Nyong’o and Abrams let slip to Entertainment Weekly that Maz’s eyes hold a secret power. Nyong’o even said they are “the means to her magic as a motion-capture character.” Watch out you must.

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