‘Star Wars’ Character Based on Late Pali High English Teacher, Abrams Tells Palisadian-Post

By FRANCES SHARPE

Editor-in-Chief

Director J.J. Abrams, a Pacific Palisades resident and graduate of Palisades Charter High School, revealed to his hometown newspaper the Palisadian-Post that he based one of the characters in his box-office record-breaking “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on his late high school English teacher.

Photo collage courtesy of Karyn Newbill-Helmig/Photo of Rose Gilbert courtesy of Jeanette Mills Photo caption: Maz (left) and Rose Gilbert (right)
Photo collage courtesy of Karyn Newbill-Helmig/Photo of Rose Gilbert courtesy of Jeanette Mills
Photo caption: Maz (left) and Rose Gilbert (right)

“Yes, the character of Maz was originally based on the great Rose Gilbert,” Abrams told the Post. “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.”

Photo of J.J. Abrams from Pali High yearbook
Photo of J.J. Abrams from Pali High yearbook

Gilbert, who was known to her students as ‘”Mama G,” taught at Pali High since it opened in 1961. When she announced her retirement in 2013 at the age of 94, Gilbert was the oldest full-time teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District and one of the oldest in the country.

At the time, she was still teaching three AP English classes in the same classroom she had for 51 years.

Abrams wasn’t the only one working on the blockbuster film who had taken English classes with Gilbert.

“Turns out the production designer, Rick Carter had also been a student of Ms. Gilbert, 15 years before me,” Abrams said.

“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 for Maz,” Abrams said. “Rick and I had hoped to contact Rose and show her what we were doing, but she sadly passed away while we were in prep on the film. Rick and I attended her service and sat together, once again amazed by her life force and infinite spirit.”

Gilbert was 95 when she died at a local hospital on Dec. 16, 2013. At a service at Pali High in January 2014, Principal Pam Magee called Gilbert their “most treasured teacher.”

Thanks to Abrams, Gilbert’s legacy will live on as will the Palisades connection to what could turn out to be the biggest film in history.

Chuck Larsen and Jacqueline Primo contributed to this article.