There are those fans who hate the Star Wars prequels and those who love them -- or at least will defend them to a degree. And so there are fans who see Star Wars: The Force Awakens as retribution for the previous three live-action installments, almost to the point of dismissing them, and then also fans looking for ways the new movie forgives The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith by making subtle references to them, thereby giving them new relevance.
The latter group will rejoice at the latest finding, a retroactive Easter egg in The Phantom Menace that links to a seemingly altogether new character in The Force Awakens. Cinema Blend points out a small statue in little Anakin Skywalker's home on Tatooine resembling the wise smuggler Maz Kanata (played by Lupita Nyong'o via performance capture). She is said to be more than a thousand years old, but would she have inspired such an artifact? Was she famous enough that she had her own action figure? Is it an idol for worship?
See the figure standing on the table on the left in Anakin's bedroom in this still:
This is an interesting connection, if intentional on the part of The Force Awakens team. And even if not. Kanata went through many designs and her look wasn't finalized until a few months ago, so there's no way her origins go back as far as the first prequel. As a character, she's partly inspired by a teacher J.J. Abrams had in high school. But as Cinema Blend speculates, an artist involved with her look could have based her on that otherwise unimportant statue, possibly to give it a cool new meaning for the diehard fans.
With the old expanded universe now obsolete, fans are looking to fill gaps all over the place, and Lucasfilm is likely to do some of the work themselves. There's no doubt we'll someday be treated to a full back story on Kanata, including her experience with the Force -- she reportedly shows off her powers in The Force Awakens deleted scenes that are so far undetermined to be canon or not. To please the fans and reward them for finding things like this Phantom Menace link, maybe they'll find a way to explain the connection officially.