By Josh Reilly B., George Bate, and Julie Catherine
The rise of live action Star Wars shows on Disney+ has given fans of a galaxy far, far away much to talk about and enjoy. From the return of Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen as Obi-Wan and Anakin/Vader, the live action debut of Ahsoka Tano, and Luke Skywalker’s epic hero entrance, Star Wars TV has certainly been full of amazing things in the past few years.
There’s also been plenty of easter eggs and the return of beloved species. Enter, the Jawas. Jawas have been a landmark of this space franchise for over forty years, ever since they appeared in A New Hope in 1977. Regardless of screen time or whether or not they even had much of a story presence, it’s clear that these little alien creatures have had a huge impact on fans. They’ve certainly left their mark.
Recently, Star Wars Holocron and The HoloFiles had the opportunity to interview Leilani Shiu, who plays some of these Jawas in The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the latter, which was the most recent Star Wars series to release, Shiu played Teeka, a Jawa that Obi-Wan knew on Tatooine and who, predictably, was more than a little shady when it came to stealing valuable parts. The moment where Kenobi confronted Teeka about stealing his things and then attempting to sell them back to him garnered a huge reaction at the world premiere of the series in May, and the Jawa has been a favorite ever since.
Shiu had only nice things to say about working with McGregor and, more broadly, appearing in the new series.
“I love Ewan [McGregor]. I love Ewan to death. I’m a big fan of his. When they asked me to do this part and audition, I was like, ‘What?! Me and Ewan? Really? Oh wow that’s big, right?’ I’ve worked with Deborah Chow before on Mando she was one of the directors. She liked me and I was honored. They called and said Deborah wants to speak to me. And I was like, ‘Deborah wants to speak to me? Of course!’ And then she told me, ‘I have a big part I want to cast you for. And I only chose you of course. But I need you to audition. She put it, ‘You don’t need to be Meryl Streep. But I need you to audition. As it’s during COVID, you can’t come in. But can you an audition tape for me?’ And I was like, ‘Okay! Then they had me sign a book of NDAs, and then they sent me the script over. It was coded, so I didn’t know it was going to be with [Obi-Wan] yet. They encode us. He was a different name and I was too. I was like, ‘Who is this person?’ Didn’t say Obi-Wan, didn’t say anything. So, when I auditioned for the role, I auditioned a couple times. They got back to me and said, ‘Done deal. We need you to come fit.’ And I was like, ‘Okay.’ I did the fit and did all that. They said, ‘Of course you’ll be a Jawa, but you’ll be a different Jawa. A special Jawa.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ They’re like, ‘You’re principal cast…You’ll be the first Jawa with a name.’ They didn’t tell me my name was going to be Teeka yet. They gave me my code name…it was Ameek…The [costume] was more like [the Jawas] in A New Hope…A week before, they sent me the actual script and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m with Kenobi.’..I was nervous. I memorized my lines…Our first day on set was really cool. When we got on set, I got to watch [Ewan] do his part by himself…It was amazing to work with him!”
Shiu clearly has plenty of enthusiasm for her work. The actress also touched on the specifics of the process of playing a Jawa, from locations to seeing the infamous Volume technology that has become so commonplace in recent years.
“Since we’re Jawas, we’re usually outside…when we get to come inside, it’s really breathtaking to me. I did animation before. I did inking paintings before…It’s cool because we go in and see the blue light wall while we wait. And then we go inside and you’re in the Volume. It’s great because the day before we’re outside. And now [in the volume] it looks exactly like what we did outside. It’s really cool how it’s brought to life. What we filmed outside was brought to life…I was in animation. I worked on Christmas Vacation…now I get to see [the technology behind Star Wars projects] now.”
As she features in both The Mandalorian and The Book of Boba Fett, Shiu had the opportunity to come face to face with Baby Yoda, aka Grogu, on the set.
“Baby Yoda…looks real! You think it’s all special effects. But it looks real. They had it at Star Wars Celebration and San Diego Comic Con…He really looks real, whereas back in the day you wouldn’t think that.”
Star Wars has always been about family. From the space opera style that permeates through everything in a galaxy far, far away, to Ewan McGregor being the nephew of Wedge Antilles actor Dennis Lawson, the familial bonds and connections are there for all to see throughout. This extends to Shiu who, as she notes, worked with her daughter on Star Wars.
“My daughter, she wasn’t even part of [The Mandalorian]…They said they needed us only two days, but then they needed us longer. Well I was leaving for New York to be with Janet Jackson…I said, ‘Please! I want this job. I’ll be back on Tuesday! Is there anyway my daughter can fit in? She’s my same size, she can use the same outfit. You don’t need to make a new outfit. Please don’t fire me! I’ll come back.’ …[And they said,] ‘What? You have a daughter who is the same size? Bring her in!’ They ended up liking her and using her.”
As a woman of color and a little person, Shiu (and her daughter) is clearly an inspirational trailblazer who deserves immense credit for her performances in Star Wars and her career more broadly. Shiu empathized how seriously she takes representation.
“On my first day with Deborah Chow, she came up to me and found out we’re both Chinese. I was born in Vancouver, Canada, she’s Canadian. And I have family whose last name is Chow too. So, we became like family on set. It was kind of different being also Asian in Star Wars, it’s huge, because there aren’t many [actors in Star Wars] that are Asian. Not only that, but I’m a little person. And I’m Asian. So my Asian people out there are very happy that I’m representing Asian [actors].”
“It means a lot to me, because I’m small. It’s very rare, as a little person, for us to get big roles… To be part of the Star Wars franchise, it’s great to me, because I know how it feels when you’re little and you’re born in an average sized family how it feels. I’m representing these kids who are fans of mine who are little and saying you can do anything. If I can do it, you can do it. If you want to be an actor, be in an actor. Just keep putting all into it…It’s an honor that being a Jawa, being part of the Star Wars world, that I represent them.”
Shiu does an excellent job representing these communities and letting people see themselves on screen, making for a truly emotional watch. Perhaps Lucasfilm and Disney were aware that her Teeka character would become such a fan favorite as Hasbro recently launched a Black Series action figure of the Jawa, an item that Shiu saw up close at Comic Con but still hasn’t been able to get one of her own.
“I have seen it at San Diego Comic Con…I don’t even have [one] yet!…I did see Hasbro at San Diego Comic Con so hopefully now I get hooked up with some free ones. Being part of the Star Wars franchise is huge. To get my own [action figure] is huge!”
Looking forward, it’s unclear if Shiu will appear in future Star Wars titles, especially given the secrecy of the upcoming projects.
“That I don’t really know, or I can’t say. Heavily NDA. I can tell you I’m one of the main Jawas…Once I can let people know, I’ll let them know.”
Make sure to follow Leilani Shiu on social media!