Paul Sun-Hyung Lee started acting because of Star Wars. Now, he's in Star Wars

Canadian actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee made a career for himself playing Appa on the hit show Kim’s Convenience. He’s had a big year, joining the Star Wars universe as Captain Carson Teva on The Mandalorian and winning a Governor General's Performing Arts Award.

The Kim's Convenience star receives a Governor General's Performing Arts Award this Saturday

Head shot of Paul Sun-Hyung Lee seated in front of a studio microphone, smiling and wearing headphones.
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee in the Q studio in Toronto. (Amelia Eqbal/CBC)

This is part of a series of articles about the Governor General's Performing Arts Awards laureates

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee has loved Star Wars since he first saw it as a kid.

"I'm five years old, sitting in a darkened theatre with my dad and my sister," Lee told told Q's Tom Power. "I have no idea what's going on, and this blazing music comes out.... It still affects me to this day [and] I get goosebumps every time I hear that score." 

Lee made his name in Canada, where he garnered acclaim on Kim's Convenience playing the family patriarch, Appa. Since 2020, he's been a cast member on the Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian as X-Wing fighter pilot Carson Teva.

Lee will receive one of Canada's top honours, the 2023 National Arts Centre Award at this year's Governor General's Performing Arts Award gala on May 27 in recognition his contribution to the performing arts over the last year and for being an inspiration to a generation of Asian actors. 

"It still blows my mind," Lee told Tom about the news. "My automatic default is I have huge imposter syndrome. My first thing was like, Oh, must have been really slow here in the arts — they set that bar really low." 

As a self-proclaimed Star Wars nerd, Lee still can't believe he's been given the opportunity to be a part of the franchise. 

"This epic adventure begins a lifelong adventure for myself as I just fall in love with this story, and it weaves itself into the very fabric of my life," he said. 

The Mandolorian is now headed toward its fourth season, which is expected to be released in 2024. The recent Season 3 finale hinted that Lee might take on a bigger role alongside stars like Pedro Pascal. But Lee isn't so certain. 

"I have no idea," he said. "[Jon] Favreau has gone on the record to say he's written it — that bodes well for me I hope."

WATCH | Paul Sun-Hyung Lee's interview with Tom Power:


Since the moment he saw his first installment of Star Wars, the franchise imbued Lee with a fascination for storytelling. 

"It was a swashbuckling adventure series with a group of characters that absolutely fascinated me, and it was a very good versus evil, very clear delineation," he said. "These shows that I grew up with made me fall in love with the art of storytelling … and acting is an extension of that."

As soon as Lee and his friends discovered Star Wars, they would obsessively act out characters from the movies. 

"We would recreate entire scenes of the movie with groups of kids, like the very beginning of the movie with the stormtroopers," he said. "The door explodes and all these stormtroopers spill out and there's this massive battle in this corridor."

In fact, Lee spent much of his adult life cosplaying characters from the franchise, often for charitable causes. 

"I have nine or 10 costumes — I have a set of stormtrooper armor, scout trooper, I've got jedi outfits, imperial officer outfits," he said. "These are all screen accurate because I am a member of the 501st Canadian Garrison, which is a cosplaying group that specializes in Star Wars." 

Diversity in sci-fi

Lee got the role as coincidences collided with old connections. 

While working at Factory Theatre in Toronto, Lee made acquaintances with a young aspiring filmmaker called Deborah Chow — who would end up directing shows in the Star Wars universe, like Obi-Wan Kenobi and episodes of The Mandalorian

By chance, Lee and Chow saw each other in Los Angeles. Observing Lee's fandom of Star Wars, he received a call from Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau.

"I missed the first call because I was eating KFC with my family," Lee said. "I was amped up, I was really nervous, and I had a lot to prove because nobody knew me."

When it came to costume fitting, Lee got to wear a pilot helmet from the original movie and, when he realized this, he burst into tears. 

"It's weird how something that tactile can really resonate so deeply in your body, in your spirit, in your soul, and that's when it really kind of became real for me," he said. 

Despite having been a dedicated fan most of his life, Lee sometimes felt as if Star Wars wasn't a home for him — and this was due to a lack of Asian representation in the films. When he and his childhood friends were dressing up as the characters, he felt restricted in the roles he could take and was urged not to play characters like Luke Skywalker. 

"That's a learned behavior, that's systemic racism in that sense," he recalled. 

Lee is now in his 50s, and he still can't believe the opportunities that have been afforded to him this late in his career. 

"I feel so blessed that it's come so late in my life because I've had these big hopes and I've had them dashed for no other reason than that's life, and so I appreciate things a lot more now than I would have," he said. 

"It's crazy, it is absolutely insane and this really cements the fact that things happen in your life for a reason."

The full interview with Paul Sun-Hyung Lee is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Interview with Paul Sun-Hyung Lee produced by Ben Edwards.


Oliver Thompson is a writer, producer and musician. Originally from the UK, where he worked for the BBC, Oliver moved to Canada in 2018.