Stephen Eisenhauer, Dragon Con's Chess Playing Jawa, raises money for local charities

Stephen Eisenhauer, also known as the "Chess-Playing Jawa" at Dragon Con 2022. (Courtesy of Jimmy Stapp Photography)

Dragon Con 2022 has come and gone, and this year saw 65,000 guests flood Downtown Atlanta with the joy of cosplay and fandom.

The convention raised more than $190,000 for this year’s chosen charity, which was Open Hand Atlanta, and about three thousand of those dollars came directly from the efforts of 22-year-old Stephen Eisenhauer, also known as the “Chess-Playing Jawa.” 

For the unfamiliar, Jawas are from the world of “Star Wars;” resellers of discarded scrap and wayward mechanicals, about three feet tall and with faces completely hidden behind robes, with the exception of their glowing yellow eyes. Over the last 11 years, “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes consistently noticed a particular Jawa at Dragon Con – one that sits at a table with a sign that reads, “Play chess with a Jawa.”

This year she decided to approach the Jawa, otherwise known as Stephen Eisenhauer, as well as his mom, Peggy Eisenhauer, for a conversation about the Chess-Playing Jawa’s unique skills in both gamesmanship and rallying support for local charities.

Stephen’s transformation into the Chess-Playing Jawa began when he was just 11 years old, attending his first Dragon Con with his parents, perhaps a little too young to keep up with the nonstop schedule of panels and events. “We said, ‘Well, look, if you’re bored in the panels, just set your chessboard up outside. People will play you,'” recounted Peggy. “So he did, and we came back an hour or so later after a panel, and he’s sitting there, and he’s got money.”

Peggy quizzed her son on how he ended up with a pile of cash. “He said, ‘Well, I don’t know. People just tipped me… I thought I’d donate it to the charity.'” Peggy went on, “The next year he decided he’d wear his ‘Star Wars’ costume. He was just a kid, and he had a little Jawa costume, and he put out a little tip jar, and he raised a couple hundred dollars for the charity. He was 11. And so the Chess Jawa was born.”

By now, the Chess-Playing Jawa has challenged Dragon Con attendees to games for ten years. Peggy recounted how every year, guests recognize the Jawa, join him for a game and share in her pride as they see the young Jawa growing up. “The number of people that come up to me and say, ‘Oh, we’re so glad to see you again. How’s he doing? How’s school?’ ….And now he’s in college at the University of Chicago.” 

The mysterious Jawa was kind enough to break character for just a moment to chat about his perspective. Though Stephen admitted the costume gets a little burdensome to wear for a full eight-hour stint, he expressed pride in his accomplishments and his formidable chess acumen. “I win, basically, all of the games. I lose maybe one or two games a year. At this point, I’ve been playing chess competitively since I was 10. I’m a chess expert at this point,” Stephen affirmed.  

Peggy glowed, “I mean, it’s fabulous, right? I mean, he does what he loves. He’s got passion. It’s that intersection of cosplay and philanthropy and chess, and what’s not to love?”