“This Is Really Juicy Stuff”
Over the course of 45 years and hundreds of hours of content, Star Wars has weaponized varieties of villains against the Jedi, Rebellion, Resistance, etc. We’ve seen knights, royalty, politicians, bounty hunters, monsters, gangsters, warriors, and Werner Herzog (may “The Client’s” backstory always remain a mystery). And now, thanks to Andor, we’ve seen that evil doesn’t need magic or muscle or mystery to be terrifying. That’s because Andor gives us a new kind of Star Wars villain: the Dwight Schrute.
Syril Karn, played by Kyle Soller, is the definitive iteration of this deceptively dangerous villain. He’s ambitious, relentless, and also a bit hopeless. The danger he poses isn’t due to what he intends to achieve, but rather in what happens as a result of his pursuit of power. Our guy Syril tries to arrest one man and ends up toppling the security organization that employs him and shoving the system under the purview of the Empire. Oops? Since his calamitous attempt at extra credit in the first storyarc, viewers have witnessed Karn’s downward spiral. He’s living with his mother, working a dead-end office job, and stalking an Imperial Security Bureau officer that inadvertently made him feel the tiniest bit useful. Syril Karn is a galaxy-sized mess of issues — and, as Andor writer Beau Willimon told Decider, that’s who he’s been from day one.
“Syril was one of the characters that [showrunner] Tony [Gilroy] walked into the writers’ room with that had been pretty fully thought out,” said Willimon, who introduced Syril’s fateful — and creepy — dynamic with ISB officer Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) in Episode 8, “Narkina 5.”
“Tony arrived with a [series] bible with a pretty extensive idea of what he wanted to do for the first season and some thoughts for beyond, and there was a lot of loose, blank areas, which he admittedly said, ‘Okay, we’re gonna have to figure this out, this is just very broad strokes.’ But Syril Karn and his mother [Eedy] and the character of Dedra [Meero] was something that he had walked in with having put a lot of thought into. The dynamics between those characters we, Dan [Gilroy] and I were like, ‘Oh man, this is really juicy stuff. Let’s keep working on this and let’s push it as much as we can.’”
Tony Gilroy’s specificity of intent when it came to Karn extended to his interactions with actor Kyle Soller, although Gilroy took a different approach. “At the beginning of the conversation about the character,” explained Soller to Decider, “I asked Tony, ‘[We’re] five years pre-Rogue One, I got to plant the seeds. Where does [Syril Karn] end up?’ [Gilroy answered] ‘You know, he could go here, he could go there, I don’t know.’ And I thought, ‘Okay…’ But actually I realized later, [Gilroy] was giving me a gift of sitting in that unknown, and Syril really is at the genesis of becoming who he thinks he wants to be. He doesn’t know who he is, he has no sense of self, really and he’s looking for that outside of himself within the fascist structure of the Empire — which is extremely dangerous if you are looking for validation and approval from a system like that.”
Instead of distracting Soller with info about where Syril Karn will end up in five years, Gilroy instead made the character’s present rich with detail. Willimon believes that Gilroy’s approach to Syril is emblematic to his storytelling style on the whole — which is, Willimon explained, “start with the humanity, start with character, whether a person is a rebel or a person who works for the Empire. First, get into their shoes and see who they are. This guy has mom issues. This guy clearly has a lot of frustrated ambition. This guy has a bit of vanity because he likes to get his suits tailored.”
Speaking to those details — Karn’s passive-aggressive relationship with an abusive mother (Kathryn Hunter) gave Soller plenty of unexpected material to work with. “I think the domesticity that gets explored between Syril and his mother added a completely different layer, to who this person was and why he is the way that he is,” Soller told Decider. “I’d certainly never seen that in Star Wars before, and I actually don’t see that much in long-form drama, really investigating who are these people’s parents, how did they grow up? That was really unique.”
The complex nature of Syril Karn’s inner life also gave costume designer Michael Wilkinson plenty to work with — because, after all, Karn likes to get his clothes tailored to perfection. “I had a really enjoyable time creating the Pre-Mor uniform that Syril wears because the office that he works in is pretty schlumpy, [his colleagues are] pretty jaded, they’re pretty tired, they’re not super into their jobs. So Syril comes in and he’s incredibly fastidious, and everything’s very important to him, and so it was fun to do different versions of the uniforms. Some had been enzyme washed and stripped a little bit of their their life and didn’t have this sort of stiff innards that Syril Karn’s uniform had.”
All of these details — the slap and hug his mother gives him, the crispness of his Pre-Mor uniform — add up to form a character who feels like he could be the lead of his own show if he wasn’t so busy being one of the many antagonists on Andor.
“When you start with these details — you’re interested in this person,” explained Willimon. “You may at times even find yourself rooting for him. And then you go, ‘Oh, hold on a second, but he’s working for the Empire here.’ That’s a two-way street. You can have rebel characters who you’re really mad at, who you’re not rooting for at times and you say, ‘No, no, you’re really making my skin crawl.’ Because when you put humans on screen, you as a human are going to have these reactions to them. And I think being able to sort of experiment with those expectations and allegiances that the audience has is what keeps it dynamic, what keeps it real, and shows that everyone across the board is flawed and fascinating and interesting — and Syril is a prime example of that.”
TL;DR — if you think you know where Syril Karn’s storyline is going, you should probably think again.
New episodes of Andor premiere on Wednesdays on Disney+.
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