As I wrote my Andor review, I kept thinking about one Syril Karn, a villain who hunts down Cassian Andor in the series. He's no Darth Vader, as he has no Force powers. He's no Jabba the Hutt, as he doesn't control a palace of weirdos.
But Karn (played by Kyle Soller) sits high atop my rankings of Star Wars' best villains. And this is owed, in part, to how believable he is. Yes, Star Wars is a space opera, where aliens exist and men have been frozen in carbonite, but for its shows to have strength, there will (sometimes) need to be a villain or two that you recognize. No, not like "that guy looks like my barista," but Star Wars needs villains whose traits are grounded in our own lives.
And Syril Karn is definitely a villain you will be familiar with before he even emerges to be a thorn in our hero's side. So, let's get into everything heinous about Kyle Soller's Deputy Inspector Syril Karn. Of course, that means we're going to go over some (light) spoilers from Andor, so beware slight spoilers for Andor episodes 1-3 below!
Why you won't forget Syril Karn is the best droid in ages
Syril Karn is, in some ways, not a villain. He's one of those bad guys who clearly sees himself on the right side of history. He's chasing leads for an incident that Cassian Andor is at the center of. And even though I was rooting against him, I could always see his logic.
At times, you might even think Karn is actually right. He's also fighting some really annoying administrative nonsense. And that's where you'll find yourself in an interesting moment. "Am I," you might wonder, "agreeing with the bad guy?"
But it doesn't take too long for Karn to put himself back in a position where you'll want to root against him. Especially when, hilariously enough, his underlings are seen to hate him. At one moment, he bullies someone into working long after they should be, and in another one of his reports mutters something about overtime as he reports.
So, if you've ever worked a job where you weren't the boss, you'll instantly see Karn as a villain. Throughout Andor's early episodes, he presents himself as the worst kind of middle manager, and one whom you'll often be eager to root against.
Syril Karn is the right kind of farce of a villain
I won't go into too much detail here — while I put a spoiler warning up, even I abhor unnecessary spoilers — but get ready to drink it all in when Karn delivers a speech that he intends to be motivational. And that speech, it's safe to say, does not turn out like that.
But while there's a bit of cringe comedy taking place here, Andor doesn't play this moment for laughs. Instead, it's all too unsettling. You realize that this is how authoritarian sickos behave, and it makes the moment very believable. There's a smidge of humor, sure, but hell, there was humor to Vader and the Emperor too — but it was always unintentional.
And this is why I find Syril Karn to be better than those who came before him. Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito) was menacing, but hunting a baby. The emperor was a cackling weirdo, whose presence in Episode IX was downright laughable. Darth Vader, to me, never recovered as a character since Episode III saw him at his lowest.
And so, I look at this thin geek Syril Karn as the right type of villain for this new age of Star Wars TV and films. We've had years of over-the-top villains who are larger than life. And now it's time for some villains who are a bit more down to Earth. Those who inspire fear not by blowing up planets (been there, watched that), but by ruining lives.
Syril Karn is the face of Star Wars' authoritarianism
Leading a flock of blue-costumed cops who don't seem to care about the civilians they police, Karn is a menace. But since he's got his moments of arguably having a point, it's good that Andor pairs him with Sgt. Linus Mosk (Alex Ferns). A yes-man who is seemingly part-Dwight Shrute, Mosk is all about the violence.
Mosk speaks in terms of keeping the blade sharp by using it, and stamping down fomented anger in the masses. And when Karn sees nothing wrong with Mosk — one of the few people who is supporting him eagerly — you see more of why Karn is the show's villain.
Who plays Andor's Syril Karn? Meet Kyle Soller
American actor Kyle Soller is likely having his career breakthrough moment in Andor. His previous film roles, in projects such as The Titan and The Trip To Spain, didn't exactly gain a lot of headlines. In TV, Soller's appeared in many British programs, such as 2019's Brexit: The Uncivil War, 2017's Bounty Hunters and 2016's Silent Witness. He's also been acting on the stage since 2008, with roles including Tom Ripley in a 2010 version of The Talented Mr. Ripley at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton.
Outlook: How dark will Syril Karn get?
Karn, in the four episodes I've seen, has yet to graduate from being an aspiring authoritarian to committing actual large-scale atrocities. The latter is a place where the Star Wars movies and shows love to play in, so I don't expect it will be long before he has the chance to ruin many more lives than he already has.
And if Andor continues to play its hand well, each beat will seem as natural as the one before it. And Syril Karn will continue to be memorably creepy.