In the run-up to Andor, the team behind the new Disney Plus series has hit one point particularly hard: This isn’t more of the Star Wars space opera. Instead, the show is the nitty gritty of a galaxy far, far away.
In a world ravaged by the Force and other forces big and small, Andor is a more granular way into the battles between light and dark. “I think Rogue One is a film about an event. You don’t get to know those characters, you don’t get to understand exactly where they come from, what needed to happen [to get them there],” Diego Luna said in a press conference about returning to his character of Cassian Andor. “For me, it’s quite relevant today to tell the story of what needs to happen for a revolutionary to emerge.”
It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to guess what feels so prescient about that storyline now, in a time when there’s a lot of change that needs to happen for the world to feel remotely just. But what works best about Andor in the first four episodes screened to critics is the grounded look at how the Dark Side built itself up as a force to be reckoned with. And no one personifies that better in these early episodes than Kyle Soller’s bad guy, Syril Karn.
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the first three episodes of Andor.]
Syril is the sort of bootlicker who asked for extra credit to his extra credit. He takes the utmost pride in his presentation, modifying his uniform to make himself stand out as the shiniest apple in the bunch. He’s an ass. But in the first episodes of Andor, it’s clear Syril believes in the work. He’s not trying to brown-nose; he simply exists as eager to please and believes in the authority figure he serves.
In a moment when Star Wars has been struggling to make its bad guys work, Syril stands out (and not just because of those crisp blues and reds). The Book of Boba Fett was a bit of a mess, offering up neither a complicated antihero nor a particularly compelling antagonist for our beleaguered hero to square off against. The Mandalorian had a good enough twist on Star Wars’ good/evil dichotomy, but the villain wasn’t what came to define the show (even when played by one Giancarlo Esposito). Obi-Wan Kenobi ran out of runway a bit with its evil Empire characters. And The Rise of Skywalker’s take is... better left unspoken.
Syril feels like a better version of the prominent failures of late. Even on first impression, he is fully baked: a literal company man who fancies himself a hero — and, without making him Right™, certainly is operating from a place that makes each of his actions feel logical and understandable. Though he’s not dumb, one gets the sense that he’s so insulated in his position that even explaining the flaws of the system wouldn’t get through to him.
Subsequently, Soller’s buttoned-up performance shows how personal this is for him, even as he feigns corporate duty. It’s not just that he’s doing his job; he identifies with the men killed by Cassian. “Two men are dead, sir. Employees,” Syril underlines in the first episode. “If that’s not worth staying up for, then I’m not worthy of the uniform.” As he’s dismissed it’s clear his disappointment isn’t just about being dressed down and letting these men’s lives be a “sad but inspiring” and “mundane” misadventure, it’s the implication that people in positions like his can be lost so easily to the corporate world at large. That light tailoring to his uniform is all he can do to make the powers that be conform to him, rather than the other way around.
And so in an effort to make himself known, he makes disastrous mistakes and gets more company men killed in the process. He’s willing to accept that the people of Cassian’s hometown are all “bluff and bluster,” as his corporate goon tells him, because he misses how it’s solidarity in action. Even we as the audience don’t see any planning or rigging; we see him and his enforcers recklessly run in with a half-baked attack. What follows is a legitimately thrilling battle sequence and some incredible triumphant imagery of Cassian escaping across the fields, before we return to Syril, brokenhearted and, presumably, Empire-pilled.
While Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Reva (Moses Ingram) are deeply entrenched in the highest orders of the Empire’s central death cult, Syril exists light years away from that moral universe. He has more in common with Cassian, though he’d never admit it. It’s what makes him such a compelling character to follow alongside Cassian, and through these early days of both the Rebellion and Andor: Like presumably thousands of people across the universe, he has no idea what he’s part of. He is not menacing because he’s some fallen Templar. Syril is dangerous because he’s imitating monstrousness without fully understanding it. From his vantage point on the ground, he is merely an authority figure people love to hate. But as we know all too well in our galaxy a long, long time later, that’s the sort of banal evil that can be the most threatening of all.
The first three episodes of Andor are now streaming on Disney Plus. New episodes drop every Wednesday.