In our latest Imperial Insights article, we’re diving deep into the character Syril Karn and how his portrayal in Andor correlates to the real world.
Welcome back to Imperial insights! My initial article outlined how Tony Gilroy drew influence from thousands of years of revolution and oppression and put revolutionary archetypes into a Star Wars package with Andor. Dedra Meero was the first character analyzed, so it would only make sense to dive into the man who wanted to be her second in command so badly: Syril Karn.
In true Star Wars fashion, the end of Syril’s career is the beginning of his actual journey. Where Dedra is a representation of white feminism and excelling in an oppressive system for one’s personal safety and power, Syril is the “left behind working-class white man.” For systems of oppression to thrive, they must create conditions that make segments of classes feel superior. Despite losing his job and kickstarting the Empire’s excuse to exercise direct control over planets, Syril consistently believes his best days of ticketing and policing are ahead of him.
Not only does Syril understand the nature of the game he is playing, he views himself as one of the only people who truly understands what’s necessary to “preserve order.” For every lazy stormtrooper or police officer who drinks on duty, there are vigilantes and private security personnel like Syril who leverage their position to inflict harm. Because of this portrayal in Andor, I’ll be diving into the overzealous middle-manager turned QAnon conspiracist: Syril Karn.
What makes Syril so important in the Imperial System is something you can see every week on your news outlet of choice, and in the talking points of both Republicans and Democrats. I am referring to the concept of being “next in line” for the American Dream. Republicans show this most blatantly when talking about getting rid of things like estate taxes; which the average citizen does not pay. Most US citizens don’t (can’t) even save money paycheck-to-paycheck. As such, the concept of transferring an estate, and paying taxes on that transfer of wealth, is a punchline at best.
For Democrats, this rhetorical flourish can be seen in how they speak about protecting businesses. Even during the George Floyd uprisings, Biden was quick to point out on the campaign trail that protest was fine until it damaged buildings or products. Things that could easily be replaced and were certainly insured…unlike George Floyd’s life.
Despite these two truths, the United States and other Imperial systems constantly harp on the idea that “you could be next!” in an effort to get the masses to willingly ask for these types of controls. Things like the lottery or game shows play a key part on the money side. After all, we’re technically one Powerball away from becoming millionaires/billionaires! If that’s true, then why wouldn’t you want to protect businesses or give your richer future self less taxes to pay?
The second most prominent example is security. This is where Tony Gilroy brings his expertise of political tension into the Star Wars galaxy.
Security in the United States and abroad is constantly hammered using the same tactics that I described above. When a mass shooting happens, the call goes out for increased security in the form of more police and “good guys with guns.” If there isn’t a mass shooting, the general drumbeat is there are areas of each city and state that are so bad, you would be justified in having a gun or other weapon to defend yourself. Either way, the general message is the world is always on the brink of unfettered chaos and “you could be next!”
It is this framework that Syril is operating under. The initial event that kickstarts the plot is literally two lazy security personnel barking up the wrong tree. Syril, viewing these security forces as a crucial front-line defense against anarchy in a “bad part of the galaxy,” brings as many resources as he can to find and arrest Cassian. Syril is so concerned about the damage Cassian has caused, that he makes an even bigger mess and loses his job in the process.
We have seen this story in the form of QAnon in the 21st century. QAnon has basically convinced people the US government is on the brink of total collapse. And only the people who can see the patterns (themselves) have the power to stop it. Whether it’s the insurrection at the Capitol, Pizzagate, or any of the numerous local stories of local politicians making outlandish claims, it follows the pattern that Syril embodies: There is a problem in the galaxy, and only through personal conviction to the Empire and security can you and you alone solve the problem and protect people.
Insurrectionists have lost their jobs, faced penalties from the government, and generally been ostracized from larger communities. Likewise, Syril’s behavior costs him his job, and he is threatened with Imperial criminal penalties as he continues digging. At no point, however, do these setbacks stop him from protecting the Empire by hunting Andor.
Keeping with the insurrection example, despite whatever penalties some of the insurrectionists have faced, there are still prominent elected Republicans who think the 2020 election was stolen. In Colorado, every Republican who ran for Secretary of State, ran on a platform that included disputing the 2020 election and sending alternate electors to the Capitol. During the most recent election cycle, multiple Republicans at multiple levels ran for office on this faulty logic. This persistent idea of chaos being just around the corner is dangerous. Moreso because Syril and US Republicans both consider themselves in the right. Whatever damage happens to others is rationalized as collateral damage in service to the greater good.
Another element in this equation is the malice inherent in bringing these philosophical concerns to life. Syril has no qualms bringing security forces to Ferrix at the start of the series; putting out bulletins for Andor, and directing his troops to fire at will as Andor escapes. In the real world, we see this in the form of police officers executing no-knock warrants for low-level offenses, or turning standard traffic stops into a deadly encounter. In every instance, police and the media are quick to highlight how the officer felt their life was in danger, or how they are dealing with a “dangerous element” that necessitates the use of excessive force.
Simply put, this is what happens when “this group is the scum of society,” meets, “anything to get them out of our sight is justified.” Although Syril does not show up in the finale with a weapon of his own, you could easily picture him as a 3% militia member, Oathkeeper, or Proud Boy in the real world.
Star Wars has always been pretty cut and dried when it comes to extrajudicial violence. Frankly anybody who hates the Rebellion and what they stand for is pretty much first in line to sign up to become a Stormtrooper. There isn’t much gray to imagine for the most part. Syril is really among the first characters in the galaxy so far to give us that perspective. Tony Gilroy starts his arc in the security industry and pushes him further and further out into radicalization. Most importantly, nobody seems to stop him forcefully enough to dissuade him.
Syril stalks Dedra. Despite her objection and blatant threat, the might of the Empire never comes down to stop him. He places multiple false reports in the Bureau of Standards; yet finds himself getting promoted. Nowhere along the path does he face a consequence serious enough to stop him. He simply continues to escalate his behavior until the finale where he is literally on the other side of the galaxy chasing Cassian instead of clocked in at this job like the rest of us.
In the real world, this type of arc manifests in various ways. For starters, it can be seen in the way Republicans continue to support each other as they propose more radical laws and run in various offices. Florida is currently undergoing a book ban in broad daylight simply because Governor DeSantis can. He’s faced no serious political repercussions for anything from an anti-protest law passed in the midst of the George Floyd Uprisings, to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed last year. In Colorado, we saw this play out on a personal level when the Club Q shooter was identified as a man who’d previously been arrested for threatening his family with a bomb. It didn’t land him on a Red Flag list, which would prohibit him from getting another weapon and raise his profile on police databases as somebody to watch.
Rarely, if ever, do these vigilantes face consequences. Their victims typically fit the narrative of those who “deserve” violence from their philosophical standpoint. By the end of season one, Syril is once again holding Dedra, but she does not send him to a “cage in the outer rim” as she previously threatened. The people of Ferrix who were attacked by soldiers she has power over, aren’t even brought up in their conversation. Violence is so naturalized, the Empire doesn’t have to consider why they would shoot civilians instead of de-escalate. In the Empire’s eyes, they deserved every blaster bolt the moment Maarva voiced her grievances, and the people dared to nod along.
Whether it be an Oathkeeper or Pre-Mor Security, the thing that ties them together is what made Syril’s mother such an integral part of the show. These violent vigilantes absorb the messaging that society is on the brink of collapse and gladly answer the call…Little do they realize, they have as much in common with the very people they brutalize.
As soon as Syril loses his job, we see him going back to Coruscant and heading immediately into the lower levels where the more working-class/poor people would live in canon. On Ferrix, Cassian belonged to a working-class city, so in a sense Andor and Syril are essentially economic brothers. Similarly, poor white voters buy into the Great Replacement Theory, despite suffering at the hands of Republican legislatures who don’t invest in them to begin with.
For all his love of the Empire, Syril never once gained a favor from them aside from a clean record after he helped Dedra. The Empire literally took his job, his notes, and told him to stay out of it. Yet he still is desperate to be “next” and working alongside Dedra. In his mind, he is just one good clue or citizen’s arrest from joining the Imperial Security Bureau. This is his personal “you could be next!”
In our own world, we see this in how the working-poor and working-class white voters will organize against their own interests, believing they have more in common with the elite in society. Policies like rent control, gun control, or stronger safety nets (e.g. Health Insurance and Universal Basic Income) are batted down as “socialist” by people who are also struggling to make ends meet.
The pressure these people are feeling to commit violence is real: Poverty and lack of opportunity or communal resources are the culprit. However, the media and other sources tell them it’s because socialists, catering to undesirable groups, are the actual boogeymen. Eventually these people are squeezed to a point where they feel they must act. Syril wants to escape the reality of only eating cereal on the lower levels of Coruscant, but refuses to see the corruption of the Empire as the problem. Instead, he views the Rebels and whatever demands they are making and working towards as the problem that needs to be corrected before the Empire can improve people’s lives. Frankly, he probably thinks that Rebels stealing things or damaging property and the related security costs is precisely why things are so expensive, rather than recognizing that the Empire is vacuuming profit from everybody, and the only people who are profiting are an extremely select few.
Syril was such an exciting addition to Andor. From 1977 until 2022 there was the Empire, the Rebellion, and everyday people. With Syril specifically, we get to see a fourth element enter the equation of people who are being exploited but blame the Rebellion for their woes. Thinking back on Andor, it was so refreshing to continue following Syril even after he lost his job. We got to see the exact opposite of radicalization that everybody else in Andor was experiencing. While Cassian and Brasso and others were realizing that this system could not continue, Syril was getting damaged by the system and choosing to be that much more dedicated to the exact same system.
Having that arc in Star Wars hopefully gives people a stepping point to engage in these conversations in the real world. Many of our neighbors are experiencing this exact same level of systemic abuse, and when you look at articles of people trying to talk to their QAnon family members we see that there is still not a solid way to show them the deception that they are buying into. A fictional show may not be the solution we’re looking for, but by bringing Syril Karn to life Tony Gilroy has given people another example removed from day-to-day politics for people to use in rehabilitating those who have accepted Imperial propaganda into their life.