What Is the ISB, Imperial Security Bureau, in Andor?
Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Episodes 1-4 of Andor.He might not know it yet, but Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is in serious trouble. This week’s episode of Andor is here, and it introduced us to a very important part of the Empire, the Imperial Security Bureau (ISB). In “Aldhani“, we get our first glimpse into the internal workings of this ultra-secretive institution, one of those responsible for perpetuating the Imperial ideology and adoration for Emperor Sheev Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) during his reign. If you’re familiar with the Star Wars universe, then it was a real treat being able to actually see inside the ISB headquarters in Coruscant.
But what exactly does the ISB do, and how exactly does it work? The episode itself offers two different, but complementary explanations. First, Officer Dedra Meedro (Denise Gough) offers the textbook definition of the ISB: “To further security objectives by collecting intelligence, providing useful analysis and conducting effective covert action.” She is definitely a well-studied part of the Imperial machine, but that definition still lacks the ideological side, which Major Partagaz (Anton Lesser) promptly gives: “We are healthcare providers. We treat sickness. We identify symptoms. We identify germs whether they arise from within or have come from the outside. The longer we wait to identify a disorder, the harder it is to treat the disease.”
While Dedra’s definition is highly technical and objective, Partagaz offers a more nuanced perspective, more aligned with ISB’s true nature. They are Empire’s main intelligence agency and political police, a secret law enforcement organization whose mission is to exterminate any possible threat of rebellion and resistance to the Emperor’s New Order before it even takes form.
There are lots of real-world equivalents to the ISB, like the American FBI, the Soviet KGB, and even the Nazi Gestapo – not coincidentally, most of them being essential parts of authoritarian regimes themselves. The ISB is so important to the Empire that, if needed, their authority can even outrank those of military personnel, allowing them to take control over Stormtrooper corps, Imperial Navy vessels, and make military decisions. One of their other attributions is to root out any kind of anti-Imperial sentiment, making them responsible for censoring works of art and political demonstrations in general.
When Was the ISB Created?
The only other moment we see an ISB officer in live-action is in Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. In the meeting aboard the Death Star led by Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (Peter Cushing), Colonel Wullf Yularen (Robert Clarke) is present, seated to the right of Admiral Conan Antonio Motti (Richard LeParmentier). His is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance, but one of the things Star Wars does best, giving background characters incredible backstories. He is recognizable for being dressed in the ISB uniform, a white jacket with insignia with cylinder codes, black pants, and the optional black cap (which he is not wearing, but is part of the uniform) – and, of course, his iconic mustache.
The ISB itself was created by Emperor Palpatine right after the end of the Clone Wars and the rise of the Empire, with Yularen as one of its leading Colonels and chief strategists. He had previously served in the Grand Army of the Republic under Jedi General Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), and often clashed with his superior, in favor of his traditional and detailed operations instead of Skywalker’s more direct approach, as seen in The Clone Wars. Under Yularen’s leadership, the ISB grew from a handful of agents to an organization without which the Empire simply could not have survived.
So Andor is, therefore, the first time the ISB is shown in live-action chronologically, and its depiction could not have been better. The headquarters building in Coruscant is pretty ordinary, being neither tall nor shiny like many others on the planet. Inside, it has a pretty sterile look that matches Partagaz’s description of the organization itself. There are spotless white walls, corridors, floors, and ceilings everywhere, with a few light shades of gray being the only rest for the eyes. This is not coincidental, as white is a color that offers a clear contrast to all others and makes evident even the tiniest fleck, making it easier to clean – precisely the function of the ISB itself.
Where Else Have We Seen the ISB in Star Wars?
While new for live-action projects, the ISB is well-known in other corners of the Star Wars canon, as officers and agents have previously appeared to deal ISB’s own brand of justice out to insurrectionists and rebels alike. One of the most well-known is Agent Alexsandr Kallus (David Oyelowo), from the animation series Star Wars Rebels. He was sent by the ISB to investigate and neutralize the Specter Cell on Lothal. His work was conducted in parallel to that of the Inquisitors, as the rebel cell also harbored two Jedi, Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Ezra Bridger (Taylor Grey). He eventually defected to the Rebellion and very narrowly escaped the Empire’s wrath, as he was discovered by Colonel Yularen himself, with the help of Grand Admiral Thrawn (Lars Mikkelsen).
Another notable ISB officer was Sinjir Rath Velus, a character in the Aftermath book trilogy by Chuck Wendig. Velus was introduced right before his defection, but he worked as an Imperial loyalty officer, a job whose objective was to assure the loyalty of those who worked for and inside the Empire itself. As such, he was well-versed in interrogation and even torture. He also joined the Alliance, now known as the New Republic, as part of Norra Wexley’s working group (which also featured a young Temmin “Snap” Wexley, played in the Sequel Trilogy by Greg Grunberg).
After the formal end of the Empire following the battles of Endor and Yavin, many former ISB agents and officers took advantage of the fragmented Imperial structure to become leaders of their own Imperial Remnant factions. One of those was the outpost on the planet Morak, as seen in The Mandalorian. As the First Order evolved from the actual Imperial Remnant, it also designed its own version of the ISB, the First Order Security Bureau.
What Role Will the ISB Play in Andor?
By now, it’s safe to say that Dedra Meedro and Syril Karn (Kyle Soller) are the main antagonists in the first season of Andor. As of now, we have seen the insides of the ISB through Dedra’s point of view, while Karn took a similar role as a Preox-Morlana inspector. Having been fired from his job and being connected to the incident on Ferrix during the third episode, it’s a matter of time before Dedra makes him an asset in her favor with the information he has on Cassian Andor.
Another interesting plot to follow will be how Cassian and the rebels led by Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard) will deal with the ISB. At the time when Andor takes place, the Rebellion is still a handful of small cells that try to work in synchronicity and mostly through guerrilla warfare, still far from the inspiring days of the Rebel Alliance that we know will come. Meanwhile, the ISB has the full might of the Empire backing them. It’s a classic tale of David vs Goliath story. Even if we know the Rebels will eventually get the upperhand, lives will be sacrificed along the way to freedom from the Empire.