The Chiss were a tall, blue-skinned Near-Human civilization from the Unknown Regions, best known as the people to which Grand Admiral Thrawn belonged. Due to the remote position of their home territory in the Chiss Ascendancy they remained largely an enigma to the rest of the Galaxy, and contact with outsiders was limited even in the days of the Galactic Alliance.
The Chiss were a tall humanoid species, marked out from the majority of mainstream Galactic civilization by their pure blue skin, gleaming black hair, and glowing red eyes. Physically striking and instantly recognizable, and armed with a typically cool and disciplined manner, the mystique of the Chiss was further increased by the remote location of their territory in the Unknown Regions beyond the Outer Rim. But this remoteness also meant that they were largely disconnected from the Galaxy-spanning nexus of hyperspace travel and subspace communications that bound together the Old Republic, Empire and New Republic in turn, and thus detached from the associated pan-Galactic networks of economic, cultural and political contacts.
There is, in fact, evidence that intermittent, clandestine and low-level encounters between the Chiss and groups within the Old Republic had been ongoing for perhaps four millennia prior to the era of the Galactic Civil War; but these encounters left no visible, lasting impression on the Galaxy as a whole, and the isolation of the Chiss can be gauged by the fact that they remained largely unaware of standard languages such as Huttese and Basic, with communications with outsiders being conducted instead through local trade-languages such as Minnisiat.
The pace of contact began to accelerate shortly before the Clone Wars, but it was only after the Battle of Endor that the Chiss became visible for the first time on the wider Galactic stage—largely due to the rise to prominence of the exiled warrior named Thrawn, a military genius who became the only non-Human Grand Admiral in the Imperial Starfleet. Thrawn’s distinctive character has undoubtedly influenced subsequent popular perceptions of the Chiss as cool, enigmatic warriors, but he was a highly controversial figure among his own people, and two points must be borne in mind when considering the pattern of this and subsequent contacts. Firstly, interaction between outsiders and the Chiss remained largely restricted to encounters with military personnel, and the primarily martial nature of these encounters may not have reflected Chiss society as a whole. Moreover, it must also be appreciated that contact was made at this time with two distinct and entirely independent Chiss military forces, apparently reflecting two sharply diverging trends in Chiss opinion.
The first of these was Thrawn’s own Household Phalanx, personally loyal to him and his ideals, and allied with the Imperial forces that he brought to the Unknown Regions—the faction that came to be known as the Empire of the Hand. The other group was the Chiss Expansionary Defense Fleet, which served the Chiss Ascendancy, the government which exiled Thrawn in around 20 BBY for breaking its strict codes of military conduct, and which apparently commanded the loyalty, or at least the acceptance, of the vast bulk of the Chiss population.
The frequent confusion between the CEDF and the House Phalanx was just one indicator of how little the wider Galaxy knew or understood about the Chiss. Although Thrawn’s fame ensured that they rapidly became one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable of all non-Human peoples, much about them remained mysterious to Galactic civilization at large, even as the Unknown Regions began to be opened up in the age of the Galactic Alliance. Moreover, what was known about them was often hard to fully understand, and sometimes seemed paradoxical—and that may well have been exactly how they wanted the rest of the Galaxy to think of them.
The Chiss and baseline Humans regarded each other as aliens, but genetic studies have indicated that the two peoples were close biological cousins, and it is not clear whether the differences between them were the product of straightforward evolutionary divergence and differing planetary habitats, or the result of genetic engineering similar to that which produced such hybrid species as the Massassi, and the Myke.
Outwardly, the Chiss were distinguished from baseline Humans by three clearly visible traits—blue skin, midnight-black hair, and glowing red eyes; but their blood was red, and a case can be made that all these superficial features were the result of external factors in the biosphere of the ice-locked planet Csilla, said to be their homeworld, or at least, the political, cultural and military center of their civilization. Their coloration was said to be caused by the same atmospheric minerals that gave Csilla’s glaciers their distinctive bluish tinge, and while less is known about the reasons for their distinctive glowing red eyes, an environmental reaction does seem to be involved, in as much as Chiss eyes were observed to glow brighter as the oxygenation of the atmosphere increased.
Beyond these potentially superficial differences, it is not clear how far the Chiss diverged from Human norms. Although both Chiss and Humans speculated about distinct physiological differences, for instance in the vocal apparatus or skeletal structure, there is no really firm proof of stark evolutionary differences. It does seem that the Chiss possessed a faster-than-average metabolic rate, leading to a distinctively lean physique, and they were considered to have reached maturity by the age of ten or twelve; but there is nothing to say that the Chiss metabolic rate sits outside the range of known Human parameters, and it is not clear that their early maturity was a result of strictly genetic factors rather than cultural attitudes.
The Chiss are believed to have been established on Csilla for some time: records made available in the last years of the New Republic suggested that they had been there since before the beginning of the millennia-long ice-age in which the planet was then locked fast, and possibly since before the foundation of the Old Republic. By the time contact was made with modern Galactic civilization, they had extended their frontier across a volume of space in the Unknown Regions, perhaps encompassing as many as several hundred thousand star systems, and they claimed to have been a major interstellar power in this area for at least ten centuries; but while Chiss space had been mapped by astrogation missions over the centuries, it was by no means fully explored, still less intensively colonized.
The government on Csilla controlled 28 major colony worlds scattered across Chiss space, united in a political federation known as the Chiss Ascendancy. New Republic sources suggested that their interstellar expansion had been driven by the need to feed the large urban population of the capital, which had grown beyond the levels that Csilla could comfortably sustain, and estimated a total Chiss population for the Ascendancy of just less than five trillion. It is certainly true that newly-discovered frontier worlds such as Crustai were in the process of being opened up to large-scale settlement during the period between the Clone Wars and the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. Against this must be set rather more certain evidence that Chiss control over outlying systems such as Klasse Ephemora and Yashuvhu was tenuous, and Chiss space only occupied a tiny fraction of the Unknown Regions.
Considering their proximity to aggressive and expansionist species such as the Nagai, the Tofs and the Ssi-Ruuk, and in particular, the Killiks and the Vagaari, it is perhaps no surprise that the Chiss saw their territory as a bastion of calm and order in a chaotic galaxy. Under normal circumstances, the Ascendancy's relations with the rest of the Galaxy were governed by a strict formal policy of non-aggression backed up by strong defensive preparations; although the Chiss did not as a rule intervene in the affairs of others, outsiders were discouraged from encroaching on the untapped resources of the Ascendancy's territory by the threat of savage military reprisals against attackers. Although overt hostile action was formally required as a trigger for retaliation, simple territorial transgression could be interpreted by some Chiss patrol commanders as enough to constitute a violation. Differences of opinion over the rules of engagement evidently existed among the Chiss military and civilian hierarchy, but most outsiders seem to have been unaware of this, and uncertainty as to the exact mechanics of the system probably played a role in discouraging outsiders from venturing near Chiss territory.
In the final years of the Old Republic, however, a series of events sent tremors through the solid façade of Chiss society. By 37 BBY, the barbarian Vagaari were raiding volumes of space close to the Ascendancy's frontier, but far more serious concerns were raised by the direct incursion of a force from another alien race a few years later. Although the aliens were destroyed by a fleet led by Admiral Ar'alani, it quickly became apparent that what had been encountered was only a small scouting force, probing ahead of a massive alien invasion force. The invaders were almost certainly the Yuuzhan Vong, although it should be noted that the living planet Zonama Sekot, itself fleeing from a Yuuzhan Vong assault, took refuge in a remote area of Chiss space at around the same time, and its arrival was certainly noted by Expansionary Fleet patrols.
In response to the threat of invasion, a vast interstellar fortress began to be prepared in the Redoubt Cluster, while Thrawn, then a young officer in the Expansionary Fleet, began to press for the abandonment of the hallowed doctrine that outlawed preemptive strikes. He believed that the Chiss could not place themselves in a situation where they were forced to fight against the Vagaari and the Yuuzhan Vong simultaneously, but while others like Admiral Ar'alani and his brother Syndic Thrass acknowledged the danger, they viewed his enthusiasm for combat and aggressive scouting with some concern.
In 27 BBY, Thrawn's patrol encountered Corellian traders - the crew of the smuggler ship Bargain Hunter—marking what seems to have been the first modern contact between the Ascendancy and the Old Republic. Although initially suspicious of these outsiders, Thrawn decided that they were no threat, and he came to regard two of them, Jorj Car'das and Maris Ferasi, as friends.
Far more dangerous incursions from the Republic followed within a few months. Outbound Flight, a massive exploration mission consisting of six Dreadnaught Cruisers led by Jedi Master Jorus C'baoth, had unwittingly scheduled a sublight flythrough of a system on the edge of Chiss space, and it was here that a powerful Trade Federation battlegroup stationed itself in order to intercept and destroy them, led by Kinman Doriana, a personal agent of Darth Sidious. Thrawn, investigating the Trade Federation ships, utterly routed them, but an encounter with Doriana—and a HoloNet discussion with Sidious himself—persuaded him that the Jedi expedition could not be allowed to blunder into the Yuuzhan Vong.
Thrawn engineered a clash between the Vagaari and Outbound Flight, weakening both sides to the point at which his small patrol force could effectively end both threats, but the resulting battle did not unfold according to his plan: while C'baoth was attempting to kill Thrawn using the Force, a remnant of the Vagaari force was able to flee to hyperspace, and a series of Chiss radiation bombs designed for the Vagaari command craft were detonated aboard the Dreadnaughts. Although this killed the Jedi Master before he could kill Thrawn, the damage to the Republic expedition was disastrous. Of the fifty thousand personnel aboard Outbound Flight, only fifty-seven survived.
The aftermath of Outbound Flight also revealed tensions within the Chiss power structure, as Aristocra Chaf'orm'bintrano tried to claim Outbound Flight for the Fifth Ruling Family. It is unclear whether the Aristocra knew of the Yuuzhan Vong threat, but he was evidently prepared to fight both Ar'alani and Thrawn for control of Republic military technology, in order to shift the balance of power in favor of his own Family. Clearly, concerns with alien incursions were not the only challenge facing Chiss society at this time, and Thrawn's questioning attitude was not simply a challenge to a monolithic social order.
This was also, of course, the period of the Clone Wars, the fall of the Old Republic and the rise of the Galactic Empire; and not all contact at this time was outward from the Old Republic: a handful of individual Chiss had participated in the Clone Wars, such as the Separatist commander Sev'rance Tann and her lover, the bounty hunter Vandalor. Any or all of these events could have affected the course of developments in Chiss society at this time.
Thrawn, persisting in his challenges to received wisdom, was exiled by the Ascendancy—but in 19 BBY, he was discovered and recruited by the Empire. For almost three decades, however, his true capabilities, and his true status within the Imperial hierarchy, were kept carefully hidden even within the ranks of the military.
It appears that for much of this time, Thrawn was supervising a program of Imperial exploration and conquest in the Unknown Regions, joined not only by line elements of the Imperial military, but also by the Chiss warriors of his Household Phalanx. While the government of the Ascendancy turned their back on events beyond their borders, the influence of Thrawn’s ideas continued to spread, and over the next forty years, a steady flow of CEDF defectors and civilian volunteers left Chiss space to join the House Phalanx. Of course, tensions exist in any society between official policy and popular opinion, and while it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Thrawn’s actions polarized the situation, there are also some hints that the Chiss leadership's response was not direct hostility but a careful silence, behind which they were prepared to profit from the changing situation in surrounding space, and from the knowledge which returning House Phalanx personnel brought back to the Ascendancy.
It is possible that the Imperial command were, in turn, aware of this agenda on the Ascendancy's part, and some subsequent events and attitude might be more easily explained if Thrawn's senior Human and Chiss subordinates, Admiral Voss Parck and Commander Stent, had kept the Ascendancy and the Phalanx's own rank-and-file personnel largely in the dark about the true extent of Imperial involvement in the Unknown Regions. As so often with the Chiss, however, this interpretation is essentially a speculative attempt to make sense of apparently incompatible pieces of information, and other interpretations remain quite possible, such as the hypothesis that, apart from Phalanx forces, the idea of an organized Imperial presence beyond the Outer Rim was largely a fantasy.
Moreover, evidence for this period is very sparse. There are some fragments of information concerning campaigns conducted by Thrawn using Imperial line forces, and a vague sense of the ambiguous relationship between the Ascendancy and the Household Phalanx, but after Thrawn's exile, specific, detailed information about events concerning the Chiss is lacking until 4 ABY, that is to say, for a period coinciding almost exactly with Palpatine's reign. A few months after the Battle of Endor, however, a Chiss task force attacked the Ssi-Ruuvi Imperium, effectively destroying the Ssi-Ruuk as an interstellar power until they were revitalized a generation later by the machinations of Yuuzhan Vong agents. It is often said that this was formal CEDF retaliation for a prior attack on the Ascendancy, but it is possible that it was a preemptive strike carried out by Thrawn's forces, and that sources have been confused by the problem outsiders have shown in differentiating between the two groups.
Then, in 9 ABY, Thrawn left the Unknown Regions to take supreme command of the Empire's war machine, and launched his campaign against the New Republic. This was the first time that a Chiss became a major figure on the Galactic stage, and Thrawn made a dramatic and distinctive mark, comparable to that of Darth Vader or Tsavong Lah. In spite of his death at Bilbringi, his legacy endured, not least in the form of the House Phalanx and their allies in what was now known as the Empire of the Hand.
By 19 ABY, it would appear that the Empire of the Hand embraced a vast area of territory, up to thirty times the size of the Imperial Remnant within the Rim frontier. Yet the only recorded direct encounters with its forces took place on the largely uninhabited world of Nirauan. And while Nirauan is often described as the capital of the Empire of the Hand, the only settlement here, the fortress known as the Hand of Thrawn, seems to have served officially as a liaison post between the Remnant and the Ascendancy, with General Baron Soontir Fel apparently serving as a top-secret intermediary between Bastion and Csilla.
It is not clear exactly what the purpose of the negotiations undertaken by the former TIE ace were. Chiss paranoia was such that even in the Remnant's highest echelons, his mission and location were apparently largely unknown, and the Baron's sons, Davin and Jag, were required to enroll as cadets to a Chiss military academy, primarily as a hostage to ensure their father’s integrity.
Outwardly, it would appear that the Ascendancy itself had changed little over the decades since Thrawn’s exile. But beneath the glacial surface, it would appear that seismic shifts in opinion and attitudes were happening. Thrawn was privately revered by many in the CEDF, and by 22 ABY, Aristocra Chaf'orm'bintrano was flirting with Thrawn’s doctrines, negotiating secretly with the Imperials, and luring the resurgent Vagaari into starting a war. This Chaf'orm'bintrano bears bizarrely little resemblance to the haughty leader of fifty years earlier, who had condemned Thrawn's behavior and pursued the naked self-interest of his Family with such aggression. It may be that what New Republic observers saw at this time was in part a charade performed for their benefit, and accordingly, that much of what is believed about Chiss history in this timeframe is in fact misinformation.
What is certain is that over the next few years, largely during the Yuuzhan Vong War, a highly confusing series of events took place, affecting both the Ascendancy and the forces loyal to Thrawn.
First of all, Baron Fel assumed direct command of House Phalanx forces from his Chiss subordinate Commander Stent, and Jag returned from service with the Ascendancy to join, and then lead, the Chiss pilots of one of the Clawcraft squadrons under his father’s command. The rise of Human officers to command positions within the House Phalanx was accompanied by the unexplained end of all mention of the Empire of the Hand, and then by abrupt promotion of those same Human officers to high office within the Ascendancy itself. Simultaneously, it appears that massive internal upheavals saw a large part of the Ascendancy's ruling elite deposed from power. Years later, Chaf'orm'bintrano would claim that the Third Vagaari War had caused a significant labor shortage in the Ascendancy, leading indirectly to a radical shakeup of the factional politics of the Ascendancy. However, evidence which has come to light more recently suggests that no wars between the Ascendancy the Vagaari had occurred prior to 22 ABY, and it might be questioned whether three wars against them could have taken place in the handful of years between them and 28 ABY. Formbi's account of the upheavals in Chiss society at this time must accordingly be treated with some caution.
Formbi would also hint that Baron Fel had become involved in this "disagreement", securing victory for the faction he allied with. By 29 ABY, he had apparently been appointed to the senior position of Assistant Syndic in the Expansionary Fleet, and in 30 ABY, his son was named as the Ambassador from the Ascendancy to the Galactic Alliance. By 35 ABY, Jag was serving as a Chiss military commander under Chaf'orm'bintrano in the first skirmishes of what would become the Swarm War. Throughout all this, the Ascendancy continued to maintain its ostensible policy of eschewing first strikes; but at the same time, mention must be made of the clandestine cooperation of Chiss military scientists with New Republic Intelligence on the Alpha Red project.
It is possible that, with internal dissent bordering on civil war and running conflicts with the Vagaari and Yuuzhan Vong, Household Phalanx forces simply became militarily indispensable to the Chiss government; but it may also be that the Ascendancy's hierarchy saw this as a tactically acceptable way to achieve their own traditional goals. Enmeshing Baron Fel and the House Phalanx into the CEDF ended the decidedly unorthodox independence of Thrawn's forces, and strengthened the Chiss military as the Yuuzhan Vong began to posture against Chiss space—indeed, it transformed much of the troublesome dissident wing of Chiss society into expendable front-line troops. On an even more Machiavellian level, by accepting a few Human officers—or, it was suggested, similarly capable Ssi-Ruuk or Yuuzhan Vong—the Chiss would also gain insights into the ways their enemies thought and fought, enhancing the Ascendancy's ability to beat them in battle, and also their capacity to manipulate them to their own ends, diplomatically or psychologically.
However, all these hypotheses remain at best cautious extrapolation of possibilities from ambiguous hints in the evidence. The true nuance and context of these events, and their effect on Chiss society and politics, still remain largely unknown, and what little is known is, for now, largely unexplained.
Even in the era of the Galactic Alliance, the wider Galaxy seems to have had no direct contact with Chiss civilians. What was known about them was, as mentioned above, they mediated largely through encounter with military units, and through a few high-level contacts with political and diplomatic delegations. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that the military and the ruling class were the best understood aspects of Chiss society; or at least, the best documented.
The Ruling Families
Much of the political power within the Ascendancy seems to have rested with a group of affiliations known as the Ruling Families (or sometimes "Ruling Houses"), which seem to have had features of both lineage-groups and specialized castes, and who between them provided leadership for the Chiss in all aspects of society.
One level, the Ruling Families were, as their name suggests, defined by blood relationships; but while lineage undoubtedly played an important role in the structure of the Families, merit also had a part in defining membership. Formal processes of advancement existed by which commoners—a term which apparently covered the vast bulk of the Chiss citizenry—could achieve status in the Family hierarchy. A study of Chiss society produced by the University of Sanbra in the last years of the New Republic claims that the Family lineages stretched the length of Chiss history and spanned the breadth of the Chiss population, so that every Chiss was associated with a Ruling Family; but if this is correct, the mechanisms of advancement make it clear that there was a division between those who were actual members of the Families, and those commoners who were merely affiliated to them.
The best-documented means of acquiring Family status through merit was that which operated in the military. For the duration of their service, every officer in the Chiss military was attached to one of the Ruling Families as a "merit adoptive", and while under normal circumstances, this Family status was lost when an individual left the service, those of particular ability were said to be "born to trial", and given the opportunity to make their Family status permanent.
If these Trial-born of the Family were successful, they would be permanently "matched" to the lineage; conversely, members of a Ruling Family could apparently also be "released" and "rematched", although it is even less clear how this processes operated. It is possible that marriage was involved in matching, although no mention is yet known that indicates an institution of marriage among the Chiss.
There was a hierarchy of leadership within each Family, consisting of brothers and sisters (known collectively as siblings), plus cousins, and ranking distant relations—the last being the highest level that the most able Trial-born could reasonably hope to achieve. Individuals with the ranks of Aristocra and Syndic also served as high-level representatives of the Families, with seemingly plenipotentiary powers, though an Aristocra could hold only collateral rank within the internal hierarchy, and a Syndic at least could be Trial-born. It is in fact possible that the titles of "Aristocra" and "Syndic" denoted hereditary and adoptive members of the family respectively, but no clear evidence is known to prove this hypothesis.
Chiss officers serving alongside the New Republic during the Yuuzhan Vong war indicated that the highest structures of power and influence within the Family hierarchies were kept largely secret from those outside them. It is likely that an Aristocra or a Syndic was typically a proxy for these unseen leaders, but when a Jedi delegation visited Csilla in 29 ABY, they were met by ostensible leaders of the Ruling Families whose identities were concealed by hooded cloaks in what appear to have been symbolic shades of color denoting their bloodlines.
In spite of the outward impression of calm and order that the Chiss liked to project to outsiders, there were evidently tensions within the Families. In 27 ABY, the Chaf were prepared to incite civil war if it would give them an ascendancy over the other Families, and political assassinations were apparently a real part of Chiss political life for the Ruling Families and other allied kin-groups. A tradition of Shadow Children is recorded, offspring who were kept safely anonymous to prevent a family bloodline being fully extirpated. Of course, as with most information on the Chiss, this custom was reported by a Chiss source, rather than directly observed; and in this case, it was offered as an explanation for an apparent paradox in previously-supplied information. The usual refrain must once again be given: much remains uncertain about Chiss society.
At this point, however, we must turn to one of the most perplexing of all the problems in the evidence for Chiss society. In 27 BBY, the Corellian spacers who encountered the Ascendancy were told that there were at that time nine Ruling Families, though at various times in Chiss history, the number of affiliations was said to have fluctuated from three to twelve. The Fifth Ruling Family were the Chaf, who wore yellow, and apparently held a specific portfolio for diplomacy and foreign affairs, while the Second and Eighth Ruling Families shared a military oversight role. It was to the second of these two Families that Thrawn and his brother Thrass belonged; they wore dark red, and naming patterns indicate that they were known as the Mitth Family.
This situation seems to have held constant until 22 ABY, but in the University of Sanbra study mentioned above, written about five years after this date, only four lineages were identified, with no hint that this situation was anything other than immemorial.
According to the Sanbra report, House Csapla was responsible for relationship between Csilla and the colony worlds, and the associated distribution of foodstuffs and the allocation of economic resources. House Nuruodo was responsible for relations with outsiders, including control of the CEDF—a role which suggests that they should be identified with the earlier Second Ruling Family. House Inrokini was responsible for technological research, manufacturing, and the information infrastructure. And House Sabosen was responsible for law and order, healthcare and education. The cloaks of the representatives encountered in 29 ABY, in bronze, rust-red, gray and copper-green, implicitly represented the colors of these families.
The official explanation offered for the discrepancy between the "Nine Families" of 22 ABY and the "Four Families" of 29 ABY is that in the aftermath of the Third Vagaari War, safeguards designed to prevent Chiss from being absorbed by the hive-minds of their newly-contracted Killik laborers were compromised, resulting in two of the Ruling Families becoming Joiners. A subsequent "disagreement" over how to respond to the crisis saw three other families removed from power, apparently by the intervention of Thrawn’s Household Phalanx.
However, it is not at all clear how seriously this information can be taken, as it was conveyed by Aristocra Chaf’orm’bintrano, of the Chaf Family: the Aristocra himself represented one of the five Families absent from the Sanbra material, and he referred in passing to Baron Fel’s opponent Commander Ina’ganet’nuruodo, whose name would suggest she was a member of House Nuruodo, as being a scion of one of the "destroyed" lineages. Further adding to the complexity, it can be observed that whereas Fel identified Ganet as a syndic's phalanx commander, the militia chief from a colony world, she herself claimed to speak for the CEDF, of which Fel was, according to all other evidence, field commander.
Various explanations for the seeming discrepancies and inconsistencies are possible, but the safest observation to make is that here, as with most other elements of Chiss life, the evidence available does not allow firm conclusions as to the underlying truth of the matter.
Given the caveats noted above, it is perhaps best to treat the rest of the University of Sanbra material on Chiss government with some caution, in emphasis if not precisely in content. The report claimed that the twenty-eight colony worlds were led by "appointed governors, or House leaders". Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is not entirely clear whether this phrase signifies one group or two: the Sanbra information says that they were all elected in a "democratic" manner, but other evidence suggets that the Ruling Families had significant authority in at least some colonies, and the title of House leader suggests at an association with the quasi-dynastic Families (especially as they are called Houses in the Sanbra material). Whatever the case, it but it seems that the planetary leaders held executive authority on their own worlds—for instance, House leaders "usually" appointed the commanders of the Colonial Phalanxes—and they also came together to form the Chiss Parliament, sitting in a building known as the House Palace, located on Csilla in the capital city of Csapla (the name of which seems obviously related to that of House Csaplar).
However, the federal powers of these representatives, who seem to have been known collectively as "Senators", were largely limited to voicing concerns that would then be responded to by a central oligarchy, consisting of the Family hierarchy—perhaps in the form of the Council of Families mentioned in 27 BBY—acting in conjunction with the Cabinet, a cadre of administrative officials appointed by the Families themselves. It was this élite that was apparently responsible for all aspects of policy and strategy, shaping and directing Chiss society across the Ascendancy through controlling the allocation of resources in a highly-controlled and money-free command economy.
The sources generally suggest that the Chiss prized stability and tradition, but it is, in the final analysis, entirely unclear how transparent or influential the democratic process represented by the Parliament truly was, and utterly unknown how effective the Families and Cabinet managed the means of distribution, or whether any sort of black economy functioned alongside the state apparatus.
The best-documented element of the Chiss state was the military, but even here, here are many uncertainties. The front-line armed forces of the Ascendancy were referred to variously as the Chiss Expansionary Defense Force or "Chiss Expansionary Defense Fleet", and sometimes by the acronym "CEDF", or by shorter forms such as "Chiss Expansionary Defense", "Chiss Expansionary Force", or "Chiss Defense Fleet". In part, this oscillation in terminology may have reflected only a quirk of translation or idiom, but within the CEDF, there was apparently a clear distinction between the Chiss Defense Fleet and Chiss Expansionary Fleet, and given the complex semantics and linguistics of the Cheunh language, it is not impossible that the other differentiations of terminology, such as the alternation between 'Force' and 'Fleet', also carried subtle inflections of meaning for the Chiss. We might compare the concurrent use of the terms "Fleet", "Navy" and "Defense Force" under the New Republic, the usage of which sometimes reflected the subtle complexities of linguistic register, political ideology and inter-service rivalry—and sometimes meant nothing at all.
The Defense Fleet was charged with repelling invasions of the Ascendancy, but but little is known for sure about its strength or organization, except that it seems to have been the senior arm of the CEDF: Admirals of the Defense Hierarchy took direct command of Defense Fleet battlegroups, and also held oversight over the Expansionary Fleet. The mandate of the Expansionary Fleet, in contrast, was defined as guarding the Chiss frontier and explore unknown space beyond the edge of the Aascendancy, and its forces included Picket Forces commanded by officers known as Force Commanders (sometimes shortened to Commander; Crahsystor in Cheunh). The best-known of these frontier units is Picket Force Two, which in 27 BBY apparently consisted of three light cruisers, each with three fighter escorts, plus a further five fighters and two transport shuttles at their asteroid base in the Crustai system.
Adding to the confusion is a variety of evidence for other Chiss military forces operating alongside, and sometimes in opposition to, the black-uniformed personnel of the Expansionary Fleet and the Defense Fleet. Thrawn's Household Phalanx has already been mentioned, and in 27 BBY, the Chaf Family were also observed to deploy military forces of their own, capable of deploying nine light cruisers at short notice, in an effort to overwhelm an Expansionary Fleet picket force. Just as some of Thrawn's warriors would later wear the burgundy colors of the Ruling Family to which Thrawn belonged, many Chaf Family personnel were observed at this time wearing uniforms in the yellow of the Family they served. These Chaf Family forces are never called a Household Phalanx, however, and there is thus no clear evidence whether there was a precise parallelism between the two
Further complicating matters, the University of Sanbra study does not mention House forces directly, but makes a clear-cut distinction between the CEDF, whose duty was to guard the frontier and retaliate against attacks, and the Colonial Phalanxes which guarded the twenty-eight colony worlds of the Ascendancy. The Sanbra material says that Colonial Phalanxes were designed to provide reinforcements for the Expansionary Defense when required, but also states that they were answerable under normal circumstances to "House leaders" rather than the Defense Hierarchy, which suggests that they may have been at least partially identical to the forces loyal to the Ruling Families, not least because the Families seem to have governed at least some of the Chiss colony worlds as fiefs within the Ascendancy. As usual, the evidence can hardly be called unambiguous, and even if the majority of Colonial Phalanxes were assigned to the Ruling Families, some may not have been.
Additional to all this, of course, were the forces of Thrawn's rogue Household Phalanx: in 19 ABY they could deploy at least a hundred Blastboat-sized TIE scouts, and in 26 ABY they deployed a wing of 36 Clawcraft at Garqi and Ithor. It is likely that overall numbers were significantly larger, and the Nirauan garrison may have included distinct elements of infantry and gunnery specialists, but is not known whether the Phalanx maintained any major surface-warfare or capital ship forces.
There were thus potentially as many as five distinct military organizations within Chiss society:
- Defense Fleet—defensive fleet units under the authority of a central high command.
- Expansionary Fleet—frontier patrols and exploration missions.
- Colonial Phalanxes—planetary militias guarding the Chiss colony worlds.
- Household Phalanxes—paramilitary guards loyal to the aristocratic Ruling Families.
- Chiss warriors fighting for the Empire of the Hand—including Thrawn's rogue House Phalanx and possibly also other Chiss personnel among the "forces of the Empire".
The situation is only rendered more complex when it is considered that the different organizations may have overlapped considerably. For example: the Defense Fleet seems to have had oversight over the Expansionary Fleet, and both were certainly combined within the "Expansionary Defense", and it is possible that a House Phalanx could also be a Colonial Phalanx, but if so, that does not mean that every Colonial Phalanx was a House Phalanx—some of the colonies may have been controlled by democratic leaders or state-appointed governors rather than Family leadership. It is known that military academies existed, such as that at Rhigar in the Rata Nebula, but it is not clear whether Rhigar provided personnel for all arms of the Chiss military, or if it represented a single Ruling Family or colony world—in 19 ABY, the names of the Commandant and Cadet Commander suggest that they both belonged to the Nuruodo affinity, but again, this is not certain evidence, and even if the names is being interpreted correctly, they may merely indicate merit adoption within a wider CEDF framework.
Equally difficult to ascertain are the overall numbers of personnel, capital ships and starfighters in each grouping. By the time of the Swarm War in 37 ABY, the CEDF could deploy a powerful fleet of thirty Chiss Star Destroyers in the Battle of Tenupe, with each Star Destroyer massing more tonnage than an entire Picket Force of sixty years earlier; but it is not known what the relative contributions of the different elements of the Chiss military apparatus were to this fleet—or even whether the old distinctions remained intact.
Even more uncertain is the question of ground forces. Sizeable forces of armored infantry and artillery were deployed by dropships at the Battle of Tenupe, but their position in the order of battle is unknown, and apart from the bodyguard details who typically accompanied senior figures, the only other surface-army soldier known to have been directly encountered by outsiders was General Prard'ras'kleoni, the senior military officer on the Chaf Envoy's mission to Outbound Flight in 22 ABY. He identified himself as a ground officer and also as an officer of the Defense Fleet, which suggests that a sizeable force of surface-warfare troops was assigned under direct Defense Hierarchy control but again, this is just an inference from the slender evidence available, and the situation may appear very different if even a little more evidence becomes available.
Much of the Chiss rank structure seems to have paralleled the patterns that would have been familiar to contemporary Basic-speakers, though it is unclear how much the semantics of the original Chiss terminology survived the translation from Cheunh, and most Chiss ranks can be read as titles reflecting officers' specific roles, rather than elements of an abstract hierarchy comparable to the militaries of mainstream Galactic civilization. The title of Commander was common, denoting the officers in charge of many elements, varying from a cadet squadron upwards through a frontier patrol and a space station, to a major fleet unit. Junior officers, including personnel in cadet units, were titled Lieutenant, while the ranking officers of naval ships were styled Captain. Some senior ground-combat officers serving with the Defense Fleet bore the rank of General, while the rank of Admiral was used by senior officers of the Defense Hierarchy. There is as yet no direct evidence that other conventional ranks, such as Major and Colonel, existed outside the Imperial-influenced forces of Thrawn’s House Phalanx, and it is only after 35 ABY that clear evidence exists of CEDF officers using styles like Commander and Captain as substantive ranks, formally equivalent with Galactic Alliance command structure: previous examples may be looser titles denoting position.
Other primarily positional titles included Chief Engineer, borne by Yal'avi'kema of the Springhawk in 27 BBY, medical officer, used by Baltke of the Fell Defender in 37 ABY, and Chief Navigator, apparently a very senior title within the hierarchy, borne in 29 ABY by the Human ex-Imperial officer Peita Aabe.
At the same time as Aabe was Chief Navigator, another ex-Imperial, Baron Soontir Fel, was introduced as Assistant Syndic of the CEDF, seemingly another very senior post. This implies an even more senior position of Syndic, perhaps analogous to Supreme Commander, and Syndic was also cited in one New Republic source as the title of Colonial Phalanx commanders; but Syndic is also—and more clearly—recorded as a political position associated with at least some of the Ruling Families. It is thus unclear exactly what the position of Assistant Syndic operated, or how this rank related to the powerful Admirals of the Defense Hierarchy: whereas both the Assistant Syndic and Chief Navigator wore the usual black uniforms, an Admiral wore white: an important distinction that will be discussed in the next section.
Most Chiss military personnel encountered by outsiders wore sharply-cut black uniforms, varying according to rank and occasion from ornate ceremonial dress to practical combat jumpsuits. All uniforms appear to have carried at least a little colored trim, increasing in quantity on more formal attire, and alongside the essentially horizontal divisions of uniform style, further lateral distinctions separated officers whose uniforms bore different colored flashes. These apparently denoted affiliation to one of the Ruling Families: the young Force Commander Mitth'raw'nuruodo bore red flashes which indicated his status as a member of the Mitth Family, and General Prard'ras'kleoni also wore red, while Captain Brast'alshi'barku of the diplomatic ship Chaf Envoy had green tabs, and some junior personnel aboard the Springhawk had shoulder straps displaying a combination of blue-and-yellow.
Sometimes, colored trim may have had a meaning that was not directly related to Family allegiance. Red seems to have had martial associations: red piping was worn by military cadets at Rhigar, for whom it represented a military ideal known as Red Flame, which may have been of significance throughout Chiss society, while the Mitth Family, with their burgundy colors, were one of the two Ruling Families with political oversight over the military. In contrast, the occasional non-Chiss allowed for political reasons to train at Chiss military academies were distinguished by blue piping, and this usage may also explain the mixed blue-and-yellow colors used by some warriors; these may have been commoners given status as merit adoptives of Ruling Families at the start of their military service, their status denoted by combining Family colors with blue, rather than the pure color that would reflect permanent affiliation by birth or merit.
Regardless of these details, one thing that is clear is that the aesthetic of Chiss military uniforms was part of a wider visual pattern, in which specific colors were associated with specific social groups. The black uniforms of the Defense Force represented the fact that personnel were drawn from all branches of the Chiss community, black being perceived as a combination of all the colors. In contrast, an Admiral of the Defense Hierarchy wore gleaming white, and given that Admirals also renounced Family allegiance, this probably indicates a removal of all color. It is possible that other personnel directly answerable to the Defense Hierarchy, such as bodyguards, also wore white, but some Defense Fleet personnel such as General Drask certainly wore black uniforms like Expansionary Fleet personnel. It seems probable that Drask's red trim indicates a particular Family affiliation, but it is also possible that this was a generic Defense Fleet distinction, continuing the apparent association of red colors with specifically military duties.
Individual colors were worn by civilian and paramilitary personnel from the various Ruling Families. The diplomats of the Chaf Family dressed in yellow clothes offset against varying quantities of gray trim according to status, while their guards, probably Household Phalanx warriors, wore yellow jumpsuits. The Mitth Family, as noted above, wore red, and here again, Family representatives wore gray trim, but it the various combinations of black-and-burgundy worn by officers of Thrawn's Household Phalanx require further discussion.
Since warriors of the Chaf Family wore yellow uniforms, it might be thought that the basic color of Mitth Family House Phalanx uniforms should have been burgundy: Syndic Mitth'ras'safis wore burgundy with gray trim and Thrawn wore red trim on his black uniform as a Force Commander in the Expansionary Fleet. But although burgundy uniforms with black collars were recorded when Thrawn's House Phalanx were first encountered in 22 ABY, most subsequent references describe Household Phalanx troops in predominantly black uniforms red trim, and sometimes simply in black; at Ithor in 26 ABY, the House Phalanx pilots under Jag Fel's command wore white uniforms, a color otherwise associated only with the senior command personnel of the Defense Hierarchy, and seemingly more appropriate for an Admiral's guards.
On this occasion, Jag himself wore a uniform and flight suit remarkably similar to those of his father’s former unit, and the black uniforms of some Phalanx personnel may simply be Imperial lancer tunics and flight suits: even the burgundy-uniformed troops on Nirauan wore Imperial rank insignia, and the red piping sometimes mentioned on Jag's uniform could denote House allegiance, or else echo the uniforms worn by Baron Fel’s former command, the 181st Fighter Wing.
Alternatively, just as military personnel and civilian Family representatives wore varying quantities of House color on a neutral background—black for soldiers, gray for house dignitaries—it is possible that the black on some House Phalanx uniforms represents a "military" trim, and that these "black" uniforms are in fact red uniforms where the alternative color predominates as an indication of some specific status.
Given these confusions, it is perhaps no surprise that it is not always clear just who the Chiss troops encountered by outsiders were loyal to. In 29 ABY, when a Jedi delegation visited Chiss space, personnel supposedly from the CEDF were described as wearing uniforms with extensive burgundy or purple predominating over the black fabric, but we cannot tell on current evidence if these were simply ceremonial CEDF uniforms decorated with deep shades of red, or if these were really Phalanx personnel masquerading as CEDF officers, or if their uniforms indicated something else entirely.
Ultimately, it is clear that there were complexities to the system that cannot be fully understood from the evidence to hand, and the overlap of colors between the Household Phalanx and some CEDF units can only have compounded the problems outsiders had in distinguishing personnel from the two organizations. At the risk of stating the inevitable, the available evidence frequently contains seeming inconsistencies, but does not often allow confident explanations.
Language and names
The Chiss language, Cheunh, was complex and densely-constructed, expressing complicated ideas by combining smaller elements into intricate words and phrases. It was hard for outsiders to understand, and the Chiss believed that it was quite impossible for non-Chiss to learn to speak it properly. Given the near-Human genealogy of the Chiss, it is unclear how much store can be put by their suggestions that ‘aliens’ such as baseline Humans simply had inadequate vocal mechanisms: simple chauvinism may have factored into this perception, or alternatively, understanding might have depended on subtle phonetic contrasts which non Cheunh-speakers would lose the ability to distinguish or articulate in infancy.
Linguistically, Cheunh was highly synthetic, which is to say that complex meaning was conveyed by forming compound words from conjunctions of sense-bearing word-elements known as morphemes. While not unusual as a linguistic principle, synthetic construction appears to have been taken to extremes by the Chiss, and it may be that communicating in Cheunh required a conscious awareness of individual morphemes and phonemes and a subtle ear for complex linguistic relationships, far more than was demanded of, for instance Basic-speakers. Such a sensitivity would also explain the remarkable acuity shown by at least some Chiss in picking out important recurring agglutinations from long phrases of alien languages that they had not previously encountered. One factor that certainly added to the complexity of the language was the fact that written Cheunh was not set down in a phonetic alphabet like the Aurebesh, but rather, assembled using ideograms. And on top of all this, at least some phrases in the language were highly idiomatic – the pejorative moactan teel meant literally "fair-haired", implying that something about the addressee was non-Chiss, and hence barbarous.
Outsiders, however, had little exposure to Cheunh except through Chiss personal names. A Chiss was most often known and addressed by a short core name, which was an abbreviated form of a longer full name, consisting of three distinct primary sections; perhaps inevitably, Chiss full names were often hard for those who were not native Cheunh speakers to pronounce correctly. Usage of the full name appears to have indicated politeness or formality, whereas the core name was apparently used with in situations where brevity and simplicity was preferred, as among friends, in combat communications, or with aliens such as Basic-speakers, who could not easily master the complex phonetics of the full name. The predominance of core names, at least in communication with outsiders, was such that a number of such names were recorded without the full name being known, such as Prakk, Kayree, Lev, Szardra, Voss and Zilvad.
It seems clear, however, that the core name was typically formed by combining the short central section of the name with the last sound of the preceding section and the opening sound of the following. Thus Thrawn was more formally Mitth'raw'nuruodo, Commander Stent of the House Phalanx was Kres'ten'tarthi and Captain Talshib, the line commander of the diplomatic ship Chaf Envoy, was Brast'alshi'barku.
However, some evidence suggests that several somewhat different semantic and phonetic patterns were used in constructing the full names of different Chiss. Most notably, it appears that a primary familial relationship could be indicated by both the opening and closing elements.
On the one hand, the Chaf diplomats Chaf'orm'bintrano ("Formbi") and Chaf'ees'aklaio ("Feesa") bore the name of the Ruling Family to which they belonged as the first element of their full name, and this also defined the opening sound of their core name. Likewise the brothers Mitth'raw'nuruodo and Mitth'ras'safis were both (adoptive) members of the Eighth Ruling Family, suggesting that this family was known as the Mitth. A similar family relationship is implied between General Prard'ras'kleoni ("Drask") and Station Commander Prard'enc'iflar, although it is not known whether "Prard" is one of the Nine Families.
This usage is also borne out by the name of Admiral Ar'alani of the Defense Hierarchy, and probably that of Sev'rance Tann, a Separatist General from the Clone Wars. It is known that senior Chiss military personnel surrendered Family status on assuming high command. and both these women appear to have discarded the initial element of their name to signify this elevation.
In contrast, the name of House Nuruodo is attested only as a final element. Somewhat confusingly, it appears in the name of Mitth'raw'nuruodo, whose House we would have otherwise taken to be called Mitth; it is also found in the names of the female officers Ina'ganet'nuruodo and Hess'irolia'nuruodo, and in the differently-presented names of military academy commandant Gimald Nuruodo and Clawcraft pilot Shawnkyr Nuruodo. Adding to the confusion, while Mitth'raw'nuruodo causes semantic problems, all the other "Nuruodo" names diverge to a greater or lesser degree from the expected transcription pattern outlined above.
In the case of the female CEDF officers Ina'ganet'nuruodo ("Ganet") and Hess'irolia'nuruodo ("Irolia"), while the overall structure of the names was broadly the same, the core name and the central element of the full name appear to have been identical with, without obvious input from the opening and closing sections. In contrast, the names of Gimald Nuruodo and Shawnkyr Nuruodo appear to have combined core name and House name, in a manner more typical of other species’ forename-surname usages.
Another Chiss with an anomalous names was the important historical figure Jer'jo Cam'co, who may have predated standard Chiss naming conventions—though it is worth noting that as the founding Syndic of the CEDF, he may likely to have belonged to House Nuruodo, along with most of the other individuals recorded with anomalous names.
A number of factors may have contributed to the variety within Chiss naming patterns. There may have been a genuine variety of naming systems in use, some more subtly differentiated than others. The dense and complex phonetic and morphological structure of Cheunh may have had unusual effects on pronunciation. Alternatively, at least part of the distinction may have been due to the use of varying standards of transliteration conventions — not least because written Cheunh was apparently a primarily ideographic language, and "literal" transcriptions may not have adequately reflected pronunciation.
With questions of transcription and pronunciation in mind, we can consider the name of Aristocra Mitt'swe'kleoni ("Tswek"), the legate dispatched by the Ascendancy to Coruscant in 35 ABY. The first element of his name looks as though it indicates membership of the Mitth Family, but compositional factors would appear to have influenced pronunciation of the final phone, with a sound usually corresponding approximately to a dental fricative having morphed into an alveolar stop. It is unclear how, if at all, such a distinction would have been marked in written Cheunh.
Turning from questions of linguistics to questions of meaning, two possible, if perhaps only partial, solutions can be suggested that might explain the apparent inconsistencies in Chiss naming patterns. Although "Chaf", "Mith", and "Prard" are only attested as opening units, and "Nuruodo" only as a closing one, the fact that the opening and closing sections of names alike could apparently indicate lineage descent may mean that both were typically tokens of ancestry, perhaps indicating the families of the father and paternal grandfather, or the father's male-line ancestry and the mother's female-line lineage. This would also explain why Thrawn's full name included the two name-elements Mitth and Nuruodo.
Additional to this, it can be observed that some Chiss could choose to align themselves with more than two houses, so unless such a choice implied a name-change, it may be that a Chiss could belong to a House not directly indicated in his full name, explaining the utility of the core name plus House name construction. For instance, it might have been permissible to refer Chaf'orm'bintrano as "Formbi Chaf", while Shawnkyr Nuruodo may (speculatively) have had a full name in which the first and last element indicated familial ties without incorporating the name of the House to which she belonged. Certainly, known members of Thrawn's Household Phalanx, such as Krest'en'tarthi and his subordinates Brosh, Sorn, and Dreel, have names that are show know sign of the primary family-indicative elements.
Alternatively, it is not impossible that many or most of the apparent inconsistencies are simply discrepancies of flawed or eccentric Aurebesh transcription, and that "Sev'rance Tann" and "Shawnkyr Nuruodo" should have been something like "Sev'rance'tann" and "Shawnk'yr'nuruodo" under the standard transcription, with the conventional core names "Vrancet" and "Kyrn."
Ultimately, however, as with all aspects of Chiss culture, much still remains unclear about how the Cheunh language and the associated pattern of personal names operated.
One major problem caused by the distance which the Chiss keep from outsiders is the relative paucity of evidence for their culture outside of the fields of language, society, and military culture.
One feature that can be noted is the distinctive Chiss mode of dress, though this also hints at connections with wider aesthetic and cultural patterns in the Unknown Regions. The tailoring of garments from an asymmetrical patchwork of subtly contrasting pieces is reminiscent of the Ebruchi, but, more prominently, the use of symbolic colors to indicate family and profession finds parallels among nearby species. Among the neighboring Killiks, the Unu adopted the red, gold and purple family colors of the Human "Joiner King", Raynar Thul, while the Kind and Joiners of the Gorog "Dark Nest" were distinguished by a deep midnight-blue coloring to their carapaces or clothing. The reptilian Ssi-Ruuk similarly distinguished among their castes by the colors of their scales. Among the Chiss, the Chaf family and their retainers wore yellow, adherents of the Mitth and Nuruodo affinities may have wore shades of red, and the Csaplar, Sabosen and Inrokini families apparently dressed in gray, bronze and green. The quantity of color also denoted status: black, perceived as a combination of all the colors, served as the base color of military uniforms, and a neutral gray backing was used on the formal dress of civilian House representatives like an Aristocra or a Syndic.
When foreigners thought of the Chiss, however, it was almost inevitable that they would think first and foremost of Thrawn, dressed in the sharply tailored and gleaming white uniform of an Imperial Grand Admiral. On a purely visual, even aesthetic level, it can be seen in retrospect that Thrawn’s distinctive appearance made him not just instantly recognizable, but also quintessentially Chiss in appearance—not least because in Chiss terms, pure white denoted an Admiral of the Defense Hierarchy. What is rather less clear how much Thrawn’s cool, subtly creative and resolutely confident character reflected ‘typically’ Chiss behavior patterns.
As alluded to above, at least some elements in the Chiss military are known to have prized a warrior ideal known as the "Red Flame"—a combination of courage, discipline and cunning; and this is an ideal that, at first glance, Thrawn could also be said to have embodied. But such values have been traditionally common to many military organizations, and the practical demands of military discipline in the armed forces do not in themselves require a philosophical collectivism in mainstream civilian culture.
Nevertheless, one observed cultural trait that does seem to have had a wider cultural cachet is a stress on conformity and consistency. There are hints at a social structure stratified to the point of frigid immobility, suggestions that traditional ceremony and polite behavior were regarded as important factors in ensuring social stability, and, more clearly, evidence for a culturally-predicated reluctance to acknowledge change or difficulty. All of this may have meant subordinating individual feelings to the requirements of the group, and a prioritization of discipline and common purpose over freedom and individuality. A stress on the extended family as the primary social unit, and a sense that civilization was represented by public acts external to individual drives, may have led the Chiss to define themselves less by what made them individuals than by what made them distinctively members of their own culture and people—and thus, encouraged to contrast themselves sharply with non-Chiss, who were clearly distinctive in their priorities, and who did not share their formal perception of right action and appropriate behavior. Such an attitude could in turn, have accounted for their traditional aversion to aggressive warfare, and the chaotic situations and contact with outsiders that it entailed.
The opposition to preemptive strikes was, however, an issue on which Thrawn disagreed emphatically with convention; and it may not be over-emphasizing the contrast to further note that where the ethos of the CEDF placed a firm stress on self-restraint, obedience and success, placing these qualities ahead of individualism, inspiration and commendable effort, the Grand Admiral is known to have encouraged personal initiative and rewarded creative thinking even when the outcome was less than perfect success. Moreover, where Thrawn showed a keen interest in understanding the unique cultural, aesthetic, and ideological traits of alien species, more traditionalists Chiss seem to have regarded the distinctions between Chiss and non-Chiss as insurmountable. One typical Chiss attitude that Thrawn's character may reflect is a disinclination to confront problems directly, which may be manifested in his fondness for lateral strategies, and in his apparently boundless optimism; but his quiet enthusiasm and his enjoyment of conversation and the exchange of ideas with subordinates are very different from the intense demeanor and lack of direct discussion that seems to have been typical of Chiss in similar situations.
Further to this, it should be noted that all the evidence cited for "tradition" relates directly only to the orthodox military teachings of the CEDF, and perhaps by extension, the vested interests of the Ascendancy’s elite. Amid the general paucity of comparable evidence for wider Chiss society, it seems reasonably clear that there was no universal consensus on the nature or morality of Thrawn's actions, intentions or ideals: as in the wider Galaxy, multiple interpretations of his behavior and character were current among the Chiss, both during and after his lifetime.
Depending on one's point of view, it could be said that Thrawn represented a broad range of points of view on one side of a spectrum of opinion, or pointed opposition to the ruling consensus and the systems of established power. Whatever the case, it is clear that the orthodoxy of the Ascendancy was not the only attitude current among the Chiss in the years between the fall of the Old Republic and the birth of the Galactic Alliance, and that Thrawn was not an anomalous eccentric: as well as fierce opponents, he also had loyal supporters.
Following on from this last observation, it should be stressed that many of the Chiss subsequently encountered by outsiders were House Phalanx warriors, personally loyal to Thrawn, and thus presumably influenced by his personal qualities. While representing a distinct tendency among the Chiss, they were thus atypical in some sense of conventional behavioral norms of the Ascendancy.
The contrast between Thrawn's followers and traditional orthodoxy can be seen more clearly if we consider the early career of Jag Fel, one of the few non-Chiss to have served with either the CEDF or the House Phalanx (and at times an officer with both). As noted in the previous section, political reasons led to Jag being trained and commissioned as an officer in the Ascendancy’s military arm, but while expediency made it necessary for the Chiss to tolerate the presence of a Human in their ranks, the actual concept of his being there was akin to a joke in questionable taste.
Jag's subsequent departure from the Ascendancy to join the House Phalanx is unlikely to have represented an enthusiasm for Chiss tradition; but he did not leave the wider frame of Chiss culture: he continued to fly and fight with Chiss pilots in the House Phalanx, surpassing their standards of excellence and earning their respect and allegiance to the point that his squadron elected him as their commander. While capable aliens might earn the personal and professional respect of those Chiss who had the opportunity to work directly alongside them—as Jag had done with Shawnkyr Nuruodo, and as his brother Chak Fel did with General Drask—it would seem that the Phalanx was more open to acknowledging outsiders than the CEDF.
Contrary to what is often assumed, therefore Baron Fel's son did not embrace the culture and values of the Chiss Ascendancy—indeed, conventional Chiss wisdom regarded it as impossible for an alien to do so. Rather, Jag saw himself as specifically motivated by a loyalty to Thrawn's legacy and ideals, and in his eyes, these were centered on a military independence from political concerns, and a high-minded belief in the proactive use of force in defense of moral ideals.
It is tempting to see here the outline of a political, military, moral and philosophical doctrine attributable to Thrawn and shared by his followers, but in truth, it is unclear how much weight this interpretation of Thrawn's beliefs should be allowed to carry: Colonel Fel's attitude may have been influenced by a young man's own self-confident idealism. What may be more significant is the fact that Jag was able to frame Thrawn’s legacy in such terms—and even to think of the Grand Admiral as having a personal legacy at all.
Some heavy hints dropped by Thrawn's closest lieutenants suggest, however, that he broke ranks with his peers in the Ascendancy and the CEDF in response to the magnitude of specific—but unknown—threats in the Unknown Regions, and that it was in response to these threats that they in turn had joined him; but at base, it may simply be that Thrawn possessed an ability to persuade people to follow him into conflict, regardless of reason or logic.
What is certain is that, whether due to abstract principles, specific circumstances, or a megalomaniacal personality cult, Thrawn commanded the impassioned loyalty of his followers and allies, Chiss and non-Chiss alike, a devotion comparable to that inspired by some of the worst dictators and greatest leaders in known history. It is hard to quantify the effect of such a figure on a society, and no schematic explanation is likely to adequately express it. Thrawn’s influence is a reminder not only that Chiss culture was broader than the glacial monolith of orthodoxy, but also that, while across a species—or culture—specific factors such as language, ideology and conceptual framework may bind people together into cohesive groups, other elements are at work, such as personal charisma and inspiration, which simply transcend the differences and definitions that people think of as defining themselves.
The subsequent appearance of both Soontir Fel and Peita Aabe in what seem to have been high positions within the Ascendancy may suggest that Thrawn's thinking had, at least temporarily, triumphed during the Yuuzhan Vong invasion; but Commander Irolia's insistence that Chiss society—or at least the military—had become willing to absorb aliens who could match the skill of native-born Chiss strikes a discordant note compared with the earlier evidence for a pervasive cultural isolationsim, and once again, raises questions about the reliability of what we think we know about the Chiss, their attitudes, and their civilization.
A major problem with understanding Chiss technology is distinguishing specifically Chiss elements from its wider context. For instance, the celebrated Nssis-class Clawcraft was a hybrid of Imperial and Chiss technology, and may have also involved the input of other species.
Some Chiss structures were starkly angular, perhaps inspired by the icy geometries of Csilla’s glacial landscape. We can note the double-pyramid shape of the Brask Oto space station in the Redoubt, and the angular, faceted hull-design of the ships of the Fifth Ruling Family, such as Chaf Exalted and Chaf Envoy. However, the distinctive design of these ships was highly symbolic, designed to identify them as Chaf Family consular ships and even to identify the specific status and lineage of the Family members they carried. Combat warships of the Expansionary Fleet had far more curved and fluid hull-lines.
A few specific elements of Chiss technology were observed by outsiders. The Chiss, like many peoples in the Unknown Regions, did not use droids, and many Chiss ships were slaved to a network of hyperspace beacons rather than equipped with independent navicomputers; but it is important not to mistake departure from Galactic standards for backwardness. In spite of the lack of droids, many Chiss ships were highly automated—a cruiser more than two hundred meters long had an operational crew of less than thirty—and prior to the Clone Wars, their frontier pickets, which operated beyond the beacon network, had precise hyperdrives and navacomps capable of making lightspeed microjumps as tactical maneuvers during combat. In later decades, some Chiss devices, perhaps devised by scientists with access to Imperial technology, were highly advanced. Examples included chameleon-cloaked armor that enabled infantry to blend into the terrain, and long-range tracers that activated only in hyperspace, enabling its users to track targets across Galactic distances without transmissions being picked up by standard security scans.
Similarly, it is easier to say that Chiss weapons technology was different from that of the Republic than to compare it qualitatively. For example in place of ion cannon, Chiss warships used missiles that deployed charged Conner nets up to a kilometer wide, which could disable and trap light freighters, entire formations of starfighters, or even incoming missile salvos.
Perhaps the most distinctive known aspect of Chiss technology was their distinctive type of energy-weapon, the charric. This fired a lancing blue beam, sometimes described as a maser, which delivered thermal energy comparable to conventional blaster weapons coupled with a much greater kinetic punch, but lacked a stun-setting. Low-power shots instead administered disabling burns. The most common form of charric was a hand-held carbine, but pistols are also known, and larger versions of the weapon were carried by some starfighters, and included among the heavy weapons batteries of capital ships and bases.
In the years before the Clone Wars, it would appear that Chiss beam weapons were limited to charric energy, but by 19 ABY, the Household Phalanx base at the Hand of Thrawn mounted both turbolasers and heavy maser emitters, while both Chiss-style weapons mounts and standard Sienar Fleet Systems blasters were observed on various TIE variants flown by Phalanx pilots. By the time of the Swarm War, the CEDF had certainly adopted standard blaster technology alongside maser weaponry: Chiss Star Destroyers mounted turbolasers alongside megamasers, while their heaviest tactical artillery pieces, known as MetaCannon, were capable of being configured to fire charric beams, blaster bolts, or physical artillery shells.
Known planets and locations
In the Chiss Ascendancy
- Csilla — ice-girt homeworld and political capital of the Chiss. Site of the city of Csaplar and the Expansionary Library.
- Sarvchi — colony world from where Chaf'orm'bintrano sent a message to the Jade Sabre in 22 ABY.
- Crustai — colony world where Chaf'orm'bintrano later rendezvoused with the Jade Sabre en route for Outbound Flight.
- The Redoubt — dense star cluster developed as an interstellar fortress by the Chiss. Site of Brask Oto and the unnamed planet on which Outbound Flight came down.
- Brask Oto — CEDF space station serving as the barbican for the Redoubt.
- Tenupe — captured from the Killiks in the Swarm War.
- Thrago — site of a CEDF supply depot anchored around a small moon, destroyed by rogue Jedi in 36 ABY.
- Rata Nebula — an H II region, within which lies the system containing Rhigar.
- Rhigar — site of a Chiss military academy in the Rata Nebula, with three moons: the green-hued Asdroni, the forest moon Rhigar 2, and the more distant, blue-tinged Rhigar 3
- Yashuvhu — remote hinterland planet with a Force-sensitive Human population; homeworld of the duuvhal, and of Force-talent Valara Saar.
- Klasse Ephemora system — remote hinterland system surrounded by navigational anomalies, centered on the star Klasse A; location of the gas-giant Mobus.
- Mobus — gas giant in the Klasse Ephemora system. Zonama Sekot sought refuge in a lunar orbit around Mobus after its flight from its home system in 29 BBY, and from 30 ABY, Zonama Sekot was resettled by the Yuuzhan Vong remnant.
Outside the Ascendancy
- Nirauan — home to a large House Phalanx garrison at the Hand of Thrawn, nominal liaison post between the Imperial Remnant and the Ascendancy, also command post for the Empire of the Hand.
- Taat — Killik Nest with many Chiss Joiners; based on Jwlio in 35 ABY, later relocating to a planet in the Utegetu Nebula; by 36 ABY they had largely transferred aboard a colony ship to fight in the Swarm War.
- Thule — millennia-old Sith garrison world, with a Chiss colony among it inhabitants.
Behind the scenes
The Chiss first appeared in Timothy Zahn's novel Heir to the Empire, in the form of Grand Admiral Thrawn, but the name of his people was not revealed for another eight years, until Zahn's Hand of Thrawn Duology.
Although the basis of the Chiss naming pattern and the distinction between the House Phalanx and the Ascendancy were established in Vision of the Future, these were apparently misunderstood by or imperfectly communicated to some of the authors of the New Jedi Order novels and concurrent sourcebooks. This led to some continuity uncertainties in Red Sky, Blue Flame, Dark Journey, and Force Heretic II: Refugee.
Chiss bartenders appear in the two most recent installments of the computer-game series focusing on Kyle Katarn. In Jedi Outcast, Kyle has a brief conversation with a Chiss bartender on Nar Shaddaa, who has not yet mastered all aspects of the grammar of Basic. In Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy, his apprentice Jaden Korr encounters a Chiss bartender on Nar Kreeta.
Of some interesting note is the odd similarity the Chiss share with a fictional race of dark-skinned Elves, the Dunmer or Ashlanders, from the Fantasy Roleplaying game Morrowind. Their name structures show some basic similarities, but their varying shades of blue-gray skin, black hair, brightly glowing red eyes and obvious distrust, dislike and avoidance toward outsiders may be an indirect (or direct) nod toward the Chiss.
They also have a strictly held House Structure, with warring houses using various tactics both honorable and underhanded to win victories, with their members and representatives oft times displaying certain colors, markings or equipment to signify their loyalties.
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