Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare Author’s Cut, Part 2 – Ancient Coruscant

Jason Fry with Paul Urquhart | November 4, 2013

The Taungs from Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare.

Welcome to the second of 12 articles revealing — for the first time ever — material cut from The Essential Guide to Warfare before its April 2012 publication. Each section will be preceded by brief comments from Jason Fry and Del Rey editor Erich Schoeneweiss discussing why the material wound up on the cutting-room floor.

THE BATTALIONS OF ZHELL AND THE TAUNGS

Jason Fry: As published, Warfare offers a translation of the best-known section of  Dha Werda Verda, an epic about the ancient battle between the Zhell and the Taungs. This “modern” exploration of the Zhell and Taungs was fun, and I liked how it connected the ancient era with the Mandalorians and the Empire. But it risked feeling redundant — and with Warfare way too long already, it was a logical cut.

Erich Schoeneweiss: I think it’s important to note the circumstances that led to some of the edits we had to make. The last thing I wanted to do was cut anything Jason wrote, but he was contracted to deliver a manuscript at a specific word count and far exceeded that. If this had been a novel that wouldn’t have been as a big an issue, but the Essential Guides are illustrated full-color books. We have a tight budget and set of book specifications we work with, and page count is one of those key specs. A longer manuscript means more pages, which means the book costs more to produce. Jason made some edits on his own and submitted the manuscript knowing we would have to make some more. It was a collaborative effort in deciding on the additional cuts, and this is one of them.

Reprinted From Imperial Center Today, 2 ABY:

A LONG TIME AGO…

The Zhell and the Taungs Are Names to Conjure By, But the Truth About These Long-Lost Combatants Is Hard to Pin Down

By Eschul Shaywa

The Zhell and the Taungs have been powerful names here on Imperial Center nearly as long as civilization has existed on our planet — and that’s an awfully long time. Their names adorn ancient neighborhoods that claim some connection to long-ago battles, as well as new developments whose builders want a patina of tradition for their durasteel and clari-crystalline palaces.

But how much do you really know about these ancient warriors? Talk to scholars, and they tell you the only thing clear about the Zhell and the Taungs is just how unclear their histories are. But that isn’t to say we know nothing: Researchers on several worlds are working tirelessly to knit together scraps of legend and bits plucked from archaeological discoveries, in hopes of one day reconstructing the ancient chronicles.

The outlines of what happened some 200,000 years ago are known to every schoolchild: The 13 nations that made up the Battalions of Zhell spent centuries clashing with the forces of the Taungs. During one of their skirmishes, a volcanic eruption destroyed the city of Zhell, shattering the Battalions’ power. The assembled Taungs watched in awe as ash blotted out the sun and rained down upon them. Taking their opponents’ destruction as a sign of divine favor, the Taungs christened themselves Dha Werda Verda, the Shadow Warriors, and celebrated their victory in the epic poem of the same name.

In its entirety, Dha Werda Verda encompasses more than 700 verses divided into 11 chapters and written in the language known as Notron Cant, whose subtleties continue to defy translation. But most people know only a fraction of the ninth — the 10 verses popularly known as “The Maker Comes to Unmake.” No matter what school, junior academy or crèche you belonged to, if you’re Coruscanti you either memorized the strange syllables of these 10 verses for recitation or had a schoolmate who did.

But there’s something odd about our veneration of an ancient epic, notes University of Byblos historian Mesh Burzon.

“We believe the Zhell were humans — perhaps the original human population that took to the stars when Imperial Center was known as Notron,” Burzon says. “The Taungs were not human. If the account of the destruction of Zhell is even vaguely accurate, it was a monumental disaster for humanity. So what you have is the descendents of those who survived a near-extinction reciting the poem their oppressors composed to celebrate the event.”

As Burzon explains, the Zhell nations were battered by the loss of their capital, but not broken: They recovered and drove the Taungs off Notron entirely. The Taungs emigrated to the Outer Rim and eventually settled Mandalore, named for a legendary clan leader. From this new homeworld they became the scourge of the Republic, routinely raiding its outlying worlds and sometimes penetrating the very Core.

The Mandalorian clans valued loyalty to their ferocious warrior code above all else, a quality that would eventually transform their society. A later leader, Mandalore the Ultimate, admitted humans and other species to the Mandalorian ranks. As it turned out, Mandalore the Ultimate was the final Taung to lead the clans.

“The Taungs are now extinct, but their ways have been preserved by the Mandalorians — a human culture, ironically enough,” Burzon notes.

Star Wars: Republic Commando - Triple Zero cover.

Hu Jibwe, scholar of military history at the Salmagodro Grand Academy, notes that there is another song popularly known as “Dha Werda Verda” — the Mando’a war chant known as “Rage of the Shadow Warriors.” During the Clone Wars, some Mandalorian trainers taught this chant to their clones, and it became a hallmark of those units. It’s rarely performed today, so if you have a chance to see it, take advantage: The chant and ritual dance are mesmerizing, particularly if the dancers follow Mandalorian tradition and drum out the rhythm on the chest or back of those next to them:

The ash of the Taung beats strong within the Mandalorians’ heart.
We are the rage of the Warriors of the Shadow,
The first noble sons of Mandalore.
Let all those who stand before us light the night sky in flame.
Our vengeance burns brighter still.

The gauntlet of Mandalore strikes without mercy.
We are the rage of the Warriors of the Shadow,
The first noble sons of Mandalore.
Let all those who stand before us light the night sky in flame.
Our vengeance burns brighter still.

But as Hu notes, “Rage” is far more recent than Dha Werda Verda. The best-preserved record of the Taung epic poem, written in Notron Cant and housed in the Baobab Archives on distant Manda, contains none of the verses of “Rage.”

“It’s my belief that ‘Rage of the Shadow Warriors’ dates from the reign of Mandalore the Ultimate, when the Taungs knew they were being eclipsed,” Hu explains. “I’ve always thought it a poignant work — a plea that the Taungs not be forgotten by the newborn culture they knew would outlive them.”

But what of the warriors on both sides whose valor is remembered in Dha Werda Verda? Of them we know almost nothing, academics say.

“Two hundred thousand years is an almost unfathomable amount of time,” says Arhul Manaxa, scholar emeritus at the University of Rudrig. “Not even the histories of the Columi date back that far. There is no agreement whatsoever about the site of Zhell, when exactly the battle took place, or if it even did. All has been buried — by kilometers of city and eons of time.”

Manaxa notes that many scholars have struggled to explain how the Taungs could have emigrated from Imperial Center to the Outer Rim after their defeat.

“We know of no species able to travel through hyperspace 200,000 years ago,” Manaxa says. “This leaves us with a few different possible explanations, none of which can be proven or disproven. Perhaps the Taungs were capable of faster-than-light travel, and invaded Imperial Center. Or perhaps the Taungs were native to Coruscant, and the Zhell were the invaders. Perhaps the dates are wrong, and the conflict in fact took place far later, when the Core was being explored by the eldest species of the galaxy. Or perhaps it never happened at all.”

Nor, says Hu, can we say anything about the Battalions of Zhell, or the Taung legions that confronted them.

“When enthusiasts stage recreations of the battle they tend to use replica great axes and swords known from the excavation of Taung burial sites on Roon,” he says. “But by the time the Taungs reached Roon these were ritual objects — species capable of traveling through hyperspace don’t still rely on edged weapons. Nor do you find such weapons still used by societies as sophisticated as the Zhell nations. It’s as if you staged a recreation of the Siege of Ramsir with the Imperial Army limited to parade sabers.”

Hu says he knows it may be unromantic to imagine the confrontation at Zhell occurring between armies that possessed aircraft and atomic weapons. But he urges us to look deeper and examine the qualities of Dha Werda Verda that have kept the poem alive for eons.

“All we have is a poem, but what a poem!” he says. “The image of the Maker appearing to unmake the world has inspired artists for as long as artists have existed. The mere names of the generals awaken something within us: What schoolchild hasn’t felt his heart race at the mention of Rexutu the Unconquerable or Olhak the Reaver, or mourned the inevitable downfall of the mighty and noble Doom of Ulmarah?”

In case the words of academics don’t stir you, let me close with a more personal story. I recently attended a performance of “Rage of the Shadow Warriors” alongside Swart Swifto, who served as a trainer for the Grand Army of the Republic and later the Imperial Center Guard.

After the final shouted dralshy’a died away, I told Swifto about the latest academic thinking about the Zhell, the Taungs and Dha Werda Verda. I was curious to see what this veteran defender of Imperial Center would think about the irony of a Taung war poem giving rise to a Mandalorian tradition, and that tradition in turn being passed on by Imperial Center’s guardians.

Swifto shook his head impatiently at me.

“I hear what you’re saying, Miss Shaywa, but none of that is important,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that the poem was composed by some Taung, or that Taung wanted to kill an ancestor of ours, or what weapon he wanted to do it with or what language he spoke. The Taungs and the Zhell were enemies, but they were also part of a brotherhood, one that includes all living beings who believe in a higher cause and are willing to fight and die for it. If you’ve been in battle, if you’ve entrusted your life to other soldiers who are just as scared and confused and noble and brave as you are, then you’re a part of that brotherhood. No matter what you look like.”

THE SUN GUARD OF THYRSUS

Jason Fry: In drawing up the list of “unit profiles” for Warfare, I tried to mix things that would be familiar to casual fans with geekier deep dives appealing to hardcore fans. I also tried to jump around a bit in the timeline to keep the ancient history from being a daunting block. The Sun Guard served both purposes, but they’d already been covered in the RPG guide Galaxy in War, so this further exploration of their history wound up feeling like it didn’t pull its own weight enough to be included in Warfare.

Erich Schoeneweiss: I don’t recall this one — either I’m losing too many brain cells, Jason has Jedi mind-wiped me, or this is one of the cuts he made before I read the manuscript. Regardless, this is a cool little section and I’m glad we get to publish it here.

A feared military unit that in time became better known as mercenaries, the Sun Guard of Thyrsus began as rebels against the Echani Command, a confederation of six worlds ruled by a female council.

In the Begali Uprising of 1154 BBY, the sun-baked world of Thyrsus joined Begali in its rebellion against the Six Sisters. Begali would renew its ties with Eshan less than a century later, but Thyrsus remained stubbornly independent, just as the Thyrsians had long been culturally distinct from the rest of the Echani. Like all Echani, the Thyrsians excel at reading the smallest cues of body language, making them superb fighters. But in other ways they are sharply different: male-dominated rather than female-dominated, dark of hair and skin instead of light, spiritually focused on the sun instead of the moon, and emphasizing bladed weapons and heavy armor instead of unarmed combat.

The Thyrsian special forces evolved into the Sun Guard, fighting numerous skirmishes against the Echani before the Pact of Almera confirmed Thyrsus’s independence in 899 BBY. With peace returned to the Six Sisters, the Sun Guard became known as a mercenary unit, with its members signing on to conflicts across the galaxy as well as serving as bounty hunters and gladiators. The group soon became rivals of the Mandalorians, and battled them in numerous wars and skirmishes. Their most-famous showdown came on Sintheti in 402 BBY, when the two groups were hired by rival claimants to the Horned Throne and dueled for more than three years amid Sintheti’s crags and within its catacombs.

Members of the Sun Guard are famed for their heavy black armor and their use of pikes as a weapon of choice. While many variants of the Thyrsian pike exist, all are about a meter long and most are tipped with vibroblades at each end, reinforced with cortosis ore. The force pike includes stun modules at each end, while the solar pike — used in ritual combat — has conductive tips that glow cherry red with heat. Sun Guard armor is routinely studded with heat grids, vibroblades, knee and toe spikes, dart shooters and miniature flamethrowers.

Those who survive the Sun Guard’s rigorous initiation become Stellar Legionnaires and begin a probationary term of one year, during which they must prove themselves in battle. Those that pass become Stellar Tribunes, commanding a Sun Guard legion numbering between 20 and 40 soldiers. These legions are the most-common units found serving as mercenaries, though all legions heed the orders of the Supreme Sun Guardian.

The Stellar Tribunes compete vigorously with each other for prestige, with particularly heroic Tribunes granted admission into the Sun Guard officer corps. Twisuns Legates command two to four legions; the ranks above Legate are Twisuns Praetor, Thychani Commander, Thychani Dictator, and the Supreme Sun Guardian.

The Sun Guard from Star Wars: Galaxy in War.

The Thyrsians have always been a spiritually restless and hungry people, and more than a century before the fall of the Republic, they became obsessed with the prophecy that the galaxy’s savior would be known as “the son of suns.” That attracted the attention of the hidden Sith, who ensnared legion after legion of the Guard and aided Thull Wulain in his ascendancy through the Sun Guard ranks. As Supreme Sun Guardian, Wulain swore fealty to Darth Sidious. Sidious used the Sun Guard as mercenaries and assassins, deploying them to destabilize troubled worlds in the Republic and to eliminate troublesome Senators and other influential figures. Sidious also used the Sun Guard as protectors of his hidden Coruscant lair.

Star Wars: Republic Commando game cover.

As his plot to take over the Republic neared fruition, Sidious considered a number of Thychani Commanders and Dictators as potential prime clones for his Republic army, only to settle on Jango Fett instead. Sidious had other plans for the Sun Guard — during the Clone Wars, he tested Dooku’s protégé Asajj Ventress by ordering her to eliminate them. Many fell to Ventress’ red sabers; others were spared and became members of Emperor Palpatine’s Royal Guard, Imperial Shadow Guard, or clone templates for the stormtrooper ranks.

Palpatine’s rise split Thyrsian society. Most Thyrsians were strong supporters of the Emperor, and saw the Royal Guard as the successors to the Sun Guard, with many Thyrsians winning renown as elite members of the Imperial Army and stormtrooper units. But some contended that the Thyrsians had been beguiled by the Sith, and sought to revive the Sun Guard. Thyrsus became an isolationist world after the Emperor’s demise, resisting the entreaties of various Imperial warlords as well as the New Republic. A new generation of Sun Guards appeared during the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, guarding Thyrsus against potential attack and then seeking to rebuild the unit’s traditions and reputation.

Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare is the definitive guide to the ultimate intergalactic battlefield. Packed with original full-color artwork, it includes facts, figures, and fascinating backstories of major clashes and combatants in the vast Star Wars universe.

Tags: , ,

Share This: