Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Solo: A Star Wars Story
Solo: A Star Wars Story is a prequel detailing key events in the younger life of future main cast player Han Solo. As such, it can't have too many surprises in store as pertains to the fates of the main characters: Everyone already knows that at least Han, Lando and Chewbacca are going to make it out alive, and that Han and Chewie in particular are going to exit with the Millennium Falcon en route to a life as outer space smugglers. But the movie still manages to keep some surprises in store - among them, a reference to an in-universe form of martial arts called Teräs Käsi, which had previously only ever been mentioned in the no-longer-canon Expanded Universe.
Solo details how Han goes from being a Corellian street-urchin child-slave to Imperial Army deserter to outlaw thief - chiefly in pursuit of money and resources he'll use to liberate a childhood friend Q'ira (Emilia Clarke) whom he believes to be still stuck on Corellia. Instead, she rejoins him midway through the film having "rescued" herself... by becoming the main henchwoman of the dangerous gangster bankrolling the "big score" Han and space-robbery mentor Tobias Beckett have been conscripted for.
Movie fans familiar with the old-time Hollywood western and gangster tropes Solo deliberately evokes will, of course, detect immediately that there's more to Q'ira than she let's on: "Femme Fatale" characters are made to smolder just offstage waiting for someone to ask them about their Dark Secret. Indeed, she's the axis on which several of Solo's big plot-twists pivot and the key to the film's most talked-about spoiler - a last-minute Darth Maul cameo that may or may not point the way to a whole slew of entirely different spin-off opportunities.
But while the ultimate revelation of what Q'ira actually has had "going on" in the background of her Solo storyline is designed to feel like a twist, sharp-eared fans with a good memory for Star Wars trivia may have caught a tiny bit of foreshadowing that retroactively feels intended to set up the extent of Q'ira's greater significance... if not necessarily her "alignment." During an action sequence set in the Spice Mines of Kessel, she saves herself and L3-37 from an attacker by demonstrating (offscreen) a flourish of martial-arts maneuvers the lethality of which mystifies even the thoroughly jaded Droid. L3-37 doesn't even know what to call what she just saw until Q'ira herself gives it a name: "Teräs Käsi."
To a certain generation of Star Wars fans, it's a term they may never have thought to hear spoken aloud in any of the live-action features - or that may not even have existed following the post-Disney de-canonization of the Expanded Universe. A fictional form of martial-arts existing only in the Star Wars Universe (usually employed as an explanation for how non-Force-sensitive combatants might stand a fighting chance against Jedi or Sith opponents in hand-to-hand combat), it first appeared in the canon as part of the 1996 Shadows of The Empire multimedia project - specifically in Steve Perry's novelization where the term was applied to the fighting styles of Black Sun villains Sun and Zu Pike. As with many alien-sounding terms in the Star Wars "Galactic Basic" language, the name "Teräs Käsi" as actually a slight rewording of a real non-English human language; in this case Finnish for "steel hand."
However, despite the relative popularity of Shadows of The Empire as a property in its day (particularly thanks to the Nintendo 64 video game that served as the centerpiece of the sub-franchise) Teräs Käsi was a relatively minor reference within the text and it's unlikely that it would've become a well known enough part of the (formerly) semi-official EU canon to be formally integrated into Solo on that basis alone. Rather, the concept owes most of it's fame to video-game infamy in the form of Star Wars: Masters of Teräs Käsi - a 1997 Playstation title where the titular fighting-style (depicted in the game as being loosely-inspired by Indonesian penchat-silat martial-arts) was used as justification to pit popular Star Wars characters against each other in a Tekken-style tournament fighter often regarded as one of the worst Star Wars games ever released.
The game may have been a punchline, but the name definitely stuck - and when Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace released in 1999 with martial artist Ray Park using elaborate kickboxing and wushu-style fighting moves to differentiate his Darth Maul character from previously-seen lightsaber combatants, the idea that the Sith Lord might also be a Teräs Käsi practitioner became a popular fan theory that was later incorporated into author Michael Reeves' 2001 EU novel Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter. (Similar fan theories have surrounded Donnie Yen's Chirrut Imwe from Rogue One.)
From there on, Teräs Käsi was sporadically referenced throughout the canon (particularly in the realm of role-playing games) and eventually developed a lengthy origin story as part of the Expanded Universe (now known as "Star Wars Legends") canon; which held that it was developed specifically for the purpose of combating Jedi Knights on Planet Bunduki by The Followers of Palawa, believed to be descendants of refugees from a planet of the same name that was destroyed in an unspecified war involving the Jedi Council. In a nod to many existing Eastern martial-arts, known techniques were often described as being named and inspired by animals and natural phenomena of the Star Wars universe; including moves named "Rancor Rising," "Striking Sarlacc" and "Slashing Wampa."
Of course, Solo marks not only the first mention of Teräs Käsi in live-action - period - but also the first official confirmation that it's part of the new official canon, so it's unclear how much (if any) of that backstory is meant to remain. Apart from her offscreen hand-to-hand manuever that so impressed L3-37, Q'ira is mainly shown demonstrating proficiency with a sword at a key climactic moment - though the reveal of where her training apparently came from would seem to confirm that at least one major pre-Disney Teräs Käsi master's stature remains as such. Whether that's meant as a one more Easter Egg for fans or a preview of a greater focus for the fictional fighting-style going forward, though, remains to be seen.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019
- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) release date: May 25, 2018
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