If the names Dr. Cornelius Evazan and Ponda Baba mean anything to you, you are so far into Star Wars lore you can’t see the light of the Core Systems. But even if the names aren’t known to you, anyone with a passing knowledge of A New Hope will find these characters instantly recognizable by description. They’re the two rough-looking “gentlemen” that give Luke Skywalker grief in the Mos Eisley cantina shortly before Obi-Wan Kenobi intervenes by removing Ponda Baba’s arm via lightsaber slash.
The two ruffians also put in a brief appearance in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as a seemingly groan-inducing bit of fan service. If you missed them, they’re who Jyn runs into — literally — on the streets of Jedha. But lurking behind these throwaway characters is some of the darkest stuff Lucasfilm has ever committed to their official canon.*
*Everything in this article is from after the Expanded Universe purge that accompanied Lucasfilm’s takeover by Disney.
Little is known of Ponda Baba (alias Sawkee on Jedha), other than the male Aqualish teamed up with Dr. Evazan (alias Roofoo on Jedha) by the time the human was on the planet of Milvayne, though, their partnership may have formed before that. What we do know is Baba and Evazan were accomplished smugglers working in the spice trade for Jabba the Hutt (though one must wonder why they didn’t assist Greedo in attempting to cash in on Han Solo’s bounty). While the pirate Ponda is an enigma, more is known about Dr. Evazan and the path of devastation left in his wake.
A cosmetic surgeon from the Core World of Alsakan. Evazan’s first chronological appearance in Star Wars is in the animated The Clone Wars episode entitled ‘Missing in Action.’ The character himself is not present, but signage for his surgery can be seen on the streets of Abafar. The Outer Rim planet is a far cry from the comforts of the Core, but it appears Dr. Evazan was eking out a living. Lucasfilm has not yet expanded on what motivations drove Evazan to take up medical experimentations. Whether driven out by the locals or relocating for other reasons, Dr. Evazan eventually relocated to Milvayne, where he most likely met Ponda Baba for the first time and their unscrupulous methods drove them into exile as fugitives from the law.
But what kind of medical experiments was the cosmetic surgeon conducting? Something that appears to be a mix of Dr. Frankenstein and Nazi scientists. In the recent Star Wars Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide, author Pablo Hidalgo sprinkles Evazan’s atrocities throughout the section on Jedha. It appears the surgeon was involved in the creation of something called “The Decraniated,” which is exactly what it sounds like.
Hapless victims of the Jedha insurgency could find themselves in Evazan’s tender care, where they were transformed using cybernetics into docile and extremely unethical servants. By comparison, the AJ^6 Cyborg Construct looks downright humane. According to the guide, at least one establishment known as Gesh’s Tapcafe was entirely populated by Decraniated workers. Evazan’s work was not limited to the creation of domestic servants, as the headless body of Caysin Bog can attest to. The more you look at the following two images, the more horrific they become.
For those who scoffed at the inclusion of Evazan and Baba in Rogue One (awful convenient for them to have gotten off-planet in time), the Ultimate Visual Guide offers an explanation by way of Tam Posla. The bounty hunter has been following the surgeon and his companion across the galaxy in the hopes of bringing them to justice on charges of kidnapping, forced servitude, and surgical alteration. The not surprising implication being that not all of the Decraniated were near-death before their conversion to subservient slavery. Formerly a member of the Milvayne Authority, Tam Posla was taken off the case by his superior for reasons unknown which caused the determined man to forsake duty in the name of justice.
It stands to reason that Posla’s may be the same unknown bounty hunter that scarred Evazan’s face (and drove the injured man into a friendship with Baba) on Milvayne and this altercation could be the reason for Posla’s official removal from the case.
As to why Jyn bumped into the two fugitives? They were on their way to the spaceport to both elude Tam Posla and make the jump to Tatooine where more work awaited them in the form of smuggling for Jabba the Hutt. No doubt the bounty hunter will find himself disappointed to have his quarry snatched from his grasp by the last remnant of a dying religious order. But them’s the breaks the Outer Rim.