There's almost nothing more subversive than when a beloved franchise challenges our reasons for watching. That's what Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi, and it's what Rick and Morty fans are currently experiencing with Season 4. It's a kind of highbrow brilliance that can be frustrating to watch but oh-so-satisfying once you give in to the underlying message.
The many Star Wars nods and Easter eggs in Rick and Morty Season 4's sixth and seventh episodes hammer this point home, perhaps drawing direct inspiration from the way that Johnson's Episode VIII forces Star Wars fans to confront their own lofty expectations. What we want is rarely the thing that makes our favorite franchise better. That's something Rian Johnson and the team behind Rick and Morty both seem to understand better than the fandoms clamoring for more lore and familiar callbacks.
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Rick and Morty Season 4 Episode 7, "Promortyus," features a plot involving an alien species of facehugger parasites in an obvious homage to the Alien franchise. But so much of what unfolds is a direct nod to Star Wars and that franchise's recent struggles to placate a petulant fanbase.
Similar to the ultra-stressful trench run from Season 3's "Rest and Ricklaxation" that riffs on A New Hope, "Promortyus" has an extended escape sequence where Morty mans a turret on Rick's ship resembling the turret on the Millennium Falcon. You know, the turret that Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Finn have all killed tons of people with?
"Feels kinda good when there's no guilt, huh?" Rick says. "Yeah! It's like in Star Wars!" Morty responds gleefully. Everyone considers Luke Skywalker the biggest hero in Star Wars — and yet he killed an estimated 369,740 people. (Not so nice when you realize a lot of those Stormtroopers weren't even clones.)
Just like in Star Wars, Morty mans the turret and kills countless facehuggers (and their hosts). "Give a little yeehaw, if you want!" Rick suggests. "They always do a little yeehaw, like a cowboy."
He's still going on about Star Wars. Letting loose and having fun for Rick and Morty means committing atrocities on a genocidal scale. They have a lot of fun. We have a lot of fun. But it's in the second half of the episode that Rick and Morty challenges us to be more critical of the duo's behavior.
So far, Rick and Morty Season 4 Part 2 has been chock full of Star Wars references, whether it was the lightsaber duel between Summer and Tammy or Mr. Poopybutthole looking like some kind of Sith Lord in the potential future presented in Episode 6, Star Wars is everywhere. But why?
Fans seem to want the Rick and Morty equivalent of The Rise of Skywalker with Season 4, which more or less means some kind of a grand final confrontation against Evil Morty (the closest the show comes to an Emperor Palpatine-level villain). But the showrunners know better, and in "Promortyus," Rick straight-up says confirms they won't revisit old storylines or planets.
This brief meta moment in Rick and Morty Season 4 Episode 7 follows one of the show's most meta episodes ever. Episode 6 takes place on a "Story Train" with controls labeled Marketability, Broad Appeal, and Relatability. The train's conductor, a muscle-clad villain called Story Lord, attempts to sap Rick and Morty of their "potential narrative energy," revealing the Evil Morty showdown fans have been begging for since "The Ricklantis Mixup" in Season 3.
The entire scene is a metaphor for how most stories — even on Rick and Morty — tend towards the formulaic so they can appeal to as wide an audience as possible. That's good business, but it doesn't make for a good narrative.
The "Narrative Energy" and "Story Potential" of Rick and Morty make us want to see a satisfying resolution to various dangling plot threads. We want closure on characters like Snuffles, Tammy, and Birdperson. We want Summer and Morty to grow up and go to college. Most of all, we want to find out what Evil Morty is planning and how Rick will stop him.
But if we've learned anything from Star Wars or Game of Thrones in the last year, it's that closure can be a death sentence for a good story. Rian Johnson drew a lot of criticism from Star Wars "fans" because The Last Jedi challenged expectations for the franchise. And in its own way, Rick and Morty is doing the exact same thing.
With its massive, 100-episode order, Rick and Morty needs to transform into something a little more formulaic. During the first half of Season 4, I wondered whether fans would accept this new direction, can feel more like The Simpsons than the version of Rick and Morty we started with.
With these latest episodes, Rick and Morty seems to be confirming that's exactly where the show is headed. The only way forward is by forgetting the past — unless it's a meta reference in a non-canonical anthology episode, of course.
Rick and Morty Season 4 airs Sunday nights on Adult Swim at 11:30 p.m. Eastern.