As Star Wars mania swept the globe the Japanese film industry delivered a handful of cash-ins including Toho's The War in Space (1977) and Toei's Message from Space (1978) and Swords of the Space Ark (1979). Japan's most profitable cash-in on the space opera trend, domestically at least, went the Moonraker (1979) route by incorporating elements of Star Wars into an established franchise that was already hugely popular. When hapless schoolboy Nobita Nobi (voiced by Noriko Ohara) is thrown off the set of his friends' sci-fi home movie for constant clumsiness he naturally goes crying to his gadget-laden robot cat Doraemon (Nobuyo Oyama). Doraemon suggests they film their own epic with the aid of girl-next-door Shizuka (Michiko Nomura). In the midst of their movie-making the gang encounter Pappy (Keiko Han), an inch-high alien visitor forced to flee a military coup on his home planet of Pirika. The children shelter their tiny new friend in Shizuka's dollhouse before pitting their wits against a toy-sized armada of alien invaders.
Doraemon: Nobita's Little Star Wars opens wittily with a cod-epic intro as a spaceship flees an imperiled planet before the camera pulls back to reveal the kids at work on their homemade space opera, complete with school bully Jaian (Kazuya Tatekabe) snarling like the MGM lion! Thereafter the opening titles race through a range of quickfire nods to the likes of Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), The Black Hole (1979), Superman: The Movie (1978), E.T. - The Extraterrestrial (1982) and even King Kong (1933). However, the actual plot concocted by Fujiko-Fujio (joint pseudonym for Doraemon co-creators Hiroshi Fujimoto and Abiko Motoo) borrows as much from Gulliver's Travels as it does from Hollywood science fiction movies. Much humour is milked from the conceit of the aliens being tiny-sized. Which taps a near-universal childhood fantasy of using one's toys to fight real space invaders while the hilarious climax has the children run amuck on planet Pirika like giant rampaging kaiju.
True to the spirit of Fujiko-Fujio's original, long-running manga the first half amusingly juxtaposes an alien invasion story with the usual hijinks around a typical Japanese suburban neighbourhood. With the abduction of Pappy and introduction of his faithful, amusingly motor-mouthed flying space dog Roko Roko (Yuji Mitsuya) the second act shifts things into high gear as the kids take off on a rescue mission and live out their Star Wars fantasies for real. Interestingly rather than parody the space opera genre the film incorporates dramatic motifs from the likes of Space Battleship Yamato (1974) into an otherwise lighthearted kids' film. Take for example a disarmingly intense sequence wherein Suneo is crippled with fright forcing gutsy Shizuka to work past her own fears and take control of their spaceship.
Despite an occasionally scattershot narrative Doraemon: Nobita's Little Star Wars remains a solid entry in this much-beloved franchise with action and intrigue that prove surprisingly dark for a kids' film. Not that there is not an abundance of fanciful fun and zany comedy to enjoy as Doraemon pulls around a dozen different gadgets out of his magic pouch. There is even a musical interlude as an alien resistance fighter performs a rousing J-pop ballad. Yet in the midst of some endearing slapstick antics the film interweaves a surprisingly sincere message about people power deposing dictators.