Twentieth Century Fox
Kevin P. Sullivan
December 22, 2016 AT 10:00 AM EST

A girl stands facing a gorilla as the massive creature reaches out to her. In the real world, the scene is ripe for the evening news. In War for the Planet of the Apes (out July 14), it’s a rare moment of serenity.

The third film of the reboot series picks up two years after the conclusion of 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, when the hyper-intelligent Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his simian tribe face an uncertain future with what remains of the military heading straight for them. Now years into the conflict, Caesar is a changed ape, battle-hardened and at risk of losing all sympathy for mankind. In a last-ditch effort to save his people, Caesar undertakes a desperate mission to find and kill the leader of the human forces, the fearsome and Kurtz-esque Colonel (Woody Harrelson).

It’s during this journey that Caesar and his companions happens upon a young, mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller), the character seen in the exclusive concept art above with the gorilla Luca. “The battle is not just between the humans and the apes, but in Caesar’s soul,” says director Matt Reeves. “The girl is his pull back to his empathy and — for lack of a better word — his human side.”

For more exclusive first looks, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday, or buy it here — and subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

Fans of the original 1968 film have no doubt already clocked the girl’s name as a nod to a significant series character. Linda Harrison starred as Nova alongside Charlton Heston in both Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but EW can confirm that the Nova of War for the Planet of the Apes is indeed the same character as the one Harrison played. 

While the continuity between the reboot series and the original films has been unclear up to the point, the appearance of Nova is the most overt connection yet. Some minor ties have been previously established, though most as Easter eggs for fans. For instance, Rise of the Planet of the Apes features news casts referring to a lost spaceship called Icarus, which was also the name of the vessel carrying Taylor (Heston) in the Planet of the Apes.

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