The establishment of the photosynthetic organelle (plastid) in eukaryotes and the diversification of algae and plants were landmark evolutionary events because these taxa form the base of the food chain for many ecosystems on our planet. The plastid originated via a putative single, ancient primary endosymbiosis in which a heterotrophic protist engulfed and retained a cyanobacterium in its cytoplasm. Once successfully established, this plastid spread into other protist lineages through eukaryote-eukaryote (secondary and tertiary) endosymbioses. This process of serial cell capture and enslavement explains the diversity of photosynthetic eukaryotes. Recent genomic and phylogenomic approaches have significantly clarified plastid genome evolution, the movement of endosymbiont genes to the "host" nuclear genome (endosymbiotic gene transfer), and plastid spread throughout the eukaryotic tree of life. Here we review these aspects of plastid evolution with a focus on understanding early events in plastid endosymbiosis.