The hepatic stellate cell has surprised and engaged physiologists, pathologists, and hepatologists for over 130 years, yet clear evidence of its role in hepatic injury and fibrosis only emerged following the refinement of methods for its isolation and characterization. The paradigm in liver injury of activation of quiescent vitamin A-rich stellate cells into proliferative, contractile, and fibrogenic myofibroblasts has launched an era of astonishing progress in understanding the mechanistic basis of hepatic fibrosis progression and regression. But this simple paradigm has now yielded to a remarkably broad appreciation of the cell's functions not only in liver injury, but also in hepatic development, regeneration, xenobiotic responses, intermediary metabolism, and immunoregulation. Among the most exciting prospects is that stellate cells are essential for hepatic progenitor cell amplification and differentiation. Equally intriguing is the remarkable plasticity of stellate cells, not only in their variable intermediate filament phenotype, but also in their functions. Stellate cells can be viewed as the nexus in a complex sinusoidal milieu that requires tightly regulated autocrine and paracrine cross-talk, rapid responses to evolving extracellular matrix content, and exquisite responsiveness to the metabolic needs imposed by liver growth and repair. Moreover, roles vital to systemic homeostasis include their storage and mobilization of retinoids, their emerging capacity for antigen presentation and induction of tolerance, as well as their emerging relationship to bone marrow-derived cells. As interest in this cell type intensifies, more surprises and mysteries are sure to unfold that will ultimately benefit our understanding of liver physiology and the diagnosis and treatment of liver disease.