Group II introns are mobile genetic elements that self-splice and retrotranspose into DNA and RNA. They are considered evolutionary ancestors of the spliceosome, the ribonucleoprotein complex essential for pre-mRNA processing in higher eukaryotes. Over a 20-year period, group II introns have been characterized first genetically, then biochemically, and finally by means of X-ray crystallography. To date, 17 crystal structures of a group II intron are available, representing five different stages of the splicing cycle. This review provides a framework for classifying and understanding these new structures in the context of the splicing cycle. Structural and functional implications for the spliceosome are also discussed.