© 2020 The Authors. IUBMB Life published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. DNA recombination, replication, and repair are intrinsically interconnected processes. From viruses to humans, they are ubiquitous and essential to all life on Earth. Single-strand annealing homologous DNA recombination is a major mechanism for the repair of double-stranded DNA breaks. An exonuclease and an annealase work in tandem, forming a complex known as a two-component recombinase. Redβ annealase and λ-exonuclease from phage lambda form the archetypal two-component recombinase complex. In this short review article, we highlight some of the in vitro studies that have led to our current understanding of the lambda recombinase system. We synthesize insights from more than half a century of research, summarizing the state of our current understanding. From this foundation, we identify the gaps in our knowledge and cast an eye forward to consider what the next 50 years of research may uncover.