A series of Mg-doped GaN films (∼1–1.3 μm) grown by reactive molecular beam epitaxy at substrate temperatures of 750 and 800 °C has been studied by high-resolution electron microscopy (HREM) and Raman spectroscopy. Stacking defects parallel to the substrate surface were observed in samples grown on sapphire substrates at 750 °C with AlN buffer layers (60–70 nm) at low Mg concentration. A transition region with mixed zinc-blende cubic (c) and wurtzite hexagonal (h) phases having the relative orientations of (111)c//(00.1)h and (11¯0)c//(10.0)h was observed for increased Mg concentration. The top surfaces of highly doped samples were rough and assumed a completely zinc-blende phase with some inclined stacking faults. Samples grown with a Mg cell temperature of 350 °C and high doping levels were highly disordered with many small crystals having inclined stacking faults, microtwins, and defective wurtzite and zinc-blende phases. Correlation between HREM and Raman scattering results points towards the presence of compressive lattice distortion along the growth direction which might be attributable to structural defects. The films grown at 800 °C had better quality with less observable defects and less yellow luminescence than samples grown at 750 °C. © 1997 American Institute of Physics.