GaN films were grown on silicon nitride (SiN) treated c-plane sapphire substrates in a home-made vertical reactor by atmospheric pressure metalorganic vapor phase epitaxy (MOVPE). In order to obtain different thickness layers, the growth procedure was interrupted at diverse stages using in-situ laser reflectometry. The structural and optical properties of obtained samples were investigated by high resolution X-ray diffraction (HRXRD) and photoreflectance (PR). In the 0.7–2 μm epilayer thickness range, the dislocation density decreases and remains roughly constant above this range. For fully coalesced layers, PR measurements at 11 K reveal the presence of well resolved excitonic transitions related to A, B and C excitons. A strong correlation between dislocation density and exciton linewidths is observed. Based on theoretical approaches and experimental results, the electronic band structure modification of GaN films due to isotropic biaxial strain was investigated. The valence band deformation potentials D3 and D4, interband hydrostatic deformation potentials a1 and a2, spin–orbit Δso and crystal field Δcr parameters were re-examined and found to be 8.2 eV, −4.1 eV, −3.8 eV, −12 eV, 15.6 meV and 16.5 meV, respectively.